Superman II Review
It's 1978, and producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind are worried at the escalating costs of blockbuster Superman, based on an extensive script adaptation so big it was cut into two separate movies. Originally, the two films were to be shot back-to-back to minimise costs, but due to under-budgeting the Salkinds take the advice of uncredited associate producer Richard Lester and postpone shooting of all scenes from the second movie until the first one starts making money through the cinemas. Superman is released and becomes one of the highest earning movies of all time; the potential cash generation of a sequel forcing the Salkinds into funding the shooting of the remainder of the sequel.
However, for reasons still not totally cleared up to this day, director of Superman, Richard Donner, was fired before production began on Superman II. Richard Lester was brought in to replace him, a man more famously known for his sterling work on the classic Beatles flick A Hard Day's Night. Lester not only filmed scenes that Donner was unable to complete but he also re-shot many scenes that Donner had already filmed. This was mostly at the request of the producers, who feared that if there was some footage that Donner shot in Superman II, then he would have the right to a Director credit on the film. As opposed to the original conception of Superman being a large script split over two films, the second half of the script was changed dramatically in order to give the sequel the sense of a film in its own right. The most famous of all changes was the removal of all scenes involving Marlon Brando, who portrayed Jor-El in Superman. Brando was paid three million dollars and sued the producers for an extra share of the film's gross, despite being in the film for only ten minutes. Due to these legal hassles, the Salkinds froze Brando out of every inch of Superman II.
The original Superman was epic and majestic in both scope and charm. Sequels that are successful as films on their own terms usually deviate from the conventions of the original film, such as The Empire Strikes Back and Evil Dead 2. Superman II follows this approach, aiming instead to be a straightforward comic-book style actioner as opposed to a visionary epic. Gone were the breathtaking landscapes and rousing sequences; replaced instead by closed shot set-ups maintaining a DC comic feel, with action replacing emotion.
As a contrast to Superman, Superman II works tremendously, as it uses the original as a form of establishment for characters and thus throws the audience directly into the entertainment seat. It isn't as good as the original, but it has to rank as one of the more worthy sequels in cinema history.
Plot-wise, the film starts with a terrorist attack on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, where the threat is a nuclear bomb. Superman intercepts the terrorists and destroys the bomb in space. However, the blast from the bomb unfortunately destroys the Phantom Zone prison, causing the three Kryptonian Villains lead by General Zod (Terence Stamp) to be freed from their eternal sentence. The villains immediately fly to Earth, and as they share the same superpowers as Superman, embark upon a mission to effortlessly take over the world. In this time of need, Earth heavily relies upon Superman, although the Man of Steel is currently going through an inner crisis due to his love of Lois Lane.
The cast performs excellently, due to each role being filled with intelligent actors. Christopher Reeve makes Superman his own, and he also gives Clark Kent the right touch with a sort of bumbling nervous energy. Gene Hackman is an inspired left-field choice for Lex Luthor, and he makes Luthor funny in a deluded-egotistical way. It's refreshing that Hackman doesn't pander to psychotic rages in the same way that a stereotypical villain would. Superman II however, belongs to Terence Stamp, who gives General Zod a god-like power with just the simplest of looks and postures. Stamp must have held his breath for Superman II after only briefly appearing in the original.
Superman II is a marvellously enjoyable sequel to a classic comic-book adaptation. It manages to stand on its own two feet, whilst simultaneously paying complement to the original, a task often unachieved amongst sequels.
However, Superman II could have been very different to its onscreen version. Richard Donner has always claimed that he had shot seventy percent of footage for Superman II, and fans have always petitioned Warner Brothers to release a Donner cut of the film. This could very well happen one day, and when it does it will be very interesting to compare the two versions. For an excellent analysis of the differences between the Donner and Lester scenes in Superman II, check out the Superman Cinema website. Reading the website will leave you immensely disattisfied with Superman II, as it will leave you wishing that the unreleased footage mentioned on the site was available.
Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1, Superman II on Region 2 is probably the best the film has ever looked, with clear PAL picture and a strong lack of dirt or scratches. The print looks dated however, but this is more to do with the lighting techniques incorporated for the film and the late seventies/early eighties fashion.
Presented in the original audio of two-track stereo, the audio track contains good panning of the left and right channels and is abundant with clarity. The soundtrack hasn't been remixed into 5.1 like the original film, but the audio track is still very suitable for the film.
Menu: A static menu comprised of promotional illustrations, and featuring portions of the music score by John Williams.
Packaging: Due to the cover artwork containing Superman flying over the Twin Towers, the stand-alone version of Superman II was pulled from the shops, and is only available on Region 2 as part of the box set with the first film. Even so, the film is available in a usual Warner snapper case complete with chapter listings on the inner casing.
Original Trailer: Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the trailer focuses on the Kryptonian Villains and is a very good promotional item for the film if focusing on little of the plot.
Cast & Crew: A text page listing the major players of the cast and crew without any biographical details.
Usually, bare-bones releases such as this do not warrant purchase, but as there could be a completely different version of the film available in the future, fans of Superman II might want to snap this up as it is the original version of a classic sequel.