The movie starts with three criminals sentenced to exile by Superman's Kryptonian father, Jor-El. They are freed by a nuclear explosion which seems to rupture their high-tech prison "walls," or maybe it's some kind of Kryptonian work-release program. Because they are close to Earth when this happens, the yellow sun of our world imbues them with the same powers as Superman. One might think that suddenly acquiring the ability to fly and survive in the vacuum of space might startle them, but these criminals are as cold as ice. They take it in stride, enjoying the opportunity to waste a few moon-exploring astronauts before proceeding to Earth.
The ringleader is General Zod (Terence Stamp), whose only thought is conquest. The other Kryptonians are Ursa (Douglas), Zod's beautiful but cruel companion, and Non (Jack O'Halloran), the mute and stupid henchman. The villains terrorize a few law enforcement officials before taking out the armed forces and conquering the White House.
President: Oh, God!
Where is Superman (Christopher Reeve) in all of this, you ask? Why, smooching with Lois Lane, of course! OK, OK, he's "finding true love." Lois has finally figured out Clark Kent's secret identity ("Duh!") and the two of them have journeyed to the North Pole to ask for Santa's blessing to be married. Sorry, that should be "his dead parents' blessing." Either way, it's equally silly. Clark's holographic mom tells him that the only way he can live with a mortal is to become one himself. (Huh?) So into the magic phone booth he goes, where he becomes fully human and gets a change of clothes in the bargain.
Unfortunately, when Clark and Lois return to civilization, they find that civilization is now under Zod's rule. Clark decides he must forsake true love with Lois and become Superman once again. Personally, we think he was just embarrassed by that butt-kicking he received at the truck stop, but if he's going to take on his powers again, he might as well save the world too.
All of the original stars return to do their goofy best in this comic book adaptation gone wrong. As you would expect, Christopher Reeve looks typecast as Superman. Of course, you would also think that somebody would notice that Clark Kent is built like a Mr. Universe, but we guess those glasses distract people. Kidder also returns as a chain-smoking Lois Lane, which really drives us crazy -- would the straight-arrow small-town boy Clark Kent really fall for a woman who smokes like a chimney? Even if she does drink freshly-squeezed orange juice?
Special mention goes to Stamp as Zod. Not only does he belt out those commands with angry authority ("Kneel!"), but his portrayal of Zod as a bored demi-god spoiling for a good fight is hilarious. We can tell that he doesn't so much care for revenge against Jor-El as he does for an opponent who can actually challenge him. Rarely have we seen an actor roll his eyes so well.
The indisputable highlight of Superman II is the blowout fight between Superman and the three super-criminals. Filmed on a full-size set depicting Metropolis (or is it New York? we have conflicting evidence), the sequence features extensive wire-work and optical effects. It's one of the best comic book fights ever put on film.
Superman purists may cringe a little bit at the portrayal of their favorite superhero in Superman II. Superman and the other Kryptonians have somehow developed a host of new powers, including teleportation and telekinesis. And in one inexplicable sequence, Supes pulls the 'S' off his chest and throws it at Non, whereupon it suddenly expands into a giant plastic-wrap 'S' and engulfs the villain.
Despite the sometimes flighty dialogue and the rather ridiculous plot holes (such as what Kryptonians do and don't know about Earth), Superman II is probably the most enjoyable superhero movie ever made, with the possible exception of 1989's Batman. Superman is definitely recognizable as the hero from the comic books, he is pitched against a formidable opponent, and there are plenty of opportunities for super-powered grandstanding. Thank Krypton our strange visitor from another planet wasn't sold short until the next film.
Review date: 3/9/98
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