In a lot of ways, Superman II is the same movie as its predecessor, save for the ways that the villains function. We get the same type of scenes throughout, and there is also a similar tone established. Almost all of the main characters from the last film have returned this time around, too, which is always fun to see. I mean, did anyone hope that Gene Hackman’s character, Lex Luthor, would really stay in prison forever? I certainly hoped not, because that would mean we wouldn’t get all of the fun that character brings to the screen.
After an opening title sequence that shows a brief synopsis and highlight reel of the first film — including the, at the time, pointless imprisonment of three individuals on the now-destroyed planet of Krypton — Superman II gets right to the action. There’s a terrorist attack in Paris, and the perpetrators have hostages and a hydrogen bomb. Of course, the local newspaper has sent reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) to cover the story, which means that she gets to be put in danger. Superman/Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) inevitably goes to save her. And, yes, the bomb comes close to blowing up the entire city.
It doesn’t, but it does manage to free those three imprisoned individuals from earlier. After being freed, we learn that they, under the lead of General Zod (Terrence Stamp), just want to find some place to rule. Earth seems like a good choice, after they run into some humans on the moon, so that’s where they head. Zod and company wind up acting as our primary villains, and considering all three of them have the same powers as Superman, they’re definitely formidable.
This is the sequel you wanted, isn’t it? You needed to see what would happen if this superpowered individual got to face off against one, two, or even three others just like him. That’s something I was hoping to see. How would a nigh-unbeatable person defeat others who were also invulnerable to almost everything that can be found on earth. If Superman’s only weakness is kryptonite, is that their weakness, too? And how would he use it if that’s the case? Unfortunately, that doesn’t come up. Maybe in future installments.
Some of Superman II was filmed during the production of Superman. Maybe that’s why it feels like a continuation of that story rather than a true sequel. It doesn’t feel like there’s gap, or that any time has passed since then. We just move directly into what’s essentially the next logical step for the story to take. Keeping the same actors and most of the same characters is a definite benefit, too.
The pacing was something that I appreciated about Superman, and I feel similarly with this film. Near-perfect pacing is something that ensures we’re never going to get bored with the proceedings. Nothing lingers, but there is enough time spent on characters to give the necessary depth. Lois Lane still winds up being the main human being in danger, although since Superman can be hurt by these other space-people, him being boring and impervious to damage isn’t something that holds back the production.
There are a few funny parts to Superman II, although they’re less frequent. Part of the reason for this is that Otis (Ned Beatty), the sidekick to Lex Luthor, doesn’t escape the prison with his boss. There’s no banter between the two, which was the funniest part of the first film. However, seeing General Zod and his group react to the various things they find on Earth is quite enjoyable, especially with the mild element of satire flowing underneath. They have to react to some of the things we do, and the way they do so is hilarious.
The impressive special effects return. While some of them don’t quite work, like when a burst of fire is psychically redirected, most of them are seamless, if a little stiff. You can believe in them, and the astonishment that comes from seeing some of them is great. It wouldn’t be a Superman film if the titular character didn’t do amazing feats. Filling the picture with four characters who can do the impossible means there is ample opportunity for the visual effects crew to show off.
Christopher Reeve continues to make a convincing Superman. The difference in personality between the Man of Steel and his alter ego, Clark Kent, is more disguising than the glasses and suit. He and Margo Kidder get more intimate in this one, as part of the story revolves around Lois attempting to see through his disguise. I’m not entirely sure of the way it all plays out — especially in how Superman winds up losing and regaining his powers in a matter of scenes, mostly because it’s established that the loss would be permanent — but the film as a whole overcomes these types of small issues.
Is Superman II better than the first film? Well, it’s not as fresh, but it is a bigger version of a similar story. I guess that makes it better, although since it doesn’t have to do the laborious job of establishing the character’s origin, it had the easier job. I can definitely appreciate it in similar ways to the first chapter, especially because it comes across as a continuation of that film’s plot rather than being just a sequel. It’s like a two-part movie, really, and if you enjoyed the first one, you’ll definitely like this one as well.