Thursday, June 13, 2013

Superman II

I’m sure that by now most film fanatics like myself are aware of the odd story behind the making of Superman II. Just in case you’re not in the know, here’s the skinny…

Director Richard Donner was hired to direct parts 1 and 2 simultaneously, but once he had all the footage necessary to complete the first film production was stopped in order to get Superman ready for release. That film proved to be a huge hit, but Donner had rubbed the producers, the somewhat unsavory father/son duo Alexander and Ilya Salkind (they had a habit of not paying their crews), the wrong way and they fired him in order to put someone more controllable in the director’s chair, Richard Lester, who had helmed The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers for the Salkinds a few years earlier. In order to get credit for directing the film Lester had to have worked on at least 51% of it, so he ended up rewriting most of the script and reshooting a number of scenes. Gene Hackman refused to return for the reshoots due to the treatment Donner received, and Margot Kidder was very vocal about the producers’ sleazy business practices. All the footage of Marlon Brando that was shot was scrapped so they wouldn’t have to pay him his exorbitant fee and John Williams was not asked to come back in order to hire a cheaper composer, Ken Thorne. All the money that Superman raked in made the producers greedy and they cut back on spending in order to line their pockets with more cash.
Superman II should have been a complete fiasco. The strange thing is that it ended up being a better film than its predecessor.

Three Kryptonian criminals (Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran) escape the Phantom Zone and travel to Earth. Once they learn that the son of their jailer, Superman (Christopher Reeve), inhabits the same world they plan to exact their revenge upon not only him, but the entire planet.

This flick is pure, unadulterated zippy fun. It moves at a constant clip, never really slowing down en route its immensely entertaining conclusion. While the campy humor does rear its head now and then due to the changes made by Lester, it’s never overbearing and only seems to enliven events all the more. The audience gets to see the Superman/Lois Lane relationship taken to the next level and beyond when the Man of Steel gives up his powers to be with his one true love. Also the fight scenes between Supes and the Kryptonians are about as epic as anything you could ever hope to see in 1980. There’s suspense, romance, action, humor and every comic book trope imaginable perfectly combined into one movie.
Christopher Reeve once again owns the role of Clark Kent/Superman, giving Clark just the right amount of nerdy earnestness and Superman a courageous spirit that you can stand up and root for. Margot Kidder goes into overdrive as Lois Lane and gives a tour de force performance. Her arc is the emotional highlight of the film, going from a reckless reporter to someone whose heart has been ripped to shreds. Terence Stamp gleefully chews the scenery as General Zod and makes for a villain that easily eclipses the semi-comical approach taken with Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor. Every actor performs above and beyond what would normally be expected from a film of this type. I will admit that I had a slight crush on Sarah Douglas’ gothed up evil temptress, Ursa. She’s awesomely hot in black vinyl.

The bi-polar nature of the film works to even itself out. There are just as many serious scenes as lightly comic ones and not one takes anything away from the other. You can definitely tell, however, what was shot during Donner’s turn when compared to Lester’s. Each character looks slightly different, be it Christopher Reeve not being as bulked up during the fight scenes, Margot Kidder’s weight loss between reshoots and hairstyle/make-up changes for characters. It’s also plainly obvious that many actors who did not return for the reshoots are doubled and/or dubbed over, Gene Hackman especially.
There is one thing that always bugged me about this movie, and that is the ultimate resolution to the Lois Lane relationship with Superman. In order to keep his lover from harm he breaks up with her, but she can never forget the perfect moment they shared together and that has broken her heart. So what’s a guy to do? Give her a magic kiss to wipe her memory clean, that’s what! Out of all the ludicrous Deus ex machina ways the writers could have solved this dilemma, they chose that one?! It’s dumber than the “Can you read my mind” scene from the first film. And what’s worse is that the folks at DC comics decided to officially make it one of Superman’s powers, albeit a very rarely used one.

How Superman II ended up being more entertaining than the original is beyond me. It just is. It’s a rollercoaster ride of awesome that is just as enjoyable now as it was when I first saw it in the theater back in 1980. The silly spandex supersuit aside, Superman was here to stay and he was kicking ass and talking names. Sadly, that wouldn’t last for very long.

But I always did wonder what the original Richard Donner version would have been like…

4 out of 5

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