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Superman II

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Superman II initiated congressional hearings into product placement in films. Superman threw Zod into a Marlboro cigarettes truck, the Coca Cola sign and they wrestled under a Cutty Sark sign. As anyone who's seen "Josie and the Pussycats" can tell you, obviously congress lost that battle.



More Trivia from Superman II
While Superman II does not hold up to the tests of time as well as its predecessor, 1978's "Superman: The Movie", it is a rarity among sequels. Reviewers on its 1981 US release praised the film as more fun than the original, a more exciting thrill ride. Given the sequel's freedom from the epic origin story that necessitated spending time on Krypton and in Smallville before things got super, the story starts off with a bang. Unlike Superman: The Movie, where it was over an hour into the film before we saw Supes fly, Reeve is in action as the Man of Steel faster than a speeding bullet.

From the onset, the film takes on a more light-hearted approach than in the first movie. Richard Donner, who directed Superman: The Movie, did not have the best relationship with the Superman producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler. While the original idea was to film Superman and Superman II simultaneously, as time ran short on Warner Brothers' deadline for the 1978 premiere of the first film, and money ran low, all efforts went into finishing the first film. Though subject to some dispute even to this day, many Superman websites have estimated that more than one-half of Superman II's theatrical print was actually filmed by Donner, though the director of record was Richard Lester. When things between Donner and the producers boiled over shortly after the first film's release, the Salkinds fired Donner and brought on Lester. It has been suggested that Lester, still owed money by the Salkinds for his work on The Three Musketeers films, took the project to ensure he'd get the money owed to him.

No matter how much footage Donner shot, certainly it was his vision of the characters that carried over significantly into Superman II. Lester, a Brit, lent the film an Englishman's sensibilities and humor, but Superman, an American icon, suffered a loss of the versimilitude that Donner brought to Superman I (that "v" word, by the way, means truth and Donner had it posted everywhere on the Superman sets to ensure the film remained as camp-free as possible). The final product, an amalgam of both directors' work, is super-fun for the boys and has a great love story for the girls.

Note: One way to know for sure you're watching a Donner scene is if it involves Gene Hackman, the film series' Lex Luthor. Hackman was only available to shoot his scenes for both movies for a short time while Donner was still shooting the pictures. Lester hired a Hackman voice-alike to dub dialogue changes for the unavailable Hackman.

The storyline for Superman II had been set up at the beginning of Superman I, when Jor-El, Superman's Dad (played by film legend Marlon Brando) prosecutes and sentences three Kryptonian rebels: General Zod, played by Terrence Stamp; Non, an overgrown mute, played by Jack O'Halloran; and Ursa, who, Jorel states in Superman I "threatened even the children of the planet Krypton" (ewwwww), played by sexy Sarah Douglas. A unanimous verdict of guilty and an unanswered plea by Zod to Jor-El and a threat that both Jor-El and his heirs would bow down before him, and off the three go into the Phantom Zone (see also Supergirl).

Superman II shorthands the prosecution and sentencing and substitutes an off-screen voice-over actor for Brando. It seems the more money that the Salkinds needed to make the films, the more of their ownership percentage that went back to Warner Brothers for financial assistance. Given their losses, a decision was made to exclude Brando who was deemed just too expensive and unnecessary star power now that Chris Reeve himself had become a star. Reeve himself has stated on many occassions that he felt excluding Brando hurt the film, especially given that all his scenes with Brando were shot by Donner and continued the God and his son motif set by Superman I. Instead of the "fairy tale" style of Superman re-appearing with no explanation, Donner shot scenes where Brando's Jor-El actually gives his spiritual life to renew Superman's powers at the film's end, echoing the words Brando spoke to Kal-El before firing the rocketship to Earth in the first film: "The son becomes the father, and the father, the son."

The super-credits established in the first film are used again, this time intermingled with scenes from "Superman I to make them feel shorter.

We open at the Daily Planet where Clark discovers that, while he was allegedly home reading Dickens, terrorists had seized the Eiffel Tower in Paris ("you know where Paris is, don't you Kent?"), with hostages, and a hydrogen bomb "ready to level Paris" if their demands aren't met. We don't ever find out exactly what those demands are, but it's incidental to the plot. Had Donner finished Superman II, Superman I would have ended with the nuclear rocket Superman flung into space cracking open the Phantom Zone, creating a cliffhanger for #2. As filming became more complicated from a management perspective, this idea was abandoned so screenwriters contrived a reason for Supes to detonate a nuke in space, which would free the villains.

Margot Kidder's Lois Lane, having arrived in Paris, and a firm believer in becoming the story, sneaks her way onto the bottom of the Eiffel Tower's elevator to the top, as she watches herself rise up higher and higher. Meanwhile, the terrorists, still not receiving their demands, which we still don't know, have decided to release the hostages. Heck, they've got a hydrogen bomb. They've got all of France hostage.

