Three years after the massive commercial success of “Superman” at the box office, Warner Brothers returned the hero to the big screen with “Superman 2”. The movie would once again rejoin actors Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, and Gene Hackman for an even bigger adventure than before. Despite the good fortune the franchise was enjoying from the first film, this new movie wasn’t without its fair share of troubles behind the scenes. Even with such a hefty dose of drama and strife occurring both on and off camera, Superman was able to soar to even greater heights the second time around.
“Superman 2” finds our hero coming face-to-face with a nasty trio of Kryptonian villains recently escaped from the Phantom Zone. Led by the enigmatic General Zod (Terence Stamp), these super-villains will stop at nothing until Earth is under their control and the son of Jor-El is kneeling at their feet. Now, Superman (Christopher Reeve) must fight harder than ever before to protect not only the city that he loves, but the entire planet he calls home.
For a moment I’d like to take some time to expound a little more on the troubles I mentioned that surrounded the production of this sequel. Perhaps there are some of you out there that were made curious as to just what this strife may have been about. Well, I feel it only right to give you a brief rundown of what happened based on my understanding of the situation from interviews and so on.
Apparently, during the production of the first film, the producers (Alexander and Ilya Salkind) had many a disagreement with then director Richard Donner. So, when that film became a box office success, effectively green-lighting the sequel, the producers chose to remove Richard Donner from the Superman equation. This was surprising given that a sizeable portion of footage for the sequel was already in the can having been shot concurrently with “Superman”. Yet, the Salkind’s decision had been made and Richard Donner was replaced by director Richard Lester (“The Three Musketeers”). A decision that left many among the cast and crew divided as to how they felt on continuing on with the production. Yet, as I said earlier, despite the problems plaguing the movie, it still made its release date and took the franchise to an even greater level of success. But I digress; time to move on to more pressing matters.
Since I’ve talked briefly about who wasn’t allowed to return to finish off what would become “Superman 2”, let’s talk about those who did stay onboard…the cast. Leading the way yet again is actor Christopher Reeve reprising his dual role of Clark Kent and Superman. Christopher did a good job with the role the first time around and really sold audiences on the duality of the character with each having their own distinct qualities about them. For his second outing, Christopher is even more in command of the role, and delivers a performance that is more confident and powerful (as Superman). While at the same time Reeve tempered his goofiness (as Clark) so that it’s not over-the-top, and also played up the more romantic side of the character in regards to Lois.
Headlining the supporting roles we have Margot Kidder as Lois Lane taking on a more prominent part, as she’s given much more screen time and a more interesting story arc. Margot played Lois’ obsession with Superman perfectly, and her attempt to uncover the secret of who Superman’s secret identity may be made for some enjoyable comedic moments, and also some heartfelt ones as well. Another bonus for her character was that much less time was spent making Lois the damsel in distress; instead, she was allowed to portray a softer, romantic side to compliment Christopher Reeve’s performance as Clark.
Alongside Margot, are those cast members that portrayed the film’s villains. Gene Hackman as Lex was featured much less in this movie than he had been in the previous one. This was perhaps due to the hardships going on behind the camera, as Gene was reportedly very displeased with Donner’s replacement. Whatever the case may be, Gene did get to play a much more malevolent version of Lex, with far less comedy finding its way into his story arc. This more villainous portrayal of Lex was no doubt aided by the fact that Ned Beatty is relegated to little more than a cameo in the early part of the film.
Speaking of cameos, I was surprised by the fact that Valerie Perrine’s character of Miss Teschmacher was only briefly featured in the movie. I thought surely with Otis receiving less screen time that this would allow for her character to do more within the story; instead, she’s given even less to do than before. I guess Valerie must have been contractually obligated to appear in this film, otherwise why waste the time on a character that serves no purpose.
Rounding out the axis of evil as it were, are the three Kryptonian villains led by Terence Stamp as General Zod. Stamp portrays Zod with the perfect blend of malice, obsession, and an insatiable thirst for power, making him the ideal enemy for Superman. Joining him are Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran as Ursa and Non, respectively. Sarah is seductive in her quest for power as she slinks about in her efforts to impress the General, with whom she either has a relationship or aspires to have one. While Jack O’Halloran as the mute brute Non is humorous in his dim-wittedness as he attempts to control his powers, while his size allows for him to be an imposing threat to anyone who gets in his way, even Superman.
The story for “Superman 2”, as I kind of alluded to earlier is more romantic than its predecessor for much of the film. Sometimes when a franchise shifts its tone, especially superhero movies, I’m not always pleased with the outcome. Yet with this film the shift to a more romantic tone was the natural progression for the characters, and it was handled in a way that wasn’t too heavy-handed. Thankfully, writers Mario Puzo and Tom Mankiewicz balanced out the romance (I mean who wants a purely romantic Superman movie) with a hefty dose of action that would no doubt tax the visual effects wizards and the film’s director to their limits.
Speaking of action scenes, I suppose I should thank Richard Lester, as much as it pains me (because he butchered the series with the third film), for bringing the action to life and crafting some very thrilling set pieces. Prior to his work on this movie, Lester was known for creating exciting action scenes, which suited this more action-packed sequel. So, even though I preferred Richard Donner as director, his inexperience with action sequences (these films were prior to his work on “Lethal Weapon”) could have been somewhat of a hindrance to the end result, but one will never know for sure.
While I was pleased with the overall story for this film, that’s not to say that it didn’t have its share of shortcomings. For starters, who thought it would be a good idea to give the Kryptonian villains some sort of energy beam from their hands when Superman has never possessed that ability in the comics or movies and TV? These three are Kryptonian, which means they have the same powers as Superman, not extra ones that he doesn’t possess. Stick with the established powers people! Is this too much to ask? I mean come on, Superman has plenty of powers to choose from, why add more? It’s these kinds of changes that threaten to alienate your core fan base, i.e. comic book readers and Superman fans in general (both of which cry foul at this addition of power).
Also, what is with the giant cellophane S-shield that Superman apparently has in his possession? Where did that come from and why? It was a pointless defensive ploy that looked stupid and caused many to scratch their heads in bewilderment.
Lastly, a note to the editor of the film, you should have taken a bit more time in making sure that you didn’t include a shot where Christopher Reeve is clearly stifling a laugh. The moment is easy to spot, and I crack up every time I see it. For those that are curious, watch when Superman is yelling at the Kryptonians to stop destroying Metropolis because of all the people. I believe it’s in reference to the bus they are attempting to throw. Anyways, watch Chris’ face as he yells at them. He clearly has a big smile on his face in one shot, and then the next he’s all serious. You can’t miss it, and the editor shouldn’t have either.
Finally, with fewer trouble spots than its predecessor, “Superman 2” is a sequel that definitely improves upon the original in every respect. Boasting a faster-paced storyline, less cheesy humor and slapstick, and more action, this film elevated the series to even greater heights; while showing audiences once more that a man can fly.
“Superman 2” is rated PG for violence and brief language.