Super Movie Monday – Superman II

Okay, I was wrong last time. It didn’t take two years to get the sequel out. It took three, coming out in June 1981.

Which was frustrating if you were a fan, because there had been much publicity during the production of the first film that they were actually filming both movies simultaneously. So just what was taking so long?

A few things. First, although they did film substantial amounts of the sequel during the production of the first film, deadline pressures due to the impending release date caused them to drop that plan midway through production and only concentrate on the first film.

Second, that whole controversial ending where Superman reverses time? Originally planned as the end of the sequel, where Superman reverses time to undo all the damage caused by this film’s villains. So now they needed a new ending for the second film, which meant rewrites.

And then, of course, there was the whole “switching directors” thing. Richard Donner was out, and Richard Lester, who had directed the Salkinds’ previous Musketeers films, was in as director of Superman II.

In fact, a lot of people were different on this one. Some, like cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth and production designer John Barry, had died. Some, like composer John Williams, were unavailable. The other big one, we’ll talk about in a bit.

The film opens with the same trip to Krypton as the previous film, only it happens about fifty times faster. Then we fly into Kryptonopolis or wherever, while the orchestra reprises John Williams epic Kryptonian fanfare, only once again, faster, like the conductor’s in a hurry to wrap this up and get the movie started already.

We enter the same dome as before, the one where crusading District Attorney Jor-El tried the three Kryptonian criminals. Only instead of Brando, we see some dude in a weird helmet, with a cheap-looking electronic box on his belt. He doesn’t last long.

Notice the Superman shield on the control console there. Zod and Ursa enter, and the bluescreen fringe is noticeably bad on both of them. Not a good omen in a special effects film. Zod breaks a crystal, the room goes dark and the swirly thing descends to trap them.

And then? No Jor-El. A voice from the darkness (not Brando’s) introduces the three criminals and asks for a verdict. The big faces projected on the wall say “Guilty,” and the three criminals are immediately trapped in the Phantom Zone crystal, meaning Zod is unable to deliver his big, “Join me, Jor-El ” speech. But finally, as the crystal is spinning off into space, we do hear Zod tinnily threatening Jor-El and his heirs, because really, that has to be in there for the rest of the film to mean anything.

Opening credits. Brando’s name is not among them. Ilya Salkind is pretty upfront and honest on the commentary about why they cut him out of the second film , even though his scenes had already been filmed. Brando had a percentage deal, which would have taken a bite out of the profits. The Salkinds were willing to pay that for the first film, because they had to raise money and investors would be more likely to open their wallets for Brando than for some unknown dude playing a guy in a cape.

But the first film had been a huge success. Christopher Reeve was now a star in his own right, and the sequel was highly anticipated. They didn’t need Brando’s name to soothe worried investors anymore. So they cut him out to save money. And as the film goes on, you’ll notice that it looks as if they cut a lot of things out to save money.

The previous movie is recapped in quick video clips during the credits, and yes, that means Super-baby’s penis gets another quick look, because who didn’t want to see that again?

The credits end, and the story proper begins at the Daily Planet. Clark Kent flirts with a pretty reporter by doing the no-look flip with his hat onto the hatrack like he’s James Bond saying hello to Moneypenny. But like everyone else in the newsroom, she blows him off, so he heads into Perry White’s office, where he finds out that terrorists have seized the Eiffel Tower along with a bunch of hostages and are threatening to destroy Paris with an H-Bomb. And for some reason, there’s a big picture of Bill Cosby on the pillar just outside Perry’s office.

Clark runs out of the building and changes into Superman with this trailing-afterimage dissolve thing that, I don’t know if it’s meant to be a super-speed change or just some eye candy to give them an excuse not to do a cutaway, but it’s cooler than the straight dissolve we saw in the first film.

Meanwhile in Paris, Lois is arriving to cover the story. A French official chooses that moment to do a briefing, and the Daily Planet’s best reporter, apparently having packed in too much of a hurry, forgot to bring a notebook and is taking notes on her hand. In ink. On a rainy day. Yeah, those notes will be really useful.

