Superman II

Directed By: Richard Lester

Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Sarah Douglas, Jack O'Halloran, Valerie Perrine, Susannah York, Clifton James, E.G. Marshall, Mark McClure, and Terence Stamp

Superman is rarely given a physical challenge.  Because the yellow sun of our galaxy makes him the closest thing to immortal, there are very few who can really go toe-to-toe with him.  Because of this, it's a special treat whenever the Man of Steel meets his match.  To date, Superman II is the only film to have delivered this treat, but things will change in a few months when Man of Steel hits theaters.  In fact, Superman so rarely meets his physical match that the two films have the same titular villain, General Zod.  With this in mind, Superman II is the only real precursor to this summer's Man of Steel.

At the beginning of Superman: The Movie, Jor-El (Marlon Brando) sentenced General Zod, Ursa, and Non (Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, and Jack O'Halloran) to eternal confinement in an alternate dimension known as the Phantom Zone.  The only thing that can free them from their prison is a nuclear explosion.  It just so happens that some terrorists in Paris are threatening to blow up the Eiffel Tower and the surrounding area with a nuclear bomb.  Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) just happens to be there covering the story.  When her colleague Clark Kent/Superman (Christopher Reeve) learns of this, he decides to dart over to Paris and save the day.  When he gets rid of the nuclear bomb by throwing it into space, Superman unknowingly frees the very criminals his father incarcerated so many years ago, the same criminals who intend to have the son of their jailer kneel before them.

After the terror threat in Paris, Perry White (Jackie Cooper) sends Lois and Clark, his two best reporters, to Niagara Falls to cover some unimportant story.  The two colleagues are forced to share a honeymoon suite at a romantic hotel in the area.  When Superman makes an appearance at Niagara Falls to rescue a boy and Clark conveniently goes missing once again, Lois starts putting the pieces of the puzzle together.  She comes to the conclusion that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same, and she eventually finds her proof.  While Clark is reeling from Lois uncovering his secret identity and enjoying a romantic getaway with her, trouble is brewing throughout the rest of the world.  Freed from the Phantom Zone, General Zod and his counterparts begin taking control of the planet.

Like its predecessor, Superman II is a film that serves as a blueprint for the modern comic book movie, not just the upcoming Man of Steel.  A predecessor to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, this Superman flick marks the first time a sequel revisits its predecessor in the opening clips.  In the tradition of many superhero films from Marvel and DC Comics alike, Superman hangs up his tights and turns his back on the people of the world.  Like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, Superman II culminates in a grand battle in the center of a major urban area.  As you can see, there are many parallels between Superman II and the many comic book films that have followed over the years.

Despite having two different directors film portions of the story, Superman II is a surprisingly coherent movie.  The film's coherence stems from the fact that it was set in motion at the beginning of the first Superman movie.  Jor-El banishes Zod, Ursa, and Non to the Phantom Zone in that movie.  This sequel is really just an expansion of this storyline.  Coupling his complete original with his incomplete work on its sequel, Richard Donner, the film's original director, was able to establish a clear vision for what Superman II should be.  Richard Lester was given enough material to pick up the mantle and run with it to greatness.

Superman II is an excellent blockbuster that builds to this climactic showdown between Kal-El and his Kryptonian foes.  No matter what else happens, we know that these two opposing forces, Superman and Zod, must confront each other in battle.  When we finally get this huge confrontation, it is one for the record books.  As Superman and these Kryptonians beat the holy hell out of each other throughout downtown Metropolis, we as viewers are treated to some spectacular, captivating action sequences (for the era) that are unlike anything ever seen on the big screen before it.  We're treated to the first high-flying, super-powered urban showdown of epic proportions.  One of the most elaborate action sequences of its time, this thing really goes the distance.

Despite loads of action, Superman II might just be the most romantic comic book movie of all time.  Niagara Falls, a getaway at a honeymoon suite, and a fairytale romance between Lois and Clark all help build a warm and fuzzy feeling throughout the film.  While the budding romance between these two co-workers is undoubtedly enchanting, it is more than just a romance for the sake of it.  It's the perfect plot development to help build anticipation for the showdown between Superman and Zod.  While the Man of Steel is finding paradise with his new lover, trouble is brewing elsewhere in the world as the general and his comrades tear towns apart and enslave mankind.  The romance allows for the perfect juxtaposition of bliss and chaos, which ultimately wets our appetites for the time when these two forces do collide later in the movie.

Our two leads are firing on all cylinders in this Superman flick.  Once again donning the red and blue tights, Christopher Reeve is equally heroic and satirical on screen.  While he certainly plays the hero well, Reeve is always entertaining as this bumbling, self-effacing caricature of the human race, also known as Clark Kent.  As Lois Lane, Margot Kidder brings as much fire to the big screen as ever.  Of her outings as Daily Planet reporter in the Reeve films, her performance in Superman II is probably the most nuanced.  She deftly balances the gutsy journalist with the star-crossed lover.

The villains do an excellent job as well.  As Zod, Terence Stamp brings a unique presence to the film.  He's arrogant.  He's malicious.  He's domineering.  Despite the fact that Zod is a rather one-dimensional character whose only goals are revenge and domination, Stamp makes him someone who is always fun to watch on camera.  That in itself is a feat.  As Lex Luthor, Gene Hackman gives us an opportunistic criminal looking to find his place in an ever-changing game.  With his signature wit and undeniable charisma, Hackman consistently makes Luthor look like the smartest guy on camera.  Admittedly, there’s not a lot of competition because most of his scenes involve either the Kryptonians or Luthor’s own henchmen.  Hackman ultimately delivers a version of Luthor that lives up to his reputation as a criminal mastermind.

There are so many things I love about Superman II, but I have a few gripes as well.  Mostly, there are moments where I can't suspend my disbelief.  Whether minor gaps in the plot or conscious decisions on the part of the creative team, there are several things I just can't slip under the rug.  For example, I can't get on board with the notion of Superman using some newfound power to wipe memories.  It's just too convenient for the storyline and goes against the traditional comic book mythology.  Because of things like this, I leave Superman II with a few unanswered questions.  Questionable creative moves like this definitely take away from the film.

Despite some issues with the film, Superman II is still an excellent second outing for the world's most beloved superhero.  It's an action-packed film with a surprising amount of heart.  You can't go wrong with this comic book flick.  Superman II gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.