By Boyd Reynolds | Staff Writer Published: 06/21/2013 10:05 am EST
Release date: June 19, 1981 Director: Richard Lester, Richard Donner
Kneel before Zod!
The phrase is synonymous with Superman II; a film that had the potential to be a great sequel to Superman The Movie, but settles for a little less. Released in 1980, the film opens with three Kryptonian Super-Villains (General Zod, Ursa and Non) who are housed in the phantom zone. At the opening of Superman the Movie, Superman’s father, Jor-El, condemns the three to an eternity in space, floating in what looks to be a parallelogram. As film fate would have it, the phantom zone has traveled close to Earth and Superman has just tossed a hydrogen bomb into space. The explosion shatters the phantom zone, and the three Super-Villains, with all the powers of Superman, come to Earth, looking for the son of their jailer.
Superman II is a good movie. Superman’s nemeses are great – three Super-Villains plus the return of Lex Luthor. Shockingly, Superman wants to be with Lois so badly, he does the unthinkable, especially for every boy who dreams of having his powers. The ending is incredibly satisfying as well, with Superman using Lex to trick the Super-Villains into his Fortress of Solitude where he has a surprise waiting for them. Yet, I can’t help but think it could have been more. In comparing the first two Superman movies, where did Superman II falter?
First, let’s start with our introduction to the film, through its music. While John Williams’s brilliant score is used in Superman II, he is not conducting, and immediately, something’s amiss. The grip that the music had on me in Superman The Movie is lessened. There is something missing. That something is the irreplaceable John Williams.
The special effects seem weaker than the original. In Superman The Movie, the effects were generally held in check, never overextending what they couldn’t pull off. Even today, they don’t look hideous. Yet, many special effects in Superman II do. For example, when the phantom zone explodes, it’s done with animation, which stands out, and not in a good way. I believe the creators wanted to give Superman II some added pop, but the effects that they chose were ahead of their time. This idea worked in Superman The Movie, as it was hard enough just for Superman to look real while he flew, but didn’t work as well for Superman II.
One absence from Superman II was Marlon Brando. Cut out of the film for budgetary reasons, Superman’s mother, Lara, is used instead of Brando to communicate with Kal-El in his Fortress of Solitude. Nothing against Susanna York, but Brando is Brando. His presence on screen is transfixing. He gave Superman The Movie an aura, a presence that was needed on Superman II.
Finally, the biggest mark against Superman II was the crisis on set between the filmmakers. The chemistry between actors Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and director Richard Donner was striking in Superman The Movie. You could feel a love between the actors. More importantly, you could feel Donner’s love for the story. The Salkinds, who produced the films, fired Donner after the first movie, while he had already shot over half of Superman II. The producers brought in Richard Lester to direct and the heart and passion was evidently gone. Donner’s love of the Superman mythos and his personal struggle to preserve the integrity of the character is evident in Superman The Movie. It’s a shame that he didn’t have a chance to finish Superman II in the way that he envisioned. If you care to check out what he had planned, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is available on DVD and offers a nice bookend to those who, like me, loved what he did with the original. Yet, it’s not the same as having him at the helm in 1980. Sequels are tricky beasts. While Superman II is good, with regard to a continuation of the Superman story, it doesn’t have the same feeling as its predecessor – a feeling that surely would never have been lost had Donner been at the helm from beginning to end.
Summary:While Superman II is good, with regard to a continuation of the Superman story, it doesn't have the same feeling as its predecessor - a feeling that surely would never have been lost had Donner been at the helm from beginning to end.