But the English speaking with French accents French police and military, in an attempt to separate the bomb from the terrorists, detonate the elevator. Just one problem: the bomb's been activated by the fall. Well, two problems really: Lois Lane is experiencing G-force as she's still hanging onto the bottom of the elevator and it's falling -- fast.

Superman catches the elevator and surprisingly the jolt doesn't break every bone in Lois' body. "A bomb, they, they've got a bomb up there," Lois says after a quick flirt with the Hearthrob of Steel. "I know, I know," Reeve says with his typical Superman confidence and, faster than a speeding bullet, he and elevator are flying out of Earth's atmosphere. Ka-Boom, nuclear explosion in space, just as the Phantom Zone happens by. Supes is temporarily dazed by the blast, pulls himself together, and quickly flies back toward Earth, unaware that the explosion has freed Zod, Non, and Ursa and contact with our solar system and its yellow sun has endowed each of them with Superman's powers. Great Scott!

The movie sort of splits in two directions at this point, as we follow the Phantom Zone villains on their rampage first on the Moon and then on Earth, while Lois Lane does her best to violate the privacy of the man she claims to love by revealing Clark Kent to be Superman.

As the Phantom Zone villains are discovering the power structure on Earth, which they initially believe is called "Houston", Clark and Lois have been dispatched to Niagara Falls to uncover a honeymoon racket by posing as newlyweds. After an accident at the Falls requires the intervention of Superman, Lois applies her analytical reporter's head to the idea that Superman would "just happen to be in Niagara Falls [while] Clark, Clark is not around as usual. Hmmm."

Clark denies all, but Lois perseveres, throwing herself into the Niagara River to force Clark to change into Superman and save her. Clark's panicky persona as he follows her down the river quickly gives way to Superman confidence, as heat vision beams cut a tree limb that Lois is able to use as a flotation device and get to shore. "You're who I thought was Superman," she says in disgust as Clark pretends to drown as he's saving Lois. "This is really embarrassing."

All of the writers associated with the first three Superman films were fascinated by the duality issues that Clark and Superman had. And it was this fascination that had Clark "subconsciously" tripping over a stuffed pink bear, his hand falling into the fireplace, but not burning. "You are Superman," Lois says in wonder.

No sh*t, Sherlock. Thanks for screwing around with my privacy. Oh, and I love you.

Interesting to note is that Lois tells Clark she's in love with him. Clark doesn't tell Lois -- he tells his Mom, the much less expensive Susannah York, returning as Lara, who in turn warns Kal-El about the risks of doing it with an Earth chick. He must relinquish his super powers, for reasons unexplained in the film, to be with Lois. Perhaps, as implied in a 1990's comic book that explored a possible future with a pregnant Lois, Lois couldn't survive the possibility of sustaining a super-powered baby in her belly. "Mother, I love her," Supes says as he walks into the chamber that harnesses the energies of Krypton's red sun. Cheesy animated effects work shows Superman being de-powered, though one interesting moment with the camera has Reeve's clothes transforming to "normal" as the fading visage of Superman in costume seems to rise out of his body.

Part of the rationale for the de-powering stemmed from a rare limitation insisted upon by DC Comics: a super-powered Superman does not do Lois. They felt it wasn't dignified for their icon to be engaging in super-pre-marital-sex. (That didn't stop the heavy sexual innuendo in Superman III when evil Superman clearly did it, powers and all, with the blonde bimbo henchwoman played by short-time Not Ready for Prime Time Player Pamela Stephenson.)

While Lois and Clark are sleeping it off in the Fortress, the Phantom Zone bad guys have invaded the White House and forcing the President to bow before Zod, and, ultimately, relinquish control of the entire planet to Zod. How unrealistic to have a President of one country speak for every other country in the world! Hmmm, or is it?

By this time, Lois and Clark have worked up an appetite and somehow got a car to the Fortress, and drove it to a truck stop. We're in the North Pole here, folks! Note that, as Lois and Clark pull up to the diner, a man walking off camera left is in fact Richard Donner, leading many to believe all of the diner scenes are Donner's.

Clark learns that, in the real world, the good guys don't always finish first when he gets beaten up by a nasty trucker. As Lois wishes that the man she fell in love with was there with them (how cruel, Lois), the President comes on TV with Zod and Clark recognizes the name from the Fortress' memory crystals.

(Hackman, almost incidental to the plot, though providing great humor, has broken out of jail, found Superman's fortress, and determined that the Phantom Zone baddies must be on their way to Earth. In his nagging obsession with real estate, he decides to partner up with the super-powered baddies. Though Hackman's trip to the Fortress with the returning Valerie Perrine as Ms. Teschmacher is amusing, it's ultimately irrelevant as a monkey could have followed the trail of destruction the villains left straight to the White House.)

Luthor wants Australia in exchange for Superman, who the villains did not realize was the son of their jailer until Lex told them. Lex leads Zod and his cronies to the Daily Planet, where Lois, worrying over poor Clark who's walking to the Fortress with no powers, becomes bait. "You just hang onto this little lady," Lex tells them, and Supey will show up, to which Ursa replies "What an undemanding male this Superman must be."

Lois, not one to be attacked even by someone who can literally rip her in half, quips back "You could use a tuck here and there yourself, sister."

Things are starting to get hairy, Zod wants to kill all of them, including Lex, when suddenly WHOOOOSH. From outside the upper story window stands Superman. "General, would you care to step outside?"

What follows was by early 1980's standards just astounding. Using a combination of actors, miniatures, and every other trick in the book, Superman and the three villains battle it out over Metropolis (NYC one more time with Toronto doubling for Metropolis in Superman III). By the time Non and Ursa have picked up a NYC, er, I mean Metropolis bus full of people, jaws dropped at the scope of the battle both onscreen and off. Showing no mercy, they toss the bus at Superman, whose main concern is saving the lives of the bus' passengers. Superman doesn't come out and the people think he's dead so Metropolitans themselves begin to riot against the bad guys. Zod and the rest use super-breath to show the humans just how insignificant they are.

Superman, recovered and coming out from behind the bus, surveys the situation and flies off. Is Supes a coward or does he have a plan?

The villains return to the Daily Planet announcing that "Superman has fled" and that the "next time, we will kill him." That just ticks Lex off, who plays mind games with Zod and lets slip that he just happens to have Superman's North Pole address. Ursa suggests increasing Superman's handicap by taking Lois too.

Supes has some surprises in store for the villains on his turf, though Zod is unimpressed with Superman's interior design skills. Superman proves he's super for brains as well as brawn by tricking the villains into thinking he's giving up his super powers in the red sun chamber, but he's really protecting himself and bathing the entire Fortress in red sun radiation. The tables have been turned and Superman and Lois quickly dispatch the now-depowered villains. But what to do with Lex? Not to worry he's an escaped con, Superman, and should be returned to prison, and probably tried for war crimes against the planet; Superman leaves him behind and flies Lois back to Metropolis.

A sleepless night for both Lois and Clark, they meet at the Planet the next day, and after a very real discussion of what it's like loving a super man and not being allowed to do anything about it, Superman uses his oft-overlooked power of super-kiss memory loss inducer to remove Lois's memories of his dual identity as well as the past several days. Now I've played mind games with exes before too, but that's a little much, Kal-El.

Clark, returning to the role of Clark now that Lois's memories have been altered, leaves to get Lois a burger and OJ, making a pitstop at the diner with the obnoxious trucker, where the trucker gets his comeuppance. Many Superman fans felt that revenge wasn't Superman's gig and this was far from a fair fight, but the humor of the scene permitted the filmmakers to go super-square for their ending, with Superman flying the flag back to the White House and apologizing to the President. "Sorry I've been away so long. I won't let you down again."

But he does when he goes super-evil in the next flick. Richard Lester takes the full time helm with the third film, taking the tone of the movies in a whole other, inappropriately comical direction. The one thing that can be said for Superman III is it brought us Annette O'Toole as Lana Lang, which in turn brought us Annette O'Toole in a standout role as Ma Kent on TV's Smallville.

Verdict?

Superman II is a fun movie, more like Space Mountain, to Superman I's impressive Hall of Presidents. Superman I is an epic, but Superman II is a strong action film with a well developed romance and great visual effects. I agree with Reeve that the film deserved the Brando scenes and that his absence from the film was glaring at times, especially when Zod insisted on referring to Superman as the "son of Jor-El."

In Superman I, it's pretty clear that Jor-El is the scientist and that Lara's pretty much in the dark about the details of Jor-El's plans to send Kal-El to Earth. When Lara notes in the first movie that he'll be alone on Earth, and Brando stares at the green crystal and vows that he'll never be alone, it's pretty apparent that the whole "here's Krypton on crystal" thing was something Lara was unaware of, yet there she is in the Fortress hosting several crystal lectures.

Superman II is full of holes like that, but they don't detract too much from the overall product, which was highly successful and one of the highest-grossing sequels of all time.

While John Williams' music returned, it was adapted and conducted by Ken Thorne, and had a less regal, more actiony sound to it.

Superman II holds up well as a fun movie thanks in the largest part to Chris Reeve and Margot Kidder who, by this point, really know these characters.

Some of the effects look a bit dated by today's standards, but it's an impressive special effects film when one considers that computers weren't involved.

Notice any mistakes? Review

Strengths: Richard Donner.

Weaknesses? Richard Lester (see Superman III)

Our rating: 9.2 out of 10


Review Written by Barry Freiman:  Contact  |  More Reviews by Barry Freiman
Superman II