Superman II is the first superhero movie sequel, but definitely not the last. Since like comic books, superheroes were made for long-term adventures. Superman: The Movie and Superman II were actually filmed simultaneously. A practise that wasn’t as common back then. Although it did cause many problems for the production. Specifically Richard Donner’s growing tensions with the producers. Superman survived unscathed, but Superman II was only 75% complete before Richard Donner called it quits. Instead lesser known director Richard Lester took over. Which meant the reworking of key moments that I never realized were meant to be any different.
When my mom told us about Superman, she was sure to mention both the original and the sequel. It was lucky that I happened to find both movies at a flea market. So even though I understand the appreciation for The Richard Donner Cut, I’m still more attached to the theatrical cut for Superman II. Superman II is one of the best superhero sequels ever made. It’s apparent from the beginning of Superman that a sequel was coming. Since it features the banishment of DC comics supervillain General Zod and his followers Ursa & Non…
Superman II ups the action for a far more thoughtful look at Superman’s eternal struggle. Beginning with a hydrogen bomb defusal at the Eiffel tower. Which is being covered by the Daily Planet’s own Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane. When Superman comes to the rescue, he unknowingly causes a shockwave that frees Zod from the Phantom Zone. Represented by a giant piece of glass floating in space. Apart from Lex Luthor, General Zod is the only other comic book villain to appear in one of the original movies. Something that continues to be a minor problem to this day. Especially since Zod was never really a major Superman antagonist.
In the comics, Zod looks like a standard war general, but in the movie he rocks some kind of black robe. His followers: the seductive man-hater Ursa & mute brute Non were made specifically for the movie. Terence Stamp stands out with his confident unhinged performance. You will “Kneel before Zod!” Substantial screen time is given to Zod, Ursa, and Non simply discovering that they have powers beyond reason. First on the moon and then on Earth where they manage to topple the country with the help of Lex Luthor. Of course Superman would be incomplete without his archenemy. So Gene Hackman once again gets top billing as Lex. The bald Mr. Luthor and bumbling assistant Otis try to escape prison with Miss Tessmacher’s help. But Lex Luthor is too cold hearted to let even his loyal assistant get in the way of that.
His diabolical plot is to infiltrate the Fortress of Solitude and gain an advantage over Superman. It causes Lex Luthor and General Zod to team up, but Superman is nowhere to be found. Our hero has been experiencing his own existential crisis. Perry White sends Clark Kent and Lois Lane to the Niagara Falls posing as a newlywed couple. Margot Kidder is given a lot more time to flesh out Lois. Giving her more quirks and developing her love for Clark Kent. Whom she just now starts to suspect is Superman. We all know the joke about the glasses, but Christopher Reeve really was great at differentiating the two identities. Lois begins her suspicion after Superman happens to be at Niagara Falls in time to rescue an idiotic kid. Lois recklessly puts herself in danger, but it’s only after accidentally tripping into a fireplace that Clark’s secret is revealed.
An equally substantial amount of time is given to Lois & Clark trying to figure out their relationship in the Fortress. Culminating in Superman giving up his powers for the woman he loves. A common storyline for superheroes. But a superhero should never abandon their duty as a hero. Nothing beats Superman’s triumphant return to Metropolis. Where he’s given adversaries of equal power to battle. Being Kryptonian, Zod and company posses all the powers of Superman. Resulting in a fight that more greatly utilizes heat vision and superbreath. Although one of the primary criticisms of Richard Lester is his emphasis on comedy. So some scenes do feel a bit more over-the-top. I mean the final fight in the Fortress contains a whole bunch of bizarre superpowers. Like “S” symbol throwing, laser hands, teleportation, and duplication.
Superman may be overpowered, but these are just random. However, Superman tricking Zod and crushing his hand is very satisfying. Even if Clark’s amnesia kiss for Lois is just as covenant as turning back time. I prefer the theatrical cut, because The Richard Donner Cut doesn’t always add up for me. Lois comes across as too reckless at times and the revenge against the jerk at the diner isn’t as satisfying if time is once again turned back. I get tying into the first movie and Marlon Brando is always a plus, but the director’s cut is just not for me. With a more personal journey and high stakes action, Superman II is the Man of Steel at his best.