Eye For Film >> Movies >> Superman II (1980) Film Review
Reviewed by: Stephen Carty
Ever watched Superman II and had the nagging feeling that you're watching two clashing versions of the same movie woven together? Well, if so, pat yourself on the cape as the 1980s theatrical release was actually the result of two separate directors’ work. As the actual goings-on would require a review of their own, the simplest summation is as follows.
While dauntingly filming both Superman one and two simultaneously, Richard Donner was asked to concentrate on the first in order to meet its release date. Unfortunately, the director had constant 'creative differences' with producers Pierre Spengler, Alexander Salkind and son Ilya (he rightly didn't want to compromise his vision, they wanted a money-saving, campier version) to the point at which comedy man Richard Lester was brought in as a peacekeeper. Then, despite the deserved success of Superman: The Movie and the fact that he’d filmed most of the sequel (estimates range from 70 to 80 per cent) Donner received a telegram saying his services would no longer be needed before finding out that Lester would be re-filming much of his material.
It's surprising, then, that the final product isn't a total disaster. No, it's certainly not superior to the epic first as many claim, but without the shackles of an origin story, Superman II soars into action straight away. There are plot holes and a few dated effects sure, but the chemistry-bolstered interplay between Chris Reeve and Margot Kidder holds everything together.
After being accidentally freed from the Phantom Zone prison, Kryptonian rebels General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) are hell bent on world domination. At the same time, Lois Lane (Kidder) has discovered that Clark Kent (Reeve) is Superman so the man of steel decides to give up his powers to be with her. Elsewhere, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) has escaped from prison and heads to the Fortress of Solitude.
Although your average fan won't notice that they’re seeing the work of two separate directors, the cracks are evident if you look. With a two-year shooting gap, Reeve's bulk changes throughout and Margot Kidder ages noticeably from frame to frame (particularly in the pre-climax Daily Planet bit where Lester re-shot some angles). Then there's the several niggles (like how Supes seemingly lets three villains die) which aren't explained without the planned fill-in scenes. Don't worry, they're on youtube.
While the Donner-filmed scenes that survived (the diner fight, the moon attack, the White House raid, some Daily Planet and all Hackman) takes itself seriously, with menacing villains, Lester litters proceedings with gags and treats the source material much less reverentially. Chief irritation for many is the way Kryptonians exhibit silly new powers, such as the ability to disappear, multiply or move objects at will. Don't even mention the big cellophane S.
Yet, Lester wasn’t a hated man who contributed nothing (as Stamp explained, everyone just loved Donner). The exciting centrepiece four-way battle stands the test of time as a tribute to creative pre-CGI craftsmanship, the Niagara Falls segment contains some great touches (such as Lois noticing Clark without his specs or seeing his un-burned hand) and the Eiffel Tower save is great. Though the memory-erasing kiss (which replaces the equally-flawed globe-spinning time-reversal used in the first) is naff, the affecting emotional payoff is worth it.
Certainly, Ken Thorne’s reworking of John Williams’ classic score isn’t as spine-tingling, but the key themes still fly. Additionally, regardless of who shot what, we get some iconic imagery (Superman holding the American flag atop the President’s pad), chilling darkness (a powerless, beaten-up Clark finding out Zod has taken over) and moments that will make you cheer (“General, would you care to step outside?”).
With Stamp giving such a powerful display as Zod that it’s impossible to separate him from the role, Hackman (who refused to return for re-shoots because of the Donner situation) serves more as comic relief. Again, Reeve is the highlight, using mannerisms and body language to credibly convince us that people wouldn’t know his mild-mannered reporter is actually a flying demi-God while the ‘making of’ docs on the DVD releases show how deeply invested he was in every detail. As for Brando, his footage was shelved due to outrageous pay demnds and the whole son-becomes-the-father plotline was continued by, er, Suzannah York.
Flawed, controversial and forever marred by debates about who shot what (guilty), Superman II still has lots to offer.Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2009
If you like this, try:Superman: The Movie