ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Superman II’ (1980), Part Two
As we continue our in-depth look at super-hero movies, Chris Sims and David Uzumeri take on the Superman film franchise.
David Uzumeri: They discover there’s life on the planet in the distance, so they fly, off to what Zod refers to as “Planet Houston.”
Chris: I have to admit that the whole “Planet Houston” is a really good gag. I really like that they treat Zod and Ursa (and to a lesser extent, Non) as knowing absolutely nothing about Earth and having to learn stuff piece by piece, like hearing the astronauts call to Mission Control at Houston and thinking that it’s the name of the entire planet. Plus, the way Terence Stamp says “Hew-ston” is pretty great.
David: It’s funny because his extended “Hew-ston” is basically pronouncing “Krypton” like everyone except Marlon Brando does. Meanwhile, Luthor and Otis have to escape jail, and in an occurrence designed in a lab to grant me inner peace, Luthor completely dumps Otis as he makes his majestic escape by hot air balloon via Miss Tessmacher. No, really, he gets saved by the woman who betrayed him last movie because he was going to BLOW UP HER HOMETOWN as a distraction. By hot air balloon.
Chris: Miss Tessmacher’s return is one of those things that just doesn’t make sense, given the direction her character was going at the end of the first movie. But considering what else we’re going to be dealing with, it’s not even in the top five weird, completely unexplained things about to happen.
David: I really, really enjoyed this movie, but it has a lot of goofy unexplained stuff, that’s for damn sure.
Chris: It’s pretty great that Lex escapes from jail in a hot air balloon, though. It doesn’t make noise! It’s, you know, a giant white ball floating in the sky, but it’s totally silent!
David: Getting rid of Otis, though, does make sense, because I don’t think this film could stand having recursive goofy comic relief. Luthor practically already serves Otis’s role with Zod for the rest of the movie. Except that Luthor’s just playing dumb, he isn’t dumb. This is Columbo Luthor.
Chris: I realized while I was watching this today that Otis is basically the Silver Age Harley Quinn. And you don’t like her, either.
David: I at least understand why the Joker would keep a stupid sycophant around.
Chris: Dude, Luthor wears an ascot with his prison uniform. He clearly needs someone to do the grunt work.
David: He can’t find a single operative that’s capable of carrying out his plans without completely f***ing them up every time?
Chris: Obviously not.
David: The asshole from the diner later would be better at being Luthor’s enforcer than this jackass. Or the smarmy bellhop in this next scene, who I seriously wanted to see Superman punch in the face just for being such a douchebag.
Chris: Oh man, don’t get me started on my opinions about that trucker before we actually get there. Best to just move on with the plot.
David: I love how Lois is barely able to contain her contempt for this dude and their nefarious nickel-and-diming ways. Not to mention the very fact that the Planet’s star reporters are traveling across the state to investigate this crap. (At this point, I’m assuming in the Superman movie universe, New York is just called Metropolis.)
Chris: Clark and Lois having to pretend to be married to investigate a crooked honeymoon hotel is seriously the most Silver Age plot they could’ve possibly dropped into this movie. And I kind of love that. Seriously, I expected Otto Binder to get a story credit.
David: I seriously think we need to discuss this bellhop, though. “Welcome, Mrs… (snicker) Smith.” “Have a happy… whatever this is.”
Chris: The best/worst part is when he leers at Lois while telling Clark – who is 6’2″ and looks pretty healthy, even in his Clark Kent clothes – that he can give him a hand if he needs help lifting her across the threshold.
David: Reeve pulls off some great comic acting at the end, too, as the hotel bed starts shaking and he muses, “Huh! It’s alive!” It cracks me up every time.
Chris: Clark awkwardly hitting on Lois and hinting that they should sleep together in the vibrating bed is one of the real gems of this film.
David: I actually really, really like pretty much all of the Clark/Lois stuff in this movie. You can see the attraction without having to sit through an awkward, terrible spoken-word piece.
Chris: Me too. Could this be the first step towards the heresy of preferring Lester to Donner?!
David: I don’t think that’s heresy, man. Twitter pretty much all agreed. I mean, yo, Richard Donner never made a movie like A Hard Day’s Night or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Donner is a dude whose signature movies are the Lethal Weapon films and the friggin’ Goonies.
Chris: If you’re going to start badmouthing The Goonies, we can end this column right here without ever getting to Superman rescuing the dumbest kid ever.
