History time! Man there’s going to be a lot of this over the next few reviews. After Richard Donner had hastily wrapped up the first Superman film he was under the assumption that he would be returning to do the sequel. This wasn’t some misguided belief brought on by the fact he had done such a good job with the first though. This was because he had already shot around 75% of the sequel already whilst shooting Superman The Movie. There had been a lot of tension on the set of Superman between Donner and the film’s producers Alexander & Ilya Salkind and their producing partner Pierre Spengler. So much so that the producer’s had brought in their friend, and established director, Richard Lester to act as a intermediary between the two parties. It seemed, though, that the Salkinds had decided that the success of Superman The Movie wouldn’t be worth working with Donner again and so he was fired and plans were put into motion to film a (mostly) new Superman 2 with Richard Lester at the helm. Sounds like it’ll probably be a mess right? Well… kinda is… sorta.. maybe… Click the link for my less vague opinion!!!
The aim for Superman 2 was always to continue from where Superman The Movie left off. Except that the end of Superman The Movie got changed at the last minute. Originally the film was to end with Superman (Christopher Reeve) throwing one of the two nuclear missiles Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) had launched into space. The missile would explode in the vicinity of the Phantom Zone prison that the 3 Kryptonians, Zod, Non and Ursa (Terence Stamp, Jack O’Halleran and Sarah Douglas respectively) and the shock-wave would free them. This didn’t happen though and so Richard Lester had to come up with a new way of freeing them. He clearly decided that nuclear missiles are not whimsical enough though so instead Superman throws a lift from inside the Eiffel Tower that has a Hydrogen bomb, placed in by motiveless terrorists, off into space and it blows up freeing the 3 villains. Same exact set up but now with an added action scene set in Paris. An action scene where Lois (Margot Kidder) decides the best way to get her Pulitzer prize in this terrorist attack is to sneak into the Eiffel Tower and hide on the underside of the lift with the bomb in it.
No, I don’t have an idea why she does that either. Other than to give Superman something that is falling that he can save. He doesn’t even question why she is there. He just says “howdy” and throws the lift into space. It’s this sort of silly/stupid that creeps into Superman 2 at every moment Richard Lester could find. Because of the contracts they had made with Hackman and Brando in the first film all the footage featuring them was already done. Brando was cut from the sequel entirely to save money and Hackman refused to return out of protest for Donner’s firing. Keep that in mind when you watch the film. There’s so many silly moments where Lex is shot from behind or in the distance, often accompanied by his voice changing to that of an impersonator. Some sequences involve extra footage shot to add jokes into already completed scenes. That’s how much effort Lester wanted to put in to adding whimsy.
The most criminal moment of Lester’s sense of humour comes in when the 3 Kryptonian villains are using their super breath to blow the citizens of Metropolis back. The sequence goes on for what feels like a year while all manner of comical characters are blown down the street including, but not limited to, A man in a phone booth who continues his conversation whilst being blown down the road, A waitress who had stepped out of the diner for a moment, a performance artist on roller-skates being blown backwards. All of this occurs after the people of Metropolis decide to face up to Zod & Co after they believe he has defeated Superman. This is also inter-cut with repeated shots of the actors making their best puffy cheeked blowing air faces. Man, Terence Stamp must have felt his years of stage work paying off filming that all day. The film is full of this nonsense. Hell, Clifton James even makes a cameo as a small town sheriff in a thinly veiled nod to his JW Pepper character from the Roger Moore Bond films. Keep this excessive whimsy in mind because, whilst it is silly, it is nothing compared to the horrors we’ll see in Superman 3.
Enough of me moaning about silliness. It’s time to moan about the plot. Now in theory it is sound. 3 Kryptonians come to Earth, decide to rule over it’s inhabitants. Meanwhile Superman has revealed his identity to Lois because, well, he likes to change his mind I guess. In the process of devoting his life to Lois he decides to have his powers removed… because reasons. Half an hour later, when he finally decides to notice the 3 super people rampaging about the planet, he gets his powers back and set about defeating them and stuff. It’s pretty straight forward really. You may have noticed one part of this that irked me though.
Now, it is not so much that Superman reveals his identity to Lois, he’s done that about 50 times in the comics over the years. The problem is that in a previous scene he went out of his way to not reveal his identity after Lois puts herself in harms way. This means that when he does just give in after falling into a small fire and failing to cover his not-burnt hand the previous sequence now feels wasted. When he does make his decision to remove his powers it then raises a load of questions that are not answered. For one, just how did Lois and Clark leave the Fortress of Solitude. It is in the Arctic Circle for Christ’s sake! You can’t just walk from it. Next question, how did Clark get back there? Lex uses a hot air balloon and a snow sled to reach it. Clark hitch-hikes. Why did Clark not hear all the murdering and stuff when Zod and friends started their rampage? Just how many days did Lois and Clark spend bumping uglies to have not noticed the change in world power? Why have Superman give up his powers only to have him get them back 30 minutes later? Did he really think the sort of catastrophes he saved the world from would stop? Would he have been able to sit by as disasters happened? All these questions and more are left completely unaddressed, unanswered and ignored.
That all being said, Superman 2 does at least manage to maintain its pace and hold your interest. The pace moves along well enough and the performance given by Terence Stamp as Zod is gloriously camp with much scenery chewing. He is clearly aware that the film he is making with Lester is not the film he was making with Donner and so he just has fun with it. Note the details though, such as how Ursa walks in Zod’s footsteps, hinting at a subservient role for her. This was apparently an idea of Stamp’s. The rest of the cast do their jobs as well as can be, although neither Kidder nor Reeve look particularly happy to be their for many of their scenes. Due to the time frame between the original Donner footage, around 20% of the film, and the Lester shot scenes there’s even some visible difference in the two leads appearance. Reeve had bulked up between shoots and Kidder appears to have discovered crack Cocaine.
Superman 2 is a bit of a mixed up film. On the one hand it does it’s adventure well enough to be enjoyable. On the other there’s a clear divide between the tone of the original film and this sequel. When watched as someone who is aware of the difficulties the film’s production faced you will become all too aware that many scenes had been shot merely to replace previously shot scenes or for the sake of filling out the film with comedy. This is especially evident with the humour as it really is, mostly, very out of place. Lester enjoys silly antics, the guy was behind a few of The Beatles films after all, but he is the director’s equivalent of a tone deaf singer. He has no idea of what tone the scene requires and how it should be maintained, content to have a guy on roller-skates being blown backwards down a street as people rise up against an enemy with the power of a God. In the end, Superman 2 is watch-able and , at times, quite decent. It’s just clearly not the film it was meant to be. We’ll get an idea what film it was meant to be with the next review I post though. That being, Superman 2: the Richard Donner Cut.
I’ve made a small edit to this. After watching the Richard Donner cut tonight for the first time I realised the moment where Otis makes bunny ears on Luthor’s head was, in fact, shot by Donner. You can even see Hackman’s face, which I somehow missed. Which means Richard Donner is responsible for that particular moment of whimsey. Kinda depressing really.