ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Superman II’ (1980), Part One
As we continue our in-depth look at super-hero movies, Chris Sims and David Uzumeri take on the Superman film franchise.
Chris Sims: Of the four original Superman films, this is actually the only one I’ve seen recently – if about five years ago can be considered recent. And while I took a lot of heat for saying that the first one was “overrated,” everyone can relax. I think this one’s just bad.
David: For a movie so closely tied to the first movie, it’s really impressive just how many people they out and replaced.
Chris: Including the director, which has been the source of some controversy about the film. The original plan was for Richard Donner to film Superman and Superman II back-to-back, only taking a break for the actors to head out and promote the first one in ’78. But partway through shooting Superman II, Donner ran into some irreconcilable differences with the producers, the Salkinds.
David: I actually don’t know the story here — what was the issue? Was it money or was it creative?
Chris: Accounts vary on that front. Some people have said it was because the Sakinds wanted it to be campier, some because of money issues over how much Donner wanted to spend. I’m not too familiar with the story myself, but it’s pretty clear from what I have heard that there were multiple issues going on. There was a great episode of the How Did This Get Made podcast where they did Superman III, but had Jack O’Halloran — who plays Non — talk for about 45 minutes about the filming of Superman II, and I can highly recommend that for anyone who wants to find out a little more behind-the-scenes stuff. But the end result is that Donner was replaced by Richard Lester, who would also go on to film Superman III.
David: Honestly, the directorial feel of the movie isn’t especially different. I don’t think I’d notice the switch from Donner, but then again, I’m pretty far from a film student, as has been pointed out repeatedly.
Chris: It’s weird how it really divided the actors, too. All of the Gene Hackman scenes were Donner’s. Hackman refused to reshoot with Lester, and declined to come back for Lester’s sequel either. Margot Kidder was publicly supportive of Donner, and blames that for her reduced role in Superman III, though the Salkinds deny there was any animosity on their part.
David: Replacing the director on a movie like this is really only a movie you could pull in the pre-Internet age without everyone completely flipping their s**t, I imagine – although I don’t know, maybe there was a big kerfuffle in Fangoria or whatever the hell the fanzine equivalent was at the time. But I think it was an era where the average Joe couldn’t care less about how the sausage got made.
Chris: The people writing in to Starlog lost their minds.
David: Hahaha, seriously?
Chris: No. Well, probably, but I don’t know. In 2006, they released Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which only used Lester’s footage when they had to, in order to fill out spots Lester Donner hadn’t filmed, on DVD. It was done to tie in with the release of Superman Returns, because Superman Returns was, I swear to God, a sequel to a director’s cut of a movie from 26 years before that skipped over that movie’s two sequels. Which is one of the many, many problems with that piece of crap, but I guess we’ll get to that one in about two months. This has raised the question of which one David and I were going to watch, and I think we both ended up getting the theatrical cut, right?
David: That’s what I’m watching, yeah. I might watch the Donner cut later to prepare for Superman Returns, but we agreed it was best to evaluate the version of Superman II everyone remembers and that millions of people saw in the movie theater. I mean, not that anything could actually prepare me for Superman Returns. I know everyone’s expecting us to buck the popular wisdom with these, but I’m pretty confident we’re going to agree with the rest of the world that Superman Returns is utterly awful.
Chris: Yeah, I can guarantee you that Superman Returns will not lead to another Batman & Robin situation. Superman IV, however… I make no such promises.
David: IV is pretty awful. III… I kind of … well, I think we’re going to enjoy III a lot. But we’ll get there soon. Before that, we’ve got this thing.
Chris: So let’s get cracking with Superman’s epic battle with the Phantom Zone criminals, plus one angry trucker, in Superman II!
David: Hey now, let’s not forget about some French terrorists.
David:But first, we’ve got a quick flashback sequence of Zod’s great crime from Krypton, which appears to be snapping into a crystal Slim Jim.