David: I’m just saying that Goonies is not exactly a cinematic masterpiece, fun as it may be, yo.
Chris: Move on, Uzumeri. Move on.
David: And hey man, we’ve still got to talk about Luthor and Tessmacher in the hot air balloon, and the great exchange of “How could you do that to Otis?” “What else is ballast for?”
Chris: As much as I love Luthor using the hot air balloon to escape prison, I’m a little less enchanted with the fact that it’s how he decides to go all the way to the North Pole.
David: He later shows up at the Fortress in winter gear, too. Did they take a stop at an Eddie Bauer or something?
Chris: I know I complain about how long these movies are, but I would love it if they added scene of Luthor ballooning over to a mall. “You see, Miss Tessmacher, the Orange Julius was originally built as a zeppelin dock!”
David: Between that and the hot dog/pretzel stand in the next scene, you have me wanting to cut and run to a mall food court for some damn reason. Speaking of which, let’s talk about the dumbest kid and worst parents ever at Niagara Falls, where Lois offering to clean Clark’s glasses finally gives her her first inkling that, hey, wait, this dude is pretty obviously Superman.
Chris: Lois is crazy cynical in this scene, too, to the point where it almost gets crazy that Superman is so into her. They’re talking about holding hands:
Lois: They let go, and it’s straight to the lawyer.
Clark: I don’t know about that, they look happy to me.
Lois: That’s because you’re blind, Clark.
David: She also gets super excited about a hot dog stand right in front of Niagara Falls, because as far as she’s concerned, absolutely nothing compares to flying with Superman.
Chris: Lois is a woman of complexities.
David: Clark yells at one kid not to play on the railing, but then while he’s off grabbing a hot dog for Lois, another kid goes “LOOK, MOMMY!” while jumping as his mom goes “YEAH, WHATEVER!” while looking at a map. Parenting!
Chris: And this kid has climbed over the rail to do this stunt so that he will fall directly over the Falls. Fortunately, the strange gravity at the US/Canada border causes him to fall for about two minutes while Lois shrieks and Superman flies over for the save.
David: This is not the first time we’ll see some wonky use of time in this movie, either. At all. Superman saves the kid, of course, and Lois begins to realize that if Superman’s in Niagara Falls, and is never around when Clark Kent is…
Chris: And Clark is pretty awful at allaying her suspicions. His response to “You’re never around when Superman is, Clark!” is to change the subject and try to walk away. Very smooth.
David: Superman does get in a great line, though — the kid goes “again! again!” when dropped off and he smiles and says “Sorry, only one ride per customer.” I just love how genial Superman is. And at this point I think we already established that Clark’s essentially subconsciously trying to get Lois to realize he’s Superman.
Chris: Yeah, but for me, that seems like a total copout in storytelling. We’ll get to the scene in a second where Lois straight up says “oh you subconsciously wanted me to know who you were, Clark!” but it feels a lot more like they wanted to have their traditional Suspicious Lois fakeout scene with Superman and their tender personal revelation (that’s ultimately pointless because of how dumb this movie gets in the third act) too. Much like the first one, this movie has a hard time deciding whether it wants to fall in line with the comics or be a modern take that allows for stuff like a genuine Clark/Lois romance to develop. Maybe that’s because of the dueling directors, but I’ve never seen the Donner cut.
David: Me either, I’m curious to find out what’s different, I just don’t want to, you know, have to watch this whole movie over again.
Chris: As has often been pointed out by our loyal readers, we are completely unwilling to do the bare minimum of research before we start yelling authoritatively about something.
David: But next up we get a scene with Lex Luthor and Miss Tessmacher apparently wearing a… I don’t even know how the hell to classify that, some sort of all-red nun’s robe.
David: But yeah, at the Fortress of Solitude, Luthor activates a crystal recording of Ghost Mom (presumably because they didn’t have another million dollars to pay Ghost Dad), which he proceeds to repeatedly talk at like a kid watching an adventure serial. He finds out that Zod, Ursa and Non exist, which leaves him pretty pumped, since he figures “hey, I’m a criminal, they’re criminals, this’ll totally work out!”
Chris: Solid logic. I am way into how Ghost Mom refers to the Phantom Zone Criminals as “Rebel Elements, though.
David: Meanwhile, back at Niagara Falls, Lois decides she’s going to prove that Clark is Superman by jumping into a river.
Chris: And again, we’re right back to a really Silver Agey scene where Lois, who is 100% correct but also a little kooky about it, puts Clark in a situation where he has to think his way through solving a problem without revealing his powers.
