Superman II  (1980)PG

CapeHalf a capeTent

Nostalgic memory has been far too kind to this stupid movie. I recently had occasion to re-watch this, and was forced to rate it even lower than I had before. It’s hard to believe that at one time this was seen not just as a major blockbuster, but as a good and satisfying example of same. Because this film is awfully damn stupid. In budget it may be an A picture, but in its heart this is at home among the cheapest and silliest of B movies. They built extravagant sets and used expensive stunts, but they did so with very poor quality control, leaving the results looking like what you’d see in a far cheaper movie. The wirework suffers particularly: some super-person will give a slow ineffective kick to something, and then after a brief delay, the object or person will drift far across the sky to indicate how hard it was kicked. Optical effects such as heat vision are about as well done as the phaser effects on the more rushed episodes of the original Star Trek. The flying footage doesn’t sync up correctly with the background anymore. And it’s stupid.

Worse, the story is badly marred by the kind of lame forced comedy that gave Superman III such a bad reputation. And they do things like showing super-people having spoken conversations in the vacuum of space.

The plotting is as contrived as you can get: for no reason at all (unless maybe you decide to believe the Larry Niven hypothesis), Superman is told that if he wants to marry an Earth woman, he has to give up all his powers. Which he does. He’s also told that once done, this can never be reversed; but of course it does get reversed, and they never explain how this happens!

And they give Superman and his super-opponents bogus extra powers, such as erasing memories. Hasn’t he got enough damn powers already? They add about four new ones. Worse than the Bollywood version.

It does increase the super-action over the first film, as Supes has to fight three evil Kryptonian communists who have the same powers he’s got. (Roughly the same, anyway... real consistency is clearly too much to ask.) In other words, it’s Godzilla Syndrome: the next movie has to have more monsters. The whole point of this film is the super-battle in the giant downtown set, where the characters throw buses at each other and so forth. Yet despite the extravagance in filming, it’s clumsy and unimpressive. And pointless, because none of them can hurt each other.

But, I have to say that Christopher Reeve is still cool. They give him the dorkiest dialogue and situations imaginable and he still keeps you on his side.

John Williams’ famous theme music is reprocessed by Ken Thorne, and so far he keeps it in pretty good shape. This will change with the next film. (By the way, it turns out that the theme Williams used in the opening credits is loosely based on that used in the old Fleischer Brothers animated shorts from the early forties.)

But what does John Stanley say?

Entertaining special-effects masterpiece... joyous sense of wonder... [the] destruction of downtown Metropolis is brilliant.