(This article features spoilers for Superman: The Movie).
Superman II is a film that tries to capture the fun and grandeur of the original and winds up coming short. Several gags and some bad plot twists mar what could have been an awesome film. The villain’s three antagonists take center stage and occupy most of the films best scenes. The direct continuation of the story from Superman: The Movie is another one of the stronger suits of this movie, but it quickly loses momentum.
Superman II is a film that was plagued by behind the scenes strife as, halfway during it and Superman: The Movie’s simultaneous filming, Warner Brothers let director Richard Donner go and replaced him with Richard Lester. Lester then had to re-film some scenes and fill in the gaps that were left in Donner’s wake. The result is a movie that varies in tone and feel, and never really falls into a solid rhythm.
At the beginning of Superman: The Movie, Kal-El’s father, Jor-El, had sentenced three of Krypton’s most violent criminals to an eternity of imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. As the criminals, General Zod (Terrence Stamp), his lover Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and the mute barbarian Non (Jack O’Halloran) float across the galaxies in their prison, Kal-El lands on Earth and becomes the planet’s greatest hero as he puts an end to a vile scheme perpetrated by the mad genius Lex Luthor. Kal-El, known to the Earthling public as Superman, also falls in love with a beautiful reporter, Lois Lane, that he works with while assuming his mild mannered alter ego, Clark Kent.
After foiling Luthor’s plot to destroy California, Kal-El learns that Lois has been sent to Paris to cover a developing terrorist situation involving a hydrogen bomb. As Superman he flys to Paris and saves the city as well as Lois by driving the bomb deep into space. The resulting blast launches Kal-El back to Earth. As the blast of radiation travels through space it connects with the doorway to the Phantom Zone and allows Zod, Ursa and Non to escape. Finally free, Zod begins a hunt for a planet to rule and finds humans on the moon, which brings him to Earth.
With a plot like that it seems that this movie could have been truly great. Superman versus other Kryptonians? It doesn’t get much more epic than that. And indeed, when it hits the fan, and the showdown begins this film is just that. Unfortunately, before this happens though, we’re forced to endure a Superman movie without Superman in an attempt to build tension for the coming battle. In a wholly nonsensical plot twist, Superman is left out of the picture as Zod lands on Earth and begins his reign.
The scenes with Zod terrorizing the human populace are among some of the best moments in the film, but intertwined with them are very poorly conceived scenes showing why Superman isn’t leaping to Earth’s rescue. This drags the pacing of the film in the dirt, and by the time the epic fight rolls around you might have lost interest. Terrence Stamp gives a great performance as Zod, but isn’t given enough room to truly become a great villain alongside his Kryptonian counterparts. Lex Luthor also makes a return alongside his bumbling assistants, Miss Teschmacher and Otis. Because of this, the movie begins to feel crowded with villains.
The movie switches back and forth between being a superhero epic and a slapstick comedy towards the end making some scenes cringe worthy. Especially during the climactic battle. Nothing breaks the tension of an epic battle worse than a man spilling his ice cream in his face or a roller skater being pushed backwards by Zod’s super breath. Alongside this, an epic fight plays out that pushes Superman to his limits.
Unfortunately, the good doesn’t override the bad and instead mingles in between it, robbing the conclusion of it’s momentum. The insanely bad decision to tie up the loose ends of side plots that should have been left alone also makes the ending of the film cheesy. In this movie’s favor are fine performances from Chistopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, and John William’s classic score. The direct continuation of the story from the first film also will satisfy fans who want to find out what happened to the Kryptonian villains. Yet, it doesn’t come close to matching the feeling of the loving homage that was the first film. It just becomes another superhero blockbuster.
At the end of Superman II you might feel a little cheated. The uneven pacing and lame plot devices make this film somewhat of a bore to sit through. The good parts of this movie redeem it just outside the range of failure, but it still leaves much to be desired.