Directed by: Richard Lester
Cast: Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Terence Stamp (Zod)
In many ways, Superman II is a better film than in its predecessor, but somehow, in the final reckoning, it’s not the superior film.
This time round we have proper supervillains (in the form of Kryptonian crims, Zod, Non and Ursa), leading to some spectacular comic book action sequences as they delight in their new-found powers. At the time, the final battle in Metropolis was like nothing that had ever been seen on screen before, a true superhero slugfest. Plus, Terence Stamp is superb as ruthless Zod; the scene in which he forces the President of the United States to kneel before him is one of superhero cinema’s defining moments. Sara Douglas is deliciously evil as Ursa, not to mention impossibly sexy for a woman who looks like she’s dressed in bin bags.
Without the need for an origin story, Christopher Reeve has more screen time, and is wonderful in his dual role. In his standout moment, he seems to physically transform from Clark into Superman in front of Lois without the need for special FX, just outstanding acting. Y’see, she’s rumbled his secret, and so Supes gives up his powers for the love of his woman… which is actually pretty selfish, but he learns that the hard way.
The film never quite hangs together, though, perhaps because new director Richard Lester’s flippant style clashes with the respectful approach of Richard Donner. It’s a problem exacerbated by the fact that he had to integrate footage already shot by Donner, which included any scene featuring Lex Luthor (Hackman, in a display of loyalty to Donner, refused to film any new scenes for the sequel when Donner was sacked). Lester’s slapstick humour (a throwback to his days working on the Beatles films) also materialises at unwanted moments; in the aftermath of Superman’s apparent death, Lester inserts jarring sight gags with bald men being de-wigged, flying ice cream and out-of-control rollerskaters.
The film could also have done with tightening up in the editing stages: some scenes drag, and the sprawling, multi-storylined plot meanders listlessly in the middle stages. (Though things are livened up by the amusing idea that Clark can hitch a lift to the Fortress Of Solitude.) Gene Hackman is reduced to little more than a comedy stooge, and the kiss that Clark gives Lois at the end to wipe her memory is a massive emotional anticlimax (in the original plan, this is when Superman would have turned back time, rather than at the end of the first film – Superman saving Lois just in time instead). But overall, considering it’s cut-and-paste evolution, it’s amzing the film comes out as great as it does.