Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Sarah Douglas, Margot Kidder, Jack O'Halloran, Valerie Perrine, Susannah York, Clifton James, E.G. Marshall, Marc McClure, Terence Stamp
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, based on a story by Mario Puzo, and on characters created by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Directed by: Richard Lester
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 127
Date: 19/06/1981

Superman II (1981)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Up, Up and Away

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Richard Donner shot most of Superman II concurrently with the original Superman (1978). After completing the first movie, he was fired and a totally different director was brought in to finish. Donner was a reliable maker of Hollywood action movies, while Richard Lester was an American expatriate living in England, and part of that country's 1960s New Wave, making scrappy, jumpy black-and-white low budget films with a "mod" touch (like A Hard Day's Night and Petulia). Of course, Lester hated most of what Donner had shot, and re-shot about half of it.

Despite the troubled history, Superman II still works like gangbusters. Lester's footage has a kind of scrappy humor and energy, while Donner's footage is more epic, and it somehow flows together.

Unlike the original, with its long "origin" sequence, this one jumps right in. The bad guys are three Kryptonians -- General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O'Halloran) -- who had been imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, and are now loose on earth, each with the equivalent of Superman's powers. Luthor (Gene Hackman) is also on the loose, to make matters worse.

The slightly troubling part comes when Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) decides to give up his Superman powers so he can be human and be with Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). He does this just before he learns of the existence of the supervillains. The process is supposed to be irreversible, but of course, it isn't, and it's kind of an odd plot device.

Much better is the banter between Clark and Lois, especially when they are assigned to cover a story at Niagara Falls. Reeve and Kidder were the casting coup of this series. Superman is a tough role to play, and Reeve brought a unique combination of kindness and strength to the Superman part, and a skittish comic bumbling to the Clark part, and meshing it all with his specific personality. Kidder was a toughie, with a rough voice and fearless edge, perfect for the intrepid Lois.

In 2006, Donner was allowed to complete his own director's cut of Superman II, and it's available on DVD and in the latest official Superman movie DVD and Blu-ray box set, alongside the theatrical version. It's not necessarily better or worse, but different in interesting ways.

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