Superman II (1980) — Krypton strikes back

“Come to me, Superman! I defy you! Come and kneel before Zod!”

Justin’s rating: Slower than a gin and tonic, able to leap small hangovers in a single bound

Justin’s review: I feel sort of bad that kids growing up these days will never have their imagination tested much by movies. Prior to the whole computer graphics revolution, special effects required vastly more talent and skill and were only halfway successful at looking convincing. This required the viewer to enter into a bloodpact with the movie, an unspoken agreement in which we would forgive the little flaws and cracks that the FX would display in order to have fun, and the movie would assume that our imagination would be more than enough to leap the gap.

I think being a kid is one of the most awesome times in your life, because it’s the last real time where most of us believe that magic is real, and movies have the power to floor us so convincingly. See, as an adult, I can pop in Superman II and about rupture my spleen with an overdose of laughter at the hokey, cheesy FX that try to convince us that Mr. Man Of Steel is the genuine article. Animated laser beams and clumsy wire work and magically moving flamethrower streams become as convincing as a repeat drug offender who asks for a few bucks, since they’ve “changed.”

Yet, as a kid, this sort of stuff was practically holy ground. As a kid, I wasn’t burdened with the knowledge of how a movie is made, or the cynical mind that nitpicks until I’ve had my fill — I merely experienced and enjoyed. I’m not saying that I thought Supes 2 was anything groundbreaking back then, but I saw it often enough to create a small broom closet in my mind stacked with a handful of nostalgic memories.

So really, I can’t report on this movie from today’s standards of slick CGI and mass marketing hype. Instead, a voice keeps reminding me that we once thought this fairly nifty stuff, and the three evil Kryptonians a true force to be reckoned with instead of lightly mocked for their Saran Wrap outfits.

If you skipped Superman and came right into number two — probably the best of the old quadrilogy, if pop culture has taught us anything — then you’re not in trouble. The opening credits uses a combination of John William’s incredible theme and clips from the first film to bring us up to speed. Considering that Superman was about five hours long, a seven-minute refresher course is almost preferable.

It turns out that Superman’s home planet of Krypton was destroyed in part by the evil machinations of General Zod, his badge-collecting girlfriend, and his old college roommate. While lil’ Ka-El escaped as a baby in a spaceship, these nefarious three were sentenced to an eternity in “The Phantom Zone,” which is pretty much a big flat business card in space that can only be destroyed by a nuclear explosion (which, by the way, stars contain many of these).

Oh, here comes Superman, with a nuke. Thanks Supes!

Escaped and happy to receive the same assortment of made-up powers as Superman, the trio proceed to kill some astronauts, talk in the void of space, then hop over to Earth to conquer a Midwestern town where the combined armed forces consist of two sheriffs and a bartender with a shotgun. Tough crowd. During this growing threat, Superman elects to fall even more in love with Lois Lane, break his identity, then sacrifice his powers to become a mortal so that he can be with her.

In other words, Superman needed a date, so he got a lot less super.

Bouncing from ridiculous premise to ridiculous premise (so you can WALK to the North Pole now? Superman has magical kisses and the bad guys have finger levitation?), Superman II attempts to staunch the flow of criticism by making this a load more fun then the first time around. It’s a blast to see the Kryptonians barge into the White House and claim ownership to the planet, and we’re all just itching for the final showdown across Metropolis from that moment on.

Plus, and this is important: “COME SON OF JOR-EL! KNEEL BEFORE GENERAL ZOD!” You need to know that for the test later.

So Superman’s kind of a dork in this one, but he also partially destroys the Eiffel Tower, so it’s pretty much a draw. Worth it to see the baddies and also Lois Lane calling Clark out of the closet. “What’s your hurry… Superman?”

Didja notice?

  • Talking in space? How?
  • Director Richard Donner walking out of frame during point-of-view windshield shot as Lois and Clark pull up to diner in car.
  • Magic kisses can do ANYthing, baby!
  • The North Pole is just a hop, skip and a truck ride away
  • At the end of the film, as Superman flies over the White House to replace the flag, the water in the foreground fountain remains motionless.
  • Due to the different filming times, Lois’s face and hair are noticeably altered between different scenes.
  • There is no way to steer a balloon, so Lex Luthor would be unable to go “due north”
  • The moon appears to have normal gravity in many shots

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