David: Yo, how do you hate this movie?
Chris: Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of it that I really like.
David: I really think the good far outweighs the bad here, man. Clark’s wonderfully desperate in his creativity here; if things had gone wrong for another five seconds, I think he would have blown his cover.
Chris: And Reeve’s awkward “AH MY GOD” running after her is a great physical Clark moment, too.
David: Clark (as Clark) saves a very humiliated Lois Lane from the river with some clever application of heat vision, as Zod, Ursa and Non finally arrive in Earth space, freaking out a farmer, walking on water and heat visioning a snake. Non picks up a stick and tries to heat vision it too, but it seems he can’t, I guess because he’s too dumb. I really don’t understand the point of Non, man. In this movie, I mean. Geoff Johns gave him a perfectly workable origin in the comics, but here, I just don’t get it.
Chris: There’s a scene in the Josie and the Pussycats movie – the best comic book movie ever made – where someone asks Alexandra Cabot “why are you even here?!” and she responds with “Because I was in the comic.” That’s how Non works.
David: That would make tons of sense except Non was created for this movie.
Chris: Yeah, but he’s standing in for Jax-Ur. There are three PZCs because that’s how many there are in the comics. Other than that, I don’t really get him. I mean, Terence Stamp is amazing as Zod, and Sarah Douglas is really fantastic as Ursa, too. I love how she keeps collecting trophies from the people she kills, like the astronauts’ patches and the sheriff’s badge. It’s really a genuinely sinister visual. But Non… he’s not really the muscle, because they all have Superman powers, so I guess he’s the comic relief?
David: He’s not very funny, though. Like, at all. And not just because “LOL the mentally disabled” isn’t funny, they aren’t even TRYING to be funny.
Chris: Yeah. In a lot of ways, this scene where they arrive on Planet Hew-ston really sums up the whole movie for me. Really awesome stuff like Zod walking on water…
Chris: …immediately followed up with sh** they just did not think through, like Ursa being bitten by a rattlesnake after surviving in space.
David: I didn’t think Ursa actually got bit, though. I figured the fangs broke.
Chris: No, she holds her wrist like she’s hurt.
David: Yeah, you’re right. That’s so weird.
Chris: And it’s even worse because it’s a scene where they’re literally going “Hey look at all the Superman powers we have!” And speaking of awkward moments where people forget about their super-powers…
David: #thatawkwardmoment when you purposely trip over a rug so Lois can see your hand doesn’t get burnt by the FLAMES OF LOVE.
Chris: The fact that Lois has to justify Clark’s actions out loud, and even she doesn’t sound all that convinced, should tell you something about how confident they were about this scene making sense.
David: I do love how, after tripping and Lois going “you are Superman!”, Clark starts doing a Clark-voice “Lois, don’t be sill—” before stopping himself because, you know, it’s just too far gone, buddy. I mean, once again, Reeve kills it. Still, after Lois gets through the whole “but you really wanted to tell me” stuff — which, by the way, I picked up on without it needing to be outright stated earlier, and I actually think is a perfectly reasonable character development for Superman, that he’s subconsciously sabotaging his own secret identity — is a really nice Reeve/Kidder scene. “We need to talk.” “I’m in love with you.” “Then we really need to talk.” I also love how they all pause before saying “…talk” for the rest of the conversation, because what they really mean is “f***.”
Chris: Instead of thinking about that, I’m going to move straight into the next scene and the two small-town sheriffs that I’m pretty sure were written by Quentin Tarantino.
David: Zod, Ursa and Non basically stand in the way of a sheriff car and pull the “oh, you guys are so primitive!” act on the sheriffs, who are entirely too eager to just start shooting random dudes in the street with what I really doubt is a standard issue sawed-off double-barreled shotgun. Like, a sawed-off, because what small-town sheriffs need is certainly maximum spread.
Chris: That’s how we do it in the Real America, son.
David: Zod does admire their siren, though, for it is “red like Krypton’s sun.”
Chris: I know this is nitpicking, but I am kind of mystified by the fact that the PZCs just immediately speak English without having to go through 12 years of Ghost Dad acid trips.
David: Wow, that doesn’t make any sense.
Chris: I mean they also fly around and shoot lasers out of their eyes, so whatever, but it’s still a little strange when you consider that they went through the trouble of Zod not actually learning the difference between water and land two scenes ago.