Chris: Krypton was hit hardest by the loss of “The Macho Man” Randy Savage.
David: We kick off with Zod, Ursa and Non walking into a big crystal room, and there’s some guard dude there with a hilarious beeping battery pack that goes “A-LERT! A-LERT!” as Non snaps his neck. Then the three of them stand in the same place while Zod breaks this red crystal in half, at which point the prison rings drop down from above and Jor-El sentences them to the Phantom Zone. Now… what? Did they have this set up as a trap or something? David Uzumeri: Jor-El passes sentence basically by himself, which is pretty amazing since nobody would listen to him about their own planet blowing up. And he basically goes “Zod, you’re a dick, Ursa, you’re riding that dick, and Non… well, you’re developmentally disabled and aren’t really at fault, but f*** you too.”
Chris: My favorite part of this entire sequence is that the Crystal Warehouse or wherever the hell this crime is taking place has one guard cosplaying as Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art for a snowtrooper, who a) does not notice a seven foot tall dude wearing all black in a white crystal room stomping around behind him, and b) only appears to have one thing with which to fight crooks, a box that says “Alarm” in a voice slightly softer than someone speaking.
David: I honestly figured it was a robot at first, but then Non made a big show of snapping his neck.
Chris: This part’s weird, too, because it goes right into what we already saw at the beginning of Superman: The Movie, but with the added bonus of showing us what the crime was. And that Kryptonians can apparently just lock your ass in a hula hoop jail the second you commit the crime. With as much time as we spent in that first movie’s opening, I’m honestly surprised that it didn’t include that additional 30 seconds.
David: Brando’s offscreen, so maybe it was actually added later? The part about Non really disturbs me the most, though. “You are as without thought as without voice.” Does Krypton just not believe in rehabilitation?
Chris: Sending the mentally ill into the Phantom Zone. Rejecting science. Krypton is basically Space-Texas.
David: Either way, Jor-El just sends these dudes off into the Phantom Zone crystal, and then we get a credits sequence laid over a bunch of catch-up clips from the first movie.
Chris: I would be shocked if this wasn’t what inspired Morrison and Quitely to do their famous four-panel take on Superman’s origin. I almost wish this is how it had been done in the first movie – the only thing is that it’s a little too quick to really get everything if you hadn’t seen the first one, but it’s a nice little highlight reel.
David: Yeah, I had the same thought, but I think Morrison and Quitely actually lifted it from Detective Comics #801 by Lapham and Bachs. But anyway, John Williams’s music plays over the recap, and then we get a Clark/Perry scene that’s astonishingly naive even for Movie Clark Kent. Also, what the hell is the Phantom Zone? If it’s another dimension, why is it contained within that little flying rotating mirror?
Chris: The real problem with the opening is that it doesn’t just recap the origin, it recaps the whole damn two-hour movie, giving us another five-minute credits sequence. Those guys loved their credits, didn’t they?
David: It was a DGA requirement, dude. It was a Big Deal when George Lucas said “eff all that” and put all the credits for Star Wars in the back. He had to resign from the guild, I think. I don’t know the details, but basically, every movie from this era that was a Hollywood union production had to have a big, drawn-out opening credit scene to appease actors’ egos. (I’m sure I’ll get corrected 40,000 times in the comments on the specifics, and that’s cool, I’m genuinely interested to hear them.)
Chris: Back to the movie, I have to admit that “Gee, Mr. White, that’s terrible!” “That’s why they call them terrorists” is a pretty great scene, especially with the look Perry gives to Clark.
David: There are French terrorists who have taken hostages on the Eiffel Tower and have, no joke, a hydrogen bomb.
Chris: There’s another great Perry White line too, when he reveals that he sent Lois to cover the story: “If Paris is going to go kablooey, I want my best reporter right in the middle of it!” They really J. Jonah Jameson’d him up, and it works.
