Newest Review: ... the plot and references back to the earlier film would be missed. The plot (hero faces personal crisis just as his greatest enemy surfaces... more
Big Blue Too
Superman II (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
Superman II (DVD)
Advantages: Exciting and engaging plot, Terence Stamp is terrific as Zod
Disadvantages: Effects have dated badly, sidelining Gene Hackman is not a good move
Back in 1978, Superman: The Movie wowed audiences, making a sequel almost inevitable. In the way of sequels everywhere, 1980s Superman II promised a film and effects that were bigger and better; the big question on the lips of cinemagoers everywhere was: can Superman II deliver.
For the most part, the answer is "yes". Shorn of the need to set up characters and back story, Superman II is able to get going at a much faster pace than the original. It also shows a pleasing degree of continuity, picking up elements of the Superman saga which were hinted at in the original, but never developed as full themes in their own right. This helps to give Superman II a slightly more epic feel, as though it is part of an on-going sage, rather than an isolated event.
This time around, Superman faces a triple threat. Accidentally freed from their prison in the Phantom Zone, Kryptonian Arch-villains General Zod, Ursa and Non head towards Earth, where they find they enjoy the same powers as Superman. And all this at a time when Superman/Clark Kent is facing a very personal crisis...
The set-up for Superman II is very sure-footed and builds on the solid foundations already established by the earlier film. Yet whilst it's better to have watched that before seeing this, it's not essential, as the key plot elements are carefully recapped during the opening credits of the sequel. Superman II could be watched as a standalone film, although inevitably, some of the finer points of the plot and references back to the earlier film would be missed.
The plot (hero faces personal crisis just as his greatest enemy surfaces) may appear a little hackneyed these days but it's important to remember that where superhero films are concerned, Superman created the template which is still followed today. It might seem old hat now, but in 1980 it was fresh and exciting - the idea that Superman could be vulnerable was a shock to your average cinema goer. Mix this with some great set-pieces and it's clear that Superman II is a winner.
All the action and plot is carefully counter-balanced by some amusing moments. Never stupid enough to turn the film into a spoof or ridicule the characters, they are well-judged and will make you laugh. Some aspects are (deliberately) slightly cheesy, and they work very well when set against the more serious tone of the rest of the film.
Characters, too, work even better this time around. It's clear that the cast have grown into their roles and are more comfortable with their respective roles, returning to them like a duck goes back to the wet stuff.
Once again, Christopher Reeve is superb as Clark Kent/Superman, a man finding his dual identity increasingly complicated. The nuances which Reeve brings to the role are genuinely impressive. As Clark Kent, his bumbling, clumsy nature makes him both endearing and frustrating. His high-pitched voice is never aggravating, but he does make you wish that he would get some backbone. Then, in the blink of an eye, he becomes Superman, seeming to grow visibly in size, whilst his voice changes, becoming commanding and forceful. Reeve nails both sides of his role perfectly and his ability to switch instantly from one to the other in the blink of an eye remains an impressive acting feat.
Margot Kidder as Superman Groupie (and reporter) Lois Lane is also on good form. Her love interest story with Superman/Kent is well-handled, bringing enough romance to make it convincing, without becoming overly sickly and slowing the plot down too much. It is a shame that the sequel reduces Lane to little more to the damsel in distress role, always waiting for Supes to come and get her out of her latest scrape. In the comics and the first film, she had a feisty edge to her, and this becomes a little more subdued in the sequel (although it resurfaces in a very satisfying manner towards the end).
Amongst the bad guys, it's Terence Stamp who excels as evil leader, General Zod, a man determined to bring down Superman once he discovers he is the son of his Kryptonian jailer, Jor-El. Stamp's commanding delivery of his lines and his cold, lizard-like stare is genuinely chilling and Zod makes a worthy adversary for the Last Son of Krypton. The three-on-one scrap that takes place in the middle of the film is a great set-piece and it's a shame that it's the only time we really see these four giants of Krypton go head to head. The final climax, by contrast, is slightly disappointing, settling for brains over brawn which is not quite as exciting as a mass brawl between 4 super-powered beings. It might teach an important lesson about the merits of thinking over fighting, but it doesn't make for as satisfying conclusion.
It's a shame that Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor, is somewhat sideline, relegated to fourth ranking in the villain stakes. Worse, at times he is reduced to the role of providing some comic relief - something which is ill-suited to his character.
As with the original, if you want to criticise Superman II, you need to look to the special effects. Inevitably, they have dated and look somewhat laughable in this age of photo-realistic, computer generated special effects. In many ways, they actually look worse than the 1978 film, mainly because it is a much more effects-heavy film, so the shortcomings are more obvious. Still, it a little slack. Nothing (not even this cute little monkey-reviewer) looks as good as it did 30 years ago, and the strong plot, cast and set-pieces more than make up for any deficiencies in the effects department.
Sequels don't always improve on their predecessors, but Superman II bucks that trend. A strong cast, well paced story shorn of the need to establish basic plot and some great set-pieces make it a film that deserves repeated viewing... and that's without even mentioning the stirring score based on John Williams' original theme. Which I bet you're humming to yourself even as you read this...
Director: Richard Lester
Running time: approx. 123 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2011
Summary: A worthy sequel that set a template for superhero sequels