David: This is also the first time in the movie we see a Kryptonian displaying a totally WTF power, as Zod manages to heat up the sheriff’s shotgun and then… telekinetically move it over to himself? I just …. what?
Chris: If you thought that first movie was bad when it suddenly decided Superman had the ability to travel through time, we are just getting started with this movie and its stance of “these guys need even more powers!” So yeah, Zod, who has “the same powers” as Superman, has telekinesis now. No explanation.
David: So anyway. Clark and Lois show up at the Fortress, and Clark asks her if she’s cold. We then cut back to the Midwest, where Zod, Ursa and Non decide they’re going to start messing up a small town for… I dunno, fun?
Chris: One thing about Lois and Clark at the Fortress that’s really good: Lois asks “This is your home?” and Clark smiles and says “No, I actually live in the city about three blocks from you.” It’s a great contrast to the scene a few minutes earlier when Luthor shouts “this is his home!” It’s a really great, subtle way to show the difference between how Luthor thinks of Superman and how Superman thinks of himself that’s pulled off really well.
David: I hadn’t caught that, that’s a great point. Non’s trying to perfect his heat vision, Ursa beats some yokel at a game of arm wrestling, Zod pushes him through a wall, and the same cops from the last scene s— themselves. This stuff is all pretty straightforward.
Chris: I really like how the one redneck watches Ursa smash his friend through a table, and then goes “Oh, I should definitely fight this person with unexplained super strength.”
David: I also love how the town is East Houston, Idaho, because Zod doesn’t realize there’s more than one Houston. Back at the Fortress, Clark attempts to explain to Lois all about his twelve years with ghost dad and how the crystal “called” to him, and she seems as mystified by it as we were. Then he goes out for groceries and a rare flower from the Amazon or something, and I have to wonder where the hell he plans on cooking these. Is there a crystal stove and pressure cooker?
Chris: The scene cuts out before Superman warms up some Hot Pockets with his heat vision and Lois has to awkwardly smile and pretend it’s good.
David: Back in East Houston, there’s a particularly stupid news reporter who decided that hey, there’s these three Superman level dudes hanging out just wrecking s— in a small midwestern town, let’s go there and just… record it before the army even gets there! And this reporter with remarkably small self-preservation instinct ISN’T Lois!
Chris: In a better movie, it would’ve been Jimmy Olsen.
David: Unfortunately, Jimmy gets like five minutes of face time in this flick. So yeah, the army shows up, and the three criminals basically completely wreck them, as basically everybody expects. The President’s crapping his pants about this in the White House while Zod just laments to the camera that nobody’s baller enough to step to him.
Chris: If only they’d used the real flamethrower on Zod instead of the one with the hilariously fake cartoon flames!
David: Oh man, that flamethrower is legit hilarious.
Chris: Most of the effects in this movie seem a little cheaper than in the first one, to be honest. Superman has this huge black outline when he’s “flying” in to save the kid at Niagara, too.
David: Back at the Fortress, Lois and Superman eat dinner (which looks to be a big bowl of chicken nuggets) and drink champagne, with Lois declaring she’s gonna go get into something “more comfortable.” I think it’s worth noting how Morrison inverted this entire sequence for the second issue of All Star Superman; Clark reveals himself to Lois and takes her to the Fortress, but rather than Superman saying everything’s clear at dinner, Lois says everything’s clear because Superman is creeping her the hell out. Finally, rather than the solution being for Clark to descend to Lois’s level, Lois and Clark get to be together because he ascends her to his.
Chris: You mentioned All Star before we started writing, and there’s a lot of that series that feels like it’s the better version of what’s in these two movies. Lois and Superman’s date at the fortress, the Phantom Zone jailers, Clark’s last moments with his father. There’s a clear influence that’s worth noting, but it really feels like Morrison was watching these and going “oh, we can do better than that.”
David: Back at East Houston, Zod humiliates a four-star General and finds out that he answers to the President, so now he’s gonna go fight the President. The Zod segments are pretty damn straightforward, I have to say.
Chris: And, effects aside, they tend to be pretty good. Terence Stamp, man. Dude does not play around. I really like his delivery on “I win. I always win,” even though he sort of forgets that time Marlon Brando put him in a Polaroid for a few decades.
David: I love how Lois keeps using a Polaroid in this movie. I wish Superman had used it to create a new Phantom Zone at the end. Instead, we get a truly heroically sized plot hole, in this upcoming scene. While Lois was changing, Clark decided to do the only logical thing when bringing a girl home for the first time: calling up his mom to ask for advice.
Chris: It is ridiculous that Superman doesn’t do a damn thing in these two movies without first consulting his parents, who are both dead and a computer. And yet, it’s only half as ridiculous as what Ghost Mom tells him.
David: “Of all the questions you might ask, this is the one your father and I feared the most.” Jor-El and Lara: Cosmic, time-travelling c*ckblockers.
Chris: If you were Superman’s mom, wouldn’t you be afraid that your 32-year-old son was going to call you up and be like “how do I make sex on a lady?”
David: Basically, Lara tells Superman that the only way he can be with Lois is if he bathes himself in the red sun rays of Krypton in a special chamber. She also says that these red sun rays will take away his powers forever. Now, I mean, I’ve had a lot of good things to say about this movie — I genuinely enjoy the hell out of it — but the entire loses powers/gains powers plot does not make any damn sense whatsoever. Like, I have zero idea how this script got out of workshopping. The only conceivable solution to the narrative problem is that Lara is completely lying.
Chris: Forget about the how, I’m concerned with the why. We’re never told why Superman has to lose his powers forever to date Lois, just that this is what his mom is telling him. Just like we never really learn why Superman “can’t interfere” with humanity, when basically everything he does is interfering. But yeah, she definitely tells him it’ll take away his powers, and – spoiler warning! – that’s complete bullsh** because he’s Superman again in about 20 minutes.
David: The process, it turns out, is completely reversible. Like, using the same machine that did it in the first place. Which also makes no sense, since doesn’t it just bathe him in red sun rays? And if it bathed him in YELLOW sun rays instead, wouldn’t just being outside for another year or so make him Superman again anyway? And if it’s totally reversible, why doesn’t he just do this every time he wants to bang Lois?
Chris: Nothing about this entire sequence makes sense. Even by the rules of the movie. Even by any basic logic based on what we’re presented with.
David: Like, the process takes like ten seconds, doesn’t look particularly painful, and even gives him a sweet new Arrow shirt.
Chris: Oh man. I have given a pass to all of these transformation sequences, even the ones that are completely ridiculous like Clark just dropping out of the window and turning into Superman, but when “Clark” and “Superman” separate and Clark walks out in a sweet dress shirt and slacks, it’s so dumb / amazing / dumb again / amazing again that we have to talk about it.
David: Like, at first I thought they just screwed up overlaying the images, but then Superman actually stayed in there, looking like super-depressed, while Clark turns around and walks out. It’s hilarious. I also question why, if his parents didn’t want him to fall in love with an Earth lady, they programmed the Fortress to build him what I can only describe as a gigantic silver f***hammock that looks like it belongs in the back of a frat dude’s van.
David Uzumeri: Seriously, all the Fortress is needing is that one black & white poster of two girls kissing. YOU KNOW THE ONE.
Chris: Superman’s Kryptonian Sex Lair is without question the best thing in this movie. Clearly, we know where the SFX budget went.
David: More like the SEX budget. Off-screen revelation: “by the way, Lois, Kryptonians don’t have penises.”
Chris: Also, for those of you keeping score at home, this is where Bryan Singer was like “oh he definitely put a baby in her there.”
David: A baby that somehow got superpowers, even though Superman is supposed to be mortal now, but I guess it’s still in his genetics, which means this is going to wear off in like a year ANYWAY. God. This movie.
Chris: So with that, Superman and Lois totally bang in the Fortress, forgetting for the moment that he definitely flew her there when he had superpowers and now they have to make a horrifying journey through the arctic with absolutely zero supplies.
David: I love how he doesn’t even discuss things with her or do anything before just walking into the completely irreversible chamber. Like, “Hey, Lois, does this seem like a good idea? Maybe we team up to clean up crime and create a sustaining system to replace me before I do this? Give it like three years?” Nope, let’s just walk on in!
Chris: I really wanted the next scene of this movie to be Superman having his foot amputated due to extreme frostbite, but alas, it does not. But we’ll get to that next week!
David: It would have been great, if entirely too cynical, if Lois was like “ew, you’re not Superman anymore? Where’s my little black book?”
Chris: Superman has lost his powers, and three Kryptonians have arrived to take over the world! We’ll see how he manages to thwart their evil ways − which I’m sure won’t involve any plot holes or ridiculous deus ex machinas at all – next week, when David and I return!
ComicsAlliance Reviews the Superman Films: