Looking back at Superman II

Mark’s appreciation of the Superman movies continues, with the Superman 2 proving to be one of Hollywood's best ever sequels…

Superman II (1980)

Terence Stamp has had what can best be described as an eclectic career. He’s played master to Jennifer Garner’s Elektra. He’s played a drag queen in The Adventures Of Prescilla, Queen Of The Desert. He’s also starred in a cameo of the Devil himself in The Company Of Wolves.

Fair to say, though, that most movie lovers know him for the brilliant, menacing and ever-so-slightly camp villain, General Zod. The genius of Superman II is that, while Zod on his own would have been a fabulous villain, it ups the stakes by bringing his pals along for the ride too. Three villains versus one superhero? No contest.

From the opening sequence which sees Zod, Ursa and Non trapped in the Phantom Zone, to the moment of coincidence that sees them land on earth, to Superman’s eventual besting of them, the movie takes the audience on a genuinely interesting, action-packed and multi-stranded journey. It can’t have been an enviable task, attempting to better one of the movies of the 70s, and yet the director manages to do just that.

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The director in this case is, of course, Richard. But which is it, Lester or Donner? Famously, Donner began work on the project until fears over intervention from the producers led him to leave the film and paved the way for Richard Lester to do his level best. The Richard Donner cut has since seen the light of day, providing a darker tone than the original ultimately brought to the table, but it’s the Lester version I’m going to focus on here, seeing as that was part of my childhood.

Personally, I love the Lester version. For me, the humour is a triumph and juxtaposes the action sequences wonderfully. It also maintains the family-friendly nature of what I believe makes the Superman franchise the success it has proven to be.

The villainous threesome certainly do have their fair share of comedic moments, the lumbering Non, in particular, providing plenty of light relief. Still, the smackdowns between the trio and Superman are exhilarating enough, and while you won’t find any real danger provided for Supes, it’s entertaining to see the good vs evil struggle all the same.

The film is also notable for the enhancement of the plot between Lois Lane and the being once known as Kal-El. This time round, Lois works out that Superman and Clark Kent are, indeed, one and the same (she’s no dummy, that Lois) and that sets in motion a chain of events leading to a trip to the Fortress of Solitude and, depressingly, a super-kiss that renders everything you’ve seen something of a waste of time. Bit of a sneaky trick, that one.

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As with all good sequels, this one forgoes some drama in favour of action and, in truth, Superman II is essentially two hours of action set piece after action set piece. I have no problem with that. I’m one of the few who thinks Die Hard 2: Die Harder is a cracking film for taking a similar position. But I can understand why some would be left wanting so much more from the slice of super cinema.

Bottom line is, though, given the production problems that beset the film, Superman II could have easily been something nearing a disaster. In the end, the result couldn’t have been much better. Kneel before it, I suggest,

Join us tomorrow, when we’ll revisit Superman III.

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