David: “If I know Lois, she’ll come back with an interview with the hydrogen bomb entitled ‘What Makes Me Tick!’” slayed me.
Chris: It’s really excellent.
David: And once again, Jimmy Olsen gets like one line and then disappears into the background. Superman’s Dude He Ignores In The Back Of The Room, Jimmy Olsen
Chris: I’ve said before that there was no character who got screwed over in Crisis on Infinite Earths quite as hard as Jimmy Olsen, who went from headlining a book to barely appearing for 20 years, and I think that has its roots in these movies. That might be why I don’t like them – eight hours of these things and there ain’t a signal watch in ‘em.
David: From the looks of things, the only signal watch Marc McClure was wearing was the one that told him when his fifteen minutes were up. Okay, we can end here. I’m never topping that.
Chris Tip your waitress, everybody.
David: But yeah, we cut to Paris, where Lois Lane gets out of a cab telling the driver “Mercy, mercy.” It’s amazing how Lois Lane is portrayed as being such a great reporter, other than her lack of a) ability to spell and b) world knowledge and/or cultural sensitivity.
Chris: Also her complete shock a the fact that it’s a hydrogen bomb. Did Perry just not tell her what she was going to France to cover? Because it would be kind of hilarious if he didn’t”
“Lois, I need you to go to Paris.”
“Sure, Perry, what’s the story?”
“Oh, you’ll find out.”
David: Why deny Lois the ability to write about how shocked she was when she found out it was a hydrogen bomb? Or maybe, to be fair, they only revealed that detail while she was on the plane. Also, how long has this hostage negotiation been going on that she was able to fly to France?!
Chris: She doesn’t even have a notebook. she’s writing on her hand.
David: The only thing she has is a little pocket French dictionary, which she actually uses to distract the guard and run into the Eiffel Tower, because, well, Lois Lane is completely devoid of a self-preservation instinct. It’s actually a great scene, where she gets this cop to pore over the book with her like she needs help, and then she just bolts.
Chris: With tight security like that, it’s not really hard to guess how the terrorists snuck an H-Bomb to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Chris: You can’t fault Lois for her dedication, though, what with the fact that she climbs to the stairs halfway up the Eiffel Tower.
David: And then decides to hide out under the elevator. I love Lois’s coping mechanism as the elevator starts to ride up, just repeating the letters in “Pulitzer” and “Nobel” to herself over and over again.
Chris: Also, I am pretty sure that one of these terrorists is Harry Potter’s uncle.
David: I Am Curious (Black)!
Chris: No, his other uncle:
David: Stop ruining my jokes with facts.
Chris: Your jokes don’t need my help being ruined.
David: So, of course, Lois moves while under the elevator and tips the terrorists off to her presence, at which point one of the terrorists completely screws up and drops the remote control for the H-bomb as well as the elevator, so now Lois is plummeting towards the ground with a broken cable and there’s a hydrogen bomb on top about to go off. And Superman shows up.
Chris: As he tends to do in situations like that.
David: And his first concern is Lois. As it tends to be in situations like that. So he safely gets her off the elevator and then pushes the elevator up into space with the hydrogen bomb, where it goes totally kablooey and the shockwaves from its explosion open up Zod, Ursa and Non’s Phantom Zone prison. You’d think that just destroying the projector wouldn’t free everybody, just stick them in there forever.
Chris: You throw enough nuclear weapons into space to solve your problems, and it’s bound to cause trouble sooner or later.
David: I’m assuming this entire scene was a Lester invention, since, according to you, the original plan was for Donner to have the nuke Superman threw into space in the first movie cause this, right?
Chris: As I understand it, yes.
David: That kind of makes a lot more sense than this totally bizarre Paris opening, as enjoyable as the scene is.
Chris: It’s weird that the Phantom Zone Polaroid would drift over to Earth in the time since they were trapped, but I guess if we’re going to start picking out odd coincidences, we’ll be here all night.
David: But now we’re back in Metropolis, and it’s time for the movie to basically hit us over the head with the fact that Clark’s starting to get really annoyed that Lois is head over heels for Superman but thinks he’s a total doofus. However, I actually really love this part since it’s basically Clark trying, repeatedly, to expose himself in front of Lois.
David: “Hey Lois! I just got hit by this car and I’m fine! You don’t think that’s weird or anything?!?” Nobody ELSE even seems to find it notable that a car hit a dude in the middle of the street and the metal just wrapped itself around him.
Chris: Clark — who was jaywalking, by the way — just cold leaves that dude’s busted-ass car in the middle of the street, too.
David: “Sorry, citizen! Superman has tail to chase.”
Chris: It seems he’s given up on trying to get Lois to quit smoking, too.
David: Lois has decided she’s going to keep herself in perfect health with an epic truckload of Vitamin C every day, all generated by creating her own orange juice, “for exercise,” because pills aren’t “natural.” All while smoking cigarettes. Lois Lane: Hipster Extraordinaire.
Chris: Ace reporter for the Portland Daily Planet.
David: “Yo, Clark, want a PBR?” There’s also a great moment in this scene where Lois tries to offer Clark “constructive criticism,” and Clark goes “well, I don’t really-” before getting steamrolled over with insults.
Chris: Ironically, just as Zod is escaping the Phantom Zone, Jor-El’s heir is finding himself trapped within… the Friend Zone.
David: [slow clap]
Chris: Meanwhile, in prison, we manage to get to Lex Luthor after only 20 minutes of film this time.
David: Along with goddamn Otis. Seriously, I hate Otis so much, you guys. He’s either cheap Jar Jar Binks humor or a character whose stupidity acts as an impetus for Lex Luthor to provide Exposition.
Chris: I do like that after he tries to blow up California with a nuclear weapon, they just go ahead and put Lex Luthor into regular jail.
Chris: They even let him work in the laundry room!
David: You’d think giving Lex Luthor access to mechanical equipment would be a terrible idea. It’s not like he’s a criminal supergenius mad scientist or anything.
Chris: As long as they keep him away from the local real estate listings, they’ll be fine.
David: So Otis reveals that he’s been reading about people trying to track Superman on radar, and how he always just flies north. So every time Superman flies somewhere, he goes to the Fortress? EVERY time?
Chris: Well, it’s been well-established that Superman can’t do anything without first consulting his Ghost Dad’s Floating Head. Where do you think Smallville got their ideas?
David: So then Luthor figures out that Superman must have something important at the North Pole, especially since they keep catching him on radar all around the world, which, let’s be frank, it’s a pretty good idea. Like, I totally buy Luthor going “yeah, this is a good lead.” It’s nowhere near as much of a stretch as his magic deduction of the existence of Kryptonite last movie.
Chris: It is a nice attempt at trying to get things to make sense for once.
David: So he’s built a black box that measures alpha waves, whatever the Hell those are, that will track Superman. Magic Superscience, I can accept that. Cut to the friggin’ moon, where a joint American-Russian operation’s going on, and the dude still in the lander is making jokes about getting engaged to the Russian astronaut. 1980, everybody!
Chris: I sincerely hope “Cut to the friggin’ moon” was in Puzo’s original script.
David: I kind of like the cold way they execute; they’re discovering their powers at the same time as just assassinating these dudes. And none of them seem particularly weirded out at the fact that they’re walking around and talking on the FRIGGING MOON; Ursa doesn’t notice she’s got superpowers until she rips off part of a dude’s astronaut suit, tearing through metal fibers.
Chris: Well, it looks like we might have to cut things a little short this week, but the villains arriving on the friggin’ moon to tear stuff up is a pretty good place to leave off. The movie’s been solid so far, but join us next week as we continue our in-depth look at Superman II, and find out where it all goes wrong!
ComicsAlliance Reviews the Superman Films: