Monday, November 23, 2009

“Come to me, Superman! I defy you! Come and kneel before Zod! Zod!”

Well, this is interesting. While the ending of Superman the Movie had a bit saying that he will return in a year or so, it was only in 1980 that Superman II was released. Unfortunately, Richard Donner, who had filmed a large chunk of footage for Superman II was booted off the project by the studio and didn’t receive any credit for his work on the sequel. Richard Lester was brought on to finish up the movie and received full credit. Studio politics aside, the important question is: is the movie good?

After Superman foils a terrorist plot to blow up the Eiffel Tower (and presumably the greater Paris area) with a hydrogen bomb, Superman throws the bomb out into space, where it explodes. The shockwave releases three Kryptonian criminals from their eternal prison in the Phantom Zone and they make their way to Earth with conquest on their minds. Meanwhile, the relationship between Lois Lane and Superman grows closer and closer while Lex Luthor breaks out of prison. Secrets are revealed and the planet Earth gets conquered, and then everything that’s happened is completely and lazily reset, rendering the entire movie moot. I’m not even joking. The ending was enormously stupid and completely destroyed whatever character development had taken place.

Superman/Clark Kent: Christopher Reeve is back in the tights and does a consistently good performance as Superman. However, the stuff the character is given to do is less consistent. The Clark/Superman duality gets explored some more and the love story with Lois gets quite tender in places. Then the movie goes all sideways by throwing in some bullshit about him having to give up his powers if he wants to bang Lois. Of course, he does so without too much angst and proceeds to become a weak sauce milquetoast that gets beat up by a trucker in a diner and then he finds out that the three evil Kryptonians have effectively conquered Earth while he was off snogging Lois. So then he goes back to the Fortress of Solitude, powers back up, somehow, and then goes off to face the bad guys. Is any of this necessary? The fight carries over to the Fortress of Solitude, where the villains get outwitted by Superman’s “taking away superpowers” machine and a friggin’ saran wrap-like version of his logo that he throws at Zod that temporarily ensnares the warlord. I wish I was making that up. Worse, the movie deals with the implications of Lois knowing who Superman is in a terrible way. *Spoilers* At the end of the movie, instead of trying to work things out with Lois about their feelings and doing some deep character growth, Superman just kisses her and SOMEHOW gives her super-amnesia, resetting their relationship to a point where she didn’t know who he was, completely invalidating all that rather touching character growth that we had in the movie. Clearly, Superman is a dick. Oh yeah, and then at the end of the movie, Clark goes back to that diner where he got his ass beat for some petty revenge and property damage, because, you know, he’s a role model. For the kids. *End spoilers*

Lois Lane: Margot Kidder is still great as the scrappy journalist. Her part in the movie is to figure out Superman’s identity, fall in love with Clark and give him some emotional angst over which part of his existence he should choose. She’s fine, but again, the ending of the movie completely craps on her character arc.

Perry White and Jimmy Olsen: Jackie Cooper and Marc McLure return as their respective characters. White still does some great scene chewing, but Jimmy just feels there.

Lara: Marlon Brando wanted more money than the studio was willing to pay him, so Jor-El does not return as the personality in the Fortress of Solitude’s computers. That honor goes to Supes’ mom, played by Susannah York, who’s all right, but its never ever explained WHY Superman has to relinquish his powers to be with a human woman.

Lex Luthor, the greatest criminal mind on Earth: Gene Hackman is great once more as Lex, hammily breaking out of prison with the help of Ballast, I mean, Otis (Ned Beatty) and Miss Tessmacher (Valerie Perrine). He heads north to the Fortress of Solitude, finds Supes’ secret stash of knowledge, and proceeds to broker a deal with General Zod in the hopes of gaining a modest fiefdom as a reward; Australia. Easily the film’s badass and the most consistently watchable/entertaining character in the movie.

General Zod: Terence Stamp is the grim-faced, conquering Zod. He tried to overthrow the government on Krypton before he got caught, and now, he succeeds in conquering Earth, then gets bored because its no challenge. He’s an all right character, but there’s just something wrong with his performance that I can’t place. Out of the three Kryptonians, he’s the most interesting, what with his egomaniacal penchant for yelling his own name out. Zod!

Ursa: Sarah Douglas (hey look kids, it Queen Taramis from Conan the Destroyer) is Zod’s implied lover and second in command. She seems to derive the most pleasure and wonder in her new powers and gets some great condescending lines of dialog. Because she’s very evil. Sexy evil.

Non: Jack O’Halloran plays the big, dumb, strangely mute brute in service to Zod. Non’s actually pretty funny, what with being given a mini-arc about his heat vision not being as strong as the other two villains’ and his efforts to make it stronger.

Spotty, that’s the word I’d use. Donner and Lester have different styles (Donner directed all of the Lex Luthor parts) and the movie itself has a very, very inconsistent visual tone. The first film is sweeping and epic in its visual presentation, and this movie lacks that. The special effects also look worse, especially the aerial fight scenes between Superman and Zod’s crew. Now, I know, I know. Limitations of the time, but seriously, they’ve aged badly. The pacing is also kind of spotty, though with switching directors mid-stream that’s hardly a surprise.

Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Tom Mankiewicz worked on the script, as in the first movie, but man, what happened? Plot holes big enough to fly a jet through litter the field. Super-amnesia kiss? Superman getting powered back up off-screen like it was nothing after such a tremendous build up to “giving up your powers FOREVER?” And what the hell happened to the villains at the end of the movie?? Superman depowers and beats them, and they just…fall into the shallow-looking pools of the Fortress of Solitude. That’s it. No resolution, no confirmation of if they’re alive or dead. They just literally drop out of the movie. If they died, then Superman’s a bigger dick than I thought, since he deliberately knocked them to their dooms. Oh, I probably should’ve marked that spoilers.

Ken Thorne turns in a pretty good score, but its all built on top of what John Williams originally wrote. This will become a theme with the Superman movies.

I never saw the Christopher Reeve Superman movies as a kid for some reason, so I never had the nostalgia goggles on for these movies, and I’ve got to admit, I am honestly baffled at how well liked Superman II is. There are some fantastic ideas and moments thrown in, but they’re mired in absolutely terrible storytelling mistakes, particularly in the unforgivably lazy ending. Its nowhere near as good as its predecessor. Hell, its not even a good movie, being decent watchable at best.

Now, I’m aware that a “Richard Donner” cut of the movie has been released on DVD, but I’m in no rush to see it right now (and don’t feel like dropping 25 bucks on it either), but I am slightly curious to get a better idea of what Donner was going for before he got booted.

The trailer lies. If you've only seen the first part, you have seen the best part.

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