Superman II had all the signposts of a disaster. Richard Donner, who shot much of the footage during the production of the first Superman, found himself forced away from the movie and replaced by Richard Lester, who claimed never to have heard of Superman before signing on to the franchise. To top it off, Marlon Brando sued to cut out all his scenes as Jor-El. And Gene Hackman was unavailable to shoot after Lester took the reins.
So who woulda guessed that Lester would make Superman II the The Empire Strikes Back of the franchise?
In part two, the Man of Steel, in the process of saving the day, tosses a nuke into space and accidentally busts loose three Kryptonian nihilists from their interstellar space prison. The trio quickly sets its sights on conquering Earth with its new yellow-sun powers. Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) is finally seeing through Clark Kent's convenient disappearances and bringing some loving to Superman's Fortress of Solitude. But Superman's gotta switch to full-time humanity to get with Lois, so he says farewell to his day-saving powers and hello to 24-7 Clark Kent.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor finds Zod (Terence Stamp) and his two evil superbuds to be effective strategic partners for world conquering. But with Superman's cape in mothballs, who will defeat the villains and restore power to the earthlings?
With the whole origin story out of the way in part one, Superman II is free to lay out a fresh adventure for the characters. And Superman II is bright and briskly-paced, loaded with humor both subtle and obvious. Our villains, for example, go through much of the movie assuming earth is called "planet Houston." Good stuff.
Lester, for someone new to the character, admires Superman and appreciates what he does for mankind. Why else would he spend much of the action scenes scanning and eavesdropping on the crowds that amass to watch Superman do his thing? ("Of course he's Jewish," a woman insists as our hero pulls off another rescue.) And those action scenes are balls-out fun, especially a madcap three-on-one super-battle on the streets of Metropolis.
Far from the train wreck it could have been, Superman II crackles with comic book energy. Now, kneel before Zod, Mr. President.
Completists may be interested in Richard Donner's 2006 re-cut of the film, which was famously taken away from him during shooting. Donner's revision of the film -- cobbled together on DVD out of footage in the theatrical cut, alternate takes, and screen tests -- is interesting, if overlong and clearly an unfinished product meant for fanatics only. Namely, the film adds in numerous scenes deleted from the theatrical cut, most of which add unneeded exposition or repeat earlier scenes. As a curiosity, it's intriguing (Brando is notably cut back into the film), but it hardly overshadows Stamp's performance. Donnner offers a commentary track and additional deletia on the disc.
Run time: 127 mins
In Theaters: Friday 19th June 1981
Box Office Worldwide: $108.2M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: DC Comics, Warner Bros. Pictures, Alexander Salkind
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 40 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Richard Lester
Producer: Pierre Spengler
Starring: Christopher Reeve as Superman / Clark Kent, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, Jackie Cooper as Perry White, Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen, Ned Beatty as Otis, Sarah Douglas as Ursa, Jack O'Halloran as Non, Valerie Perrine as Eve Teschmacher, Susannah York as Lara, Terence Stamp as General Zod, E.G. Marshall as US President, Clifton James as Sheriff, Michael Shannon as President's Aide (as Michael J. Shannon)