The thing is, the movie never calls attention to this. I’m sure there was a moment filmed where Lois says something like, “Oh, I forgot my notebook,” but it was apparently cut out.

Having heard that the terrorists have a hydrogen bomb, Lois decides to get a closer look and unobtrusively sneaks by the police cordon in her stealthy pink suit.

She hitches a ride on the bottom of the elevator (which is doing those literally hand-written notes a world of good, I’m sure) and overhears the terrorists talking about how there’s a 60-second deadman switch on the bomb. And their resident bomb expert just happens to be a young Uncle Vernon Dursley, which explains a lot, I guess.

But see, Uncle Vernon and pals have neglected to tell the cops about the deadman switch, which sort of defeats the whole purpose. And even more idiotically, they decide to keep the bomb on the elevator, while they all sit outside and smoke. So French SWAT blows the chains of the elevator, causing it to drop away from the terrorists and breaking the connection to the deadman switch. Paris–Gone In 60 Seconds.

But here comes Superman, moving so quickly his cape barely flaps at all. He catches the falling elevator with Lois on the bottom, and I’m glad they don’t show the stream of urine which is surely still falling.

Superman and Lois have a brief conversation which ends about 58 seconds of screen time after the 60-second timer was activated. Better hurry, Superman. Somehow, Superman gets the bomb out past the moon before it detonates.

And while the action has been kind of cool, it has also been pretty meaningless. The entire opening sequence has very little to do with anything. We never even find out what the terrorists wanted. The sequence was just created as an excuse to have an atomic explosion in space. Why?

The shockwaves knock Superman back and also blow open the Phantom Zone crystal, which apparently just happened to be in the neighborhood (although when you read the original two-part screenplay, it appears that the screenwriters think space is a pretty small place).

And see, originally, the three villains were supposed to be broken out by the missile that Superman flung into space in the first film. But that plan got changed in the sequel, so they needed a new explosion.

Superman flies back to Earth, while the three criminals decide to head for the nearest destination, the Moon.

Back in Metropolis, Clark is so distracted by Lois that he gets hit by a cab (a gag meant for the first film that I think Donner rightly excluded). Lois is on a health kick, making orange juice while a cigarette dangles from her lips. Clark is smitten, and really, who wouldn’t be?

Lois crushes him with the F word–friend–although she does say she cares about Clark, which makes him smile.

And I’ve got to say that, as much as I like Christopher Reeve in the role, I always thought his smile was a little goofy and buck-toothed. There are scenes where he’s awesome, just killing it, and then he smiles and I cringe. But maybe that’s just me.

Lex Luthor, meanwhile, is in prison and still bald. He says he has built an “alpha wave” radar to track Superman north to whatever secret he has up there.

On the Moon, General Zod and his amazing zoo crew attack a manned moon mission, and lo and behold, they can talk on the surface of the moon. This is doubly silly when you listen to the commentary track and learn that they spent hours vacuuming dust out of the air between takes because there’s not supposed to be any atmosphere on the moon. And triply silly when the Kryptonians seem to understand English but not Russian. Ursa rips a hole in one guy’s spacesuit, which makes it somehow overinflate, then she kicks him away like his suit is filled with Flubber Gas.

Back at Mission Control, it’s the return of Cliff!

Seriously, the discussion between the two controllers seems to be included just to give Ratzenberger an excuse to be in the movie, playing another guy whose job is to stare at a radar screen.

Meanwhile on the Moon, the Kryptonians are discussing their situation.  Zod believes that their powers come from proximity “to an atmosphere with only one sun… a yellow sun,” which is even stupider than the comics explanation which was just the yellow sun. Especially since Krypton was also shown as having just one sun, so I have no idea what the number has to do with anything. They decide to head for Earth, ’cause the moon’s boring.

I wanted to do the movie in two parts, but this is getting pretty long, so it looks as if it is going to stretch to three. See you next week.

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One Response to Super Movie Monday – Superman II

  1. Pingback: Super Movie Monday – Superman IV, Part 1

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