Superhero Rewind: Superman II (1980)

The first part of this series can be read by clicking here.

Superman II (1980)
 
Before I started watching Superman II, I pondered what I would be seeing in the film. How much of a continuation would it be of the first movie? It wrapped itself up quite nicely, but there’s plenty of room for it to continue as a proper sequel. For example, the setup of Zod and the other Kryptonian criminals, which I know will happen because culturally we know these things. Will Clark ever go back and visit his mom? I know she’s worried about him. 
 
Superman II begins in a way that feels very familiar, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Oh wait, they condensed the entire first movie into the opening credits of this one, just in case you had forgotten everything that happened. I’m sure this opening reminder/edit of the first movie was convenient for audiences in he ’80s who may have forgotten a lot of the details from the first film, but now it plays as a boring and slow setup (especially for someone that had watched the first film the day before). Thankfully in the age of home video this is no longer a necessity for films. Also, the Star Wars influence can be seen even more clearly in the sequel’s opening credits as the big red “S” logo flies back into space much like the “Star Wars” title in those films. 
 
It’s quite evident that this movie was filmed at the same time as the first. The passion and energy the actors have for their respective characters is still in their performances. Christopher Reeve is still an amazing Clark Kent and Margot Kidder continues to be my 1980s celebrity crush, except for that one scene where she was smoking for seemingly no reason. Where the movie really shines though is in the new major players – Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, and Jack O’Halloran. These three offer incredible performances as the Kryptonian criminals. What is even more remarkable about how they carry the movie is that they’re all different in their approach. Yes, “mean, nasty, and militaristic” are their signature characteristics, but Ursa is not a female version of Zod and Non is not a bulky mute version of either of them. They’re clearly their own characters, which is not something that can usually be said for an villain ensemble.
 
Many sequences in Superman II still play very well for a modern viewer. The Kryptonians attacking the lunar modules is one of the highlights of the movie, and a scene that I almost hope is replicated in Man of Steel. Furthermore, Superman’s battle with the Kryptonians in the streets of Metropolis is amazing for the primary reason that it isn’t a one-and-done fight. They tussle and brawl for easily 10 minutes, going through different layers of the city and hurling various objects/people at one another. I get the feeling we’ll be seeing similar sequences in Man of Steel, just a guess from the trailers.
 
There’s a lot less to like about Superman II than there was the first film. My main issue with it is there happens to be an awful lot of convenient things happening in the plot. The Phantom Zone cube traveling by Earth JUST as Superman throws the Hydrogen bomb into space happens to be the biggest of the offenses, and if I read online correctly makes a lot more sense in the “Richard Donner Cut” of the film. Beyond that, I can’t get my head around the additional super powers that the writers decided to give to Superman and Zod. For no apparent reason they’re gifted with telekinesis-like powers by pointing at people/objects. They’re also given teleportation abilities, which they use to try and trick each other in the film’s final scene. Also, Superman can make copies of himself to trick them?Since when is that a thing he can do? Way to just gloss over these new found powers that he has – at least take the time to explain how he can do these things.

As I said at the start, I really wanted to know how much of an impact the events of the first movie would have on this one and I was disappointed. I can (almost) get over the fact that Clark never goes to visit his mom, even though it has clearly been 12-15 years since he left Smallville, but there’s something else that almost cheapens the first movie’s story. In the first movie, a record of Jor-El tells Clark that he can’t interfere with human history, it’s not his place. Clark does the exact opposite of this and goes back in time to stop Lois from dying. Now, if there were any justice in this sequel then Clark’s actions would have some horrible Planet of the Apes style effect on Earth, but it doesn’t. Jor-El’s warning was ignored, and rightfully so, because in the end it turned out to be a moot point. It didn’t matter. Superman messed with time and saved the day, the end, victory lap. This could have been a perfect moment for a storytelling device where we see “Oh, Superman makes mistakes too. How does he fix these problems that he created?” Superman II ALMOST capitalizes on this moment by (stupidly) forcing Clark to give up his powers if he wishes to remain with Lois. After he goes back to the Fortress of Solitude and gets his powers back from a special green rock that isn’t Kryptonite, he and Lois realize that they can’t be together. Why would Superman and Lois force themselves to abide by this Kryptonian rule when Superman already broke their other “most important commandment.” If Superman can go back in time with no consequence to human history, he should be allowed to marry Lois and keep his powers. Also, now Superman has kiss-me-and-forget-me powers? Please.
 
I have to question a few other moments that were brought to life in this movie. For example, why bring back Luthor? After his dopey scheme was foiled and he was put in prison, this gives you perfect setup for a third Superman film wherein Luthor breaks out to get his revenge. Instead we got a sloppy attempt at this with the second film wherein Luthor serves no purpose to the story except as a device to mix things up and provide a slight inconvenience. Gene Hackman’s presence on screen is nothing more than a joke as he continues to be a MAD Magazine style parody of Lex Luthor.
 
Superman II is a worthy successor to the first film. It doesn’t follow convention by repeating the same ideas from the first movie. Some sequences play much better than others, but its the remarkable cast in the film that keeps you engaged. The pacing feels strange as some moments go on way too long and others feel too convenient to the story. Terence Stamp and the other Kryptonians are surpassed in their amazing acting only by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. There’s a lot of stuff to groan and roll your eyes at here, but there’s also enough to keep you entertained.