Tag Archives: Superman II

Series | Superman

The movie poster for Superman and the Mole-Men proclaims the film to be “the all-time ace of action in his first full-length feature adventure.” That “all-time ace of action” is Superman. 1951 moviegoers–sure, children moviegoers, but moviegoers nonetheless–had been waiting lifetimes for Superman’s first full-length feature adventure.

When Mole Men came out in November 1951, Superman–the character–was thirteen years old and already diversified media. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s first Superman comic book story is April 1938. Starting in February 1940, there is a Superman radio show. It runs eleven years. Starting September 1941, there are Superman cartoons playing in theaters, using the voice of the radio Superman. The cartoons go until mid–1943. Then there’s finally a live action Superman in 1948, with a Columbia Superman serial, which is so popular it gets a 1950 sequel, Atom Man vs. Superman. The only reason the serial took so long to make because the rights were at Paramount for the cartoons. Columbia wanted a live action Superman in 1940.

And then, on November 23, 1951, mankind is introduced to the all-time ace of action in his first full-length feature adventure.

Superman George Reeves bends steel bars to influence townspeople to be accepting of the MOLE-MEN.

Of course, Superman and the Mole-Men only runs fifty-eight minutes and is a pilot for the “Adventures of Superman” TV show, but it’s technically a full-length feature adventure.

The story has Clark Kent and Lois Lane dispatched to the small town of Silsby to cover the world’s deepest oil well. Big stories for Kent and Lane in this one. The mole men appear. The townsfolk want to kill them. Superman has to save them, but Superman also has to talk the townsfolk down as opposed to directly intervening. It’s more super-y that way.

George Reeves stars in SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MAN, directed by Lee Sholem for Lippert Pictures.
Superman and the Mole-Men (1951). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2013 review

As an hour-long pilot for a kids show, Mole-Men ought to be a lot more fun. Instead, it combines this depressing look at xenophobia with a preachy Superman. With not enough money–especially on the mole men costumes, which are absurd–and not enough Lois Lane. Except Phyllis Coates isn’t good as Lane, so it’s fine. As Superman and Clark Kent, George Reeves is uneven but earnest.

The foolish townspeople don’t realize bullets will bounce right off.

Superman and the Mole-Men was a success–Reeves appeared in the “Adventures of Superman” from 1952 to 1958. Coates came along for the first season, with Noel Neill returning to play Lane in the second two seasons. She had played Lois Lane in both serials. Mole-Men has been on home video since 1988, with occasional temporary unavailability, but it’s a curiosity more than anything else.

After “Adventures” ended, there was a brief Superman drought. Then the show went into syndicated reruns in 1965 and, starting in 1966, Superman got some new adventures, once again on television, this time animated. Between the “Adventures” reruns and the cartoons, which appeared with other superhero cartoons in various combinations on Saturday mornings, Superman remained a regular fixture on the television screen.

Then in December 1978, the all-time ace of action returned for his second full-length feature adventure. And, this time, Superman is not just for kids. It was seventies, after all; everyone had to believe he could fly.

Christopher Reeve just can’t seem to get Margot Kidder’s attention when she’s thinking of someone else.

Superman–marketed as Superman: The Movie so everyone would know it was a movie and not another TV show–features an all-star cast, phenomenal special effects, and a script ostensibly from Godfather author Mario Puzo. Often in their full-length feature adventure debuts, the film casts major stars (from multiple eras) as the Superman supporting cast–Marlon Brando as his Kryptonian dad, Glenn Ford as his Earth dad, Gene Hackman as nemesis Lex Luthor, Jackie Cooper as Daily Planet editor Perry White, and so on. Superman himself doesn’t get a name actor, rather newcomer Christopher Reeve in the role. Margot Kidder, who had more experience than Reeve but wasn’t a star, plays Lois Lane.

In addition to covering the destruction of Krypton and Superman’s Earthbound growing pains, there’s lightly romantic camaraderie for Kidder and Reeve, and appropriately cinematic villainy from Hackman. Disasters, crises, and super-heroics abound.

Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve star in SUPERMAN, directed by Richard Donner for Warner Bros.
Superman (1978). ★★★★. 2007 review

While Superman, The Movie, has great production values, great special effects, and a solid script (from Puzo, three cowriters, and one “creative consultant”), it’s Reeve who makes it work. Well, Reeve and director Richard Donner. They both approach the film earnestly, which isn’t easy given its spectacular scale. The film’s full of delightful, rich performances, something Donner doesn’t forget when it comes time for action. The human factor is the heart of Superman.

Say, Clark! That’s a bad outfit! Whooo!

Superman was one of 1978’s biggest hits and Reeve became at least one generation’s Man of Steel (no idea why all-time ace of action hadn’t stuck). While the film came just as Hollywood was discovering special effects, it wasn’t “Hollywood,” it was Euro producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind, which sets the film and resulting franchise apart from the traditional late seventies, early eighties “blockbuster” narrative. Their producing hijinks, which got the film (and a couple sequels) made, alienated cast and crew alike.

Superman (1978), the director’s cut. ★★★★. 2010 review

Director Donner didn’t get along with the Salkinds, leading to his firing from the franchise; the resulting strain meant Donner didn’t really get involved with Superman on home video until DVD. Warner Bros. wasn’t exactly into deep catalog special editions on LaserDisc, anyway, though Superman did have a fine letterboxed release. When Donner came back to do a special edition, he even did a director’s cut, featuring all sorts of cool, rare superfluous footage.

Superman was one of Warner Bros.’s first big special edition DVD releases. Albeit in a snap case. The special edition had some ups and downs before they got it right; they eventually put out a fantastic series box set on DVD and blu-ray.

Reeve and Kidder head to Niagara Falls in SUPERMAN II.

The original plan for Superman II–going back to before the first film went into production–was to shoot the films back-to-back. After firing Donner (who shot some significant percentage of II), the Salkinds brought in Richard Lester to finish it up. They chucked enough Donner footage to appease the Directors Guild and reshot with Lester. They also to come up with an ending.

Superman II involves three Kryptonian supervillains (introduced briefly in the first film) coming to Earth and taking over the planet while Kidder and Reeve are giving in to their earthly desires. Hackman’s back (though he refused to reshoot scenes for Lester), second-fiddle to the superpowered bad guys, along with most of the first film’s supporting cast. Much of the crew returns as well.

Superman II (1980). ★★★. 2010 review

Of course, Donner isn’t back and neither is composer John Williams. Lester does an okay enough job directing–it helps he’s got Reeve and Kidder–and Ken Thorne does well mixing and expanding various John Williams themes from the first movie. In all, Superman II is a problematic superhero sequel, but still a successful one. It can’t compete with the first film and struggles not to try; some problems come from that lack of competition. There’s some really nice material for the supporting cast, even if the villains are uneven.

Superman and Zod duke it out in Metropolis.

For most of its post-release “shelf life,” Superman II was neglected on home video. It didn’t even get a letterboxed LaserDisc release until the late nineties. It was remembered mostly for the Metropolis street fight sequence, but also for the rumors of the lost Donner footage. Kidder talked a lot about Donner’s removal from the sequel over the years (enough the third film shipped Lois offscreen to Bermuda); Donner didn’t comment at length; interested, enthusiastic fans didn’t give up.

Superman II (1980), the restored international cut. ★. 2005 review

In early 2005, after a global scouring for footage, the fan-created “restored international cut” appeared. It got a lot of notice, including Entertainment Weekly covering it, and was freely available through snail mail trading until Warner Bros. shut it down. Twenty-five years after Superman II first arrived, people finally got a look at what could have been.

Like the Arctic Police arresting the Kryptionian villains and Lex trying to work a deal with Superman while getting hauled off.

A scene from SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT, directed by Richard Donner for Warner Bros.
Superman II (1980), the Richard Donner cut. ★. 2007 review

But the renewed interest did lead to Donner finally getting a crack at his own Superman II cut, which Warner released alongside (and as part of) their Christopher Reeve Superman box set. Donner’s version of the film pulls as much Lester footage as possible and gets back in some Marlon Brando, but it’s a complete mess. Whatever is wrong with Superman II, there’s clearly no way to fix it in post-production.

Sadly, Richard Pryor and Christopher Reeve aren’t doing a handshake vs. salute bit. Or are they?

After three years–two in the U.S., where got II later than overseas–Reeve and Lester were back for Superman III. No Puzo script; instead, I and II cowriters David and Leslie Newman fly solo. This time, Reeve’s splitting his time between big business computer age villains and gently romancing childhood crush Annette O’Toole. The main protagonist ends up being “villain” Richard Pryor, a regular Metropolis guy who slapsticks his way into the villains’ cabal.

Christopher Reeve and Annette O'Toole star in SUPERMAN III, directed by Richard Lester for Warner Bros.
Superman III (1983). ★. 2010 review

Despite excellent production values, Superman III is a rather weak outing for the Man of Steel. Even with strong performances–Reeve, O’Toole, Pryor–there’s just nothing to be done with the Newmans’ script. Lester’s direction is all right, if uneven. Robert Paynter’s cinematography is weak–he shot II to match the Donner footage and, free of those constraints, he’s got no good ideas. It could be a lot worse, though. A lot worse. Even with Pryor skiing off a skyscraper.

Could it have been the beginning of beautiful friendship? Annette O’Toole’s Lana Lang meets Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane in SUPERMAN III.

Superman III opened strong in summer 1983 and the bad word of mouth immediately slowed it down. It has some notoriety as the “Superman with Richard Pryor” but it’s a PG Richard Pryor and no one cares about PG Richard Pryor. Much like the Metropolis street battle set piece from II, the nonsensical Superman vs. Clark Kent junkyard battle from III gets quite a bit of sympathy. Warner released Superman III letterboxed on LaserDisc alongside Superman II in the nineties; they’ve kept DVD (and blu-ray) releases in print, including a special edition. However, even though a longer television version of Superman III exists, Warner hasn’t released an extended version.

After Superman III‘s failure, the franchise seemed in dire straits. Christopher Reeve dropped out of the Salkinds’ Supergirl: The Movie, making it less a spin-off and more a “sidequel.” When Supergirl bombed, the Salkinds sold off their Superman movie rights to Cannon Films. And what did Cannon do with those rights?

Reeve and Kidder, back on the rooftop, in SUPERMAN IV.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Released in 1987, with a politically conscious message (Christopher Reeve’s idea) about Superman getting involved with the nuclear arms race. Lex Luthor sees his opportunity to profit from it, which eventually leads to him creating a Superman clone who looks nothing like Superman–The Nuclear Man. Meanwhile, Mariel Hemingway has a crush on Clark Kent, leading to hijinks as the film also brings back Superman and Lois Lane romantic moments. Everyone returns for The Quest for Peace. Reeve, Hackman, Kidder, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure–and Susannah York even audibly returns (providing voiceover). There’s no technical crossover–new director (Sidney J. Furie), new screenwriters, new special effects crew. But the cast is there.

Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, and Mark Pillow star in SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, directed by Sidney J. Furie for Warner Bros.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2010 review

And, despite their collective presence, the film’s a wreck. The script’s terrible, the special effects are bad, the production values are exceptionally low (thanks, Cannon). There’s some residual charm thanks to Reeve, Kidder, and Hackman (and Cooper and McClure), not to mention actual hints at character development, but it’s a wreck. It’s not even entirely Sidney J. Furie’s fault.

Marc McClure, Jackie Cooper, Reeve, and Kidder do what they can for SUPERMAN IV.

Superman IV bombed. Worse than Superman III. It doesn’t have a reputation as much besides a bad late eighties sequel whose predecessors have a far better pedigree. Not even the presence of Jon Cryer could get audiences into the seats. The film does have its best release–after years of Warner ignoring it (Quest for Peace didn’t get a late nineties letterboxed LaserDisc for example), they finally put it out on DVD and blu-ray. It looks fine. It doesn’t have the legendary (and apparently missing) extra forty-five minutes of footage, which included another “Nuclear Man” villain for Superman to battle. It seems unlikely that footage will ever surface (or if it’d be any help if it did).

While Superman III couldn’t quite ruin the Superman franchise, Superman IV did the trick. The Man of Steel disappeared for a while, though the Boy of Steel did show up after a couple years. The Salkinds put together a syndicated “Superboy” TV series, which lasted it four seasons. A year later, “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” launched on ABC. It lasted four seasons as well. Towards the end of “Lois & Clark”’s run, “Superman: The Animated Series” started its three season run. Film success remained illusive, but the all-time ace of action did all right on television.

The nineties also had the failed development of a Superman Lives project, which was supposed to star Nicolas Cage as Superman, directed by Tim Burton. It was a big, splashy failure for Warner Bros., who still hadn’t gotten their own Superman film off the ground. Before, it had taken the Salkinds and Cannon to get it done.

The property didn’t stay dormant–TV had “Smallville,” the adventures of teenage Clark Kent (before Superman and never Superboy), which ran ten seasons starting in 2001. In the middle of the “Smallville” run–after nineteen years away–Superman got his sixth full-length feature adventure.

Clark doesn’t employ the Magic Kiss to get back in Lois’s good graces. Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth in SUPERMAN RETURNS.

In 2006 (after another failed reboot attempt a few years earlier), Superman Returns didn’t just bring the Man of Steel back to the big screen, it did so in “semi-sequel” to the Christopher Reeve series (ignoring III and IV). No one from those films returned except the now deceased Marlon Brando, whose unused footage from the first film was CG’ed to match.

The film, which Warner Bros. co-financed with Legendary Pictures (so they still hadn’t made their own Superman movie), has Superman returning to Earth after an absence (though, sadly, not the one mentioned in Supergirl). He comes back to Lex Luthor ready to terrorize and Lois Lane, who’s now a single mom to a precious child with a mysterious father, not so happy to see him. She’s also got a new boyfriend. Meanwhile, Clark Kent also has to get back into the Metropolis groove.

Superman Returns (2006). ★★½. 2006 review

Bryan Singer, fresh from X-Men success, directs Superman Returns preciously. It’s a big production, with fantastic special effects. It’s a shame the script sort of just keeps going and going and going. And just not at the end, but starting pretty early on, since the filmmakers know they’re playing with audience expectations. Brandon Routh makes does a fine job in the “lead” (Singer doesn’t trust him as Superman, just Clark), with Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth barely adequate as Luthor and Lane, respectively. James Marsden is awesome as Lois’s new fiancé, who–unfortunately for the film–turns out to be more of a hero than Superman.

Kal-El doesn’t shrug.

Saddled with the pre-production costs of the failed reboots in its budget, Superman Returns had a big hill to climb to success. The film, while critically well-received (enough) and commercially viable, wasn’t a runaway success. While audiences were somewhat sympathetic to the film, they didn’t seem to like the idea of it being a sequel to the Reeve movies. And they really didn’t like Superman being a deadbeat dad. Everyone apparently lost interest in a sequel–Warner Bros., Legendary, even Bryan Singer. Returns has been well-represented on DVD and blu-ray (even HD-DVD), though Singer never did go back and reincorporate the footage he had to cut for time. Running two and a half hours, Singer apparently wanted it to go even longer.

When Superman Returns came out, Warner Bros. had just relaunched their Batman franchise; the second film in the “Dark Knight trilogy,” titled The Dark Knight–Singer’s sequel was going to be called The Man of Steel–came out in 2008 and made a billion dollars and got great reviews. A Writers Guild strike slowed and stopped a Justice League film–which would have featured a different Superman (and Batman)–and then Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan supposedly asked Warner to pause everything superhero until he finished his trilogy. Given the billion dollar box office on Dark Knight, Warner acceded to that (supposed) request, with a couple notable box office bombs as exceptions.

Another Lois, another Clark. Henry Cavill and Amy Adams star in MAN OF STEEL.

And when Superman came back again, Nolan was in the producer’s seat. Seven years after Superman Returns, The Man of Steel finally came out. Only it was all new, not in the Returns or Reeve continuity. It was also the first time one of the all-time ace of action’s full-length features leveraged the wealth of DC Comics source material. Man of Steel is an origin story, reintroducing Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and the entire supporting cast with details, scenes, and dialogue out of the comics. Just after Clark Kent becomes Superman (or gets the costume at least), Kryptonian menace Zod tracks him down and wages war on the entire planet. It’s Superman meets tentpole “hard sci-fi.”

Henry Cavill stars in MAN OF STEEL, directed by Zach Snyder for Warner Bros.
Man of Steel (2013). ★★★½. 2013 review

Man of Steel is a success. New Superman Henry Cavill is great, Amy Adams is great as Lois Lane, Michael Shannon is phenomenal as Zod. The supporting cast isn’t showy, but they do fine work. Director Zach Snyder ably handles the special effects action and the character relationships. Shannon and Cavill play wonderfully together, for example, and Cavill and Adams have immediate chemistry. And Hans Zimmer–not borrowing at all on the John Williams music, which Returns did for half its runtime then stopped–turns in an excellent score.

“Any more at home like you?”

But Man of Steel didn’t get the box office returns Warner (and Legendary, presumably) were expecting. Warner Bros. had already lost the lead in the superhero movie game and the film didn’t help them catch up. It was too serious, too dark; audiences apparently didn’t like it being so different from the Christopher Reeve movies (the opposite of their complaints following Returns) and critics felt about the same. Once again, the future of the franchise was seemingly in jeopardy after a single outing.

So Warner (and Snyder) made some changes. Behind the camera, they got rid of Legendary as co-financiers, meaning the subsequent sequel would be Warner’s first outing as sole Superman proprietor, and Christopher Nolan decided he had zero interest in producing further entries.

Major metropolitan newspeople. Amy Adams, Henry Cavill, and Laurence Fishburne in BATMAN V SUPERMAN.

Three years after Man of Steel–and almost a full year after post-production had completed–Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came out. Before the Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage failure, there had been rumors of a Batman/Superman team-up movie (or at least a script someone liked). Finally, the two DC superheroes met on the big screen, simultaneously infusing the unsteady Superman franchise with the popular Batman brand and relaunching that brand, which was in need of an all-new big screen Batman.

And Superman doesn’t just have to fight Batman. He also has a Lex Luthor stirring up trouble–tech billionaire Luthor doesn’t like Superman’s super-heroics much. Neither does Batman. Lois Lane still likes him though. Who knows what could’ve happened if Snyder hadn’t shoehorned Wonder Woman into the action too.

Henry Cavill and Amy Adams star in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, directed by Zack Snyder for Warner Bros.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). ★★. 2016 review

In addition to having a clumsy, awkward jumble of a title, Dawn of Justice is clumsy, awkward jumble of a film as well. Cavill and Adams do pretty well, new Batman Ben Affleck is fine, new Lex Luthor Jesse Eisenberg does all right, but the script’s a combination of bad pacing and dumb ideas. It’s a really long, mostly unpleasant movie–with an atrocious “third act.” The character sensitivity Snyder brought to the previous film is entirely missing, though last time he had a script from David S. Goyer and not an ineptly pretentious one from Chris Terio. It’s a major misfire.

Everybody loves Superman.

While a big box office success, Dawn of Justice got mostly terrible reviews and indifferent (or worse) audience reaction. Unlike previous critical “Super-flops,” Warner Bros. seems more than confident in keeping the franchise going. At least to some degree. There might not be more Man of Steel sequels, but Cavill (and Adams so far) will pop up in future Warner Bros. superhero movies. Actually, Superman has very little to do in Dawn of Justice, most of the hubbub and attention goes to Affleck’s brooding Batman.

It makes Superman’s second-billing in that terrible title even more appropriate. Kind of an inverted Larry Talbot situation.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), the ultimate edition. ★½. 2016 review

Warner released an even longer version of Dawn of Justice, which gives Cavill and Adams a lot more to do–the first half of the movie focuses on Lois and Clark reporting instead of just guest-starring in a Batman movie with some Lex Luthor political corrupting antics thrown in. Unfortunately, that better Superman movie still has all the clunkiness of the final hour fight sequence. It’s actually a worse film overall, just with better parts. The failed potential stings even more.

So the future of the Superman franchise is unsure. It’s always unsure. But the movies are occasionally outstanding, often all right, and rarely truly godawful. The all-time ace of action is worth the risk.


Superman II (1980, Richard Lester)

There are, now, three versions of Superman II. The theatrical, an extended television version (not officially released) and original director Richard Donner’s take on it. Unfortunately, Superman II is–as a narrative and a sequel–rife with problems. Drawing attention to these problems is a bad idea. And the version with the least emphasis on them? Richard Lester’s original.

Whatever Lester’s problem with the Superman character, it’s not really apparent here. Superman II feels like a good Superman movie should feel–some of the campy humor works, some of it doesn’t. I’d say about fifty percent of Terence Stamp’s lines fail. The successful ones, however, are great. And Sarah Douglas is fantastic.

Most importantly, Lester gets some wonderful acting out of Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve. The somewhat nonsensical romance doesn’t fit in the picture–and never will, no matter how many revisions people make–but it makes the film singular. Superman wasn’t a particularly long film series and the familiarity Lester gets out of Kidder and Reeve in this one, the first sequel, is something television shows usually have to go three or four seasons to achieve.

The special effects–particularly the flying sequences–are occasionally weak. There are a lot more complicated rear projection sequences than in the first film and they don’t work out very often.

Like I said before, Superman II‘s basically a bad idea for a movie. But it works out in the end, thanks to the actors and, yes, Lester.

That Paris opening’s great.



Directed by Richard Lester; written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman, from a story by Puzo, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; directors of cinematography, Robert Paynter and Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by John Victor-Smith; music by Ken Thorne; production designers, John Barry and Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Ms. Teschmacher), Susannah York (Lara), E.G. Marshall (The President), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) and Terence Stamp (General Zod).

This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Superman II (1980, Richard Donner), the Richard Donner cut

Superman II might just be broken. Watching “The Richard Donner Cut,” it’s an easy conclusion to come to–the greatly anticipated Marlon Brando scenes feature a callow, selfish Superman–not one who’s