Directed by Richard Lester and Richard Donner
Written by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, & Tom Mankiewicz
Released December 1980
Previously: Superman The Movie
I remember really enjoying this film as a wee lad, I think because I was just such a huge fan of Superman, but as I grew up my memory of it changed. Watching it again, for the first time in over a decade, has my opinion changed again?
With the help of Miss Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) escapes from prison (although poor Otis is left behind). He has managed to track down the location of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and he Miss Teschmacher go there, so Lex can discover the secrets of Superman’s origin, although it is unclear at the moment exactly what he intends to do with that information. Lois and Clark are sent undercover to a Honeymoon spot in Niagra Falls where Lois becomes convinced that Clark is really Superman, and risks her life to prove it. After he confesses to her, he takes her to the Fortress (Lex apparently left by then) and tells her of his background. And then while communicating with a hologram of his dead Kryptonian mother (Susannah York), he professes his love for Lois and his desire to be with her, which means that he will have to give up his powers.
Y’know, as a lad I didn’t really understand this, why would he have to give up his powers to be with Lois? As an adult I assume, especially since we do see him in bed with Lois afterward, that it was of the problem that Larry Niven so eloquently described in his essay MAN OF STEEL, WOMAN OF KLEENEX. Superman’s powers, particularly his invulnerability, superstrength, and superspeed, make physical intimacy with a human female (or male, if Supes flew that way) impossible.
Still, I also feel like this was a rash decision on Superman’s part. While I understand his need for intimacy, this was still effectively he and Lois’ first date, yet he’s already giving up his powers to be with her? Take it a little slower, Supes…
Okay so he steps into a crystal chamber in the Fortress to remove his powers. He and Lois make the beast with two backs, and then they go out to eat at a Diner (It’s never explained how they get from the Fortress, which is at the North Pole, back to the city, since Superman can’t fly anymore), where a now powerless Clark gets the crap beaten out of him by some local dude.
Ugh. I hate that scene. So Superman really is some kinda wimp without his powers? Was this the only way the producers could think of to show how human he is now, and make him regret giving up his powers? Considering that he immediately learns about Zod (more on that in a minute) and therefor realizes how he needs to get his powers back, the whole Diner scene feels cheap and unnecessary.
So, meanwhile, the other major story of the film is that Zod (Terrance Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) have escaped from the Phantom Zone (ironically, thanks to a missile that Superman had tossed into space to stop a terrorist attack) and made their way to Earth, where they eventually attack the White House and force the President of The United States to surrender (apparently not just on behalf of the U.S, but all of the rest of the world, as well). There are some nice bits with these three during the film, like their initial exploration on Earth, which they mistakenly believe is “Planet Houston,” as they learn to use their powers. Lex goes to see them, and offers to take them to Superman, in exchange for being given control of Australia (as in the first film, Lex is primarily concerned with acquiring real estate).
Superman gets his powers back, and confronts the Kryptonians. They battle in the streets. In this film, the special effects limitations of the time are more evident, as the battle is nowhere near as exciting as it could have been (it’s hard not to compare it to the battles in Man of Steel now), although I did like the scene where a bunch of regular humans try to attack the Kryptonians in defense of Superman. Things get worse when the battle moves to the Fortress, and Superman and the Kryptonian criminals start exhibiting new powers, like teleportation, and Superman uses his new giant “S” cellophane wrapper. And then there’s the teleportation scene. And Superman’s final victory, where he tricks the Kryptonians into losing their powers (by whispering to Lex Luthor, as they stand a few feet away, I guess their superhearing hadn’t kicked in yet), and they they’re knocked down a canyon in the fortress, which many have interpreted as Superman (& Lois) killing them, although that’s not explicit in the film. Still, I’ll admit that it was clever, at least Superman beat them with his brains, not just his powers.
But then, like the previous film, we get a crappy ending. Back at the Daily Planet, Lois is tortured by the notion that she and Superman can never be together, so Superman kisses her and somehow wipes her memory, making her forget everything from the film. Another cop-out. And is Lois going to think she’s going crazy, and needs months of therapy, when she realizes that gap in her memory? But even worse is Superman going back to that Diner, as Clark, so he can beat up that guy. It’s not exactly a fair fight now, is it? What a petty and malicious act for Superman.
Reeve remains THE ideal portrayal of Superman, and I still like Hackman, plus Terrance Stamp’s performance as Zod somehow manages to rise about the material he was given, but overall I just don’t find this film to be very good.