|Ursa and General Zod blow the hell out of Grand Central|
Richard Donner, who directed the first Superman, did a lot of work on the sequel -- the two were filmed concurrently, actually -- before being fired. Some of his work was redone by the director of record, Richard Lester. This cut assembles the version as it might have looked in theaters if Donner had not been dismissed.
At the end of Superman, the Man of Steel (Christopher Reeve) stops Lex Luthor's missile from wiping out California, but he doesn't realize that the explosion of this same missile in outer space has freed three notorious and vicious Kryptonian villains from their prison, the Phantom Zone. Hulking Non (Jack O'Halloran), bitchy Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and imperious General Zod (Terence Stamp) make their way to earth where they find they have developed the same powers as Superman. Before long they have invaded the White House where the not-so-good general forces the president (E. G. Marshall) to his knees. "Oh, God," says the president. "Zod," corrects the general. Where is the man of steel? Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) has finally figured out his secret identity and the two make love in his Arctic Fortress of Solitude. Then Superman decides to quit being the Man of Steel, always off saving the world, so that he can spend his life with Lois; he uses Kryptonian technology to do this. (This begs the question: since it was Superman that Lois fell in love with and not Clark Kent, would she really want him just as an ordinary human?) Too late, he discovers what has happened in Washington D.C., and makes his way back to his fortress as an ordinary man ... what a guy -- he doesn't even wear gloves! Conveniently, he is able to get his powers back.
The centerpiece of the film in any version is the battle between the revivified Superman and the three villains in New York City (rechristened "Metropolis," of course). Beautifully shot, edited, and choreographed, this sequence remains one of the best superhuman battle scenes in any comic book movie. (Today's super-hero films often present very sloppy and poorly articulated battle sequences.) A special highlight is when the bad guys use their super breath to literally blow dozens of pedestrians -- who are after their blood after they seem to have killed the Man of Steel -- down the streets near Grand Central Station. Buses are thrown, towers are toppled, Zod and his colleagues bounce Superman around and vice versa, and the special effects throughout are still outstanding.
This version (and probably the theatrical version as well) of Superman II has its problems, mostly having to do with Gene Hackman and his cohorts, played by Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine. The movie is "adult" enough to show Lois and Superman in bed (although this is by no means a sex scene), so why does it have such stupid humor as Perrine flushing a toilet in the Fortress of Solitude? These campy characters never fit comfortably into this or even the original movie anyway. Hackman gives a perfectly good comic portrayal, but his presence is not required. The sequences with him are tedious, and there is dialogue in the film that betrays a dated seventies sensibility. Continued from the first film, the whole business with Superman's dead father, Jor-El (Marlon Brando) somehow counseling his son, raises more questions than it answers. Anti-climactic and twenty minutes too long (even it it's shorter than the theatrical version), Superman II is nevertheless a very worthwhile comic book flick. Reeve and Kidder are fine but the picture is nearly stolen by Terence Stamp, who makes a rather sexy and very sinister General Zod -- it's a terrific performance. And he is nearly matched by Sarah Douglas as the strutting, sexy, and highly anti-social Ursa. John Williams contributes his usual effective scoring, and Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography is first-rate. As in the first film, Superman reverses time again, so that Lois no longer knows his secret identity (this was done differently in the theatrical version, I believe), but that insures that events that no longer could have happened are referred to afterward -- confusing, as usual. Followed by Superman III.
Verdict: Worth it for the Times Square battle if nothing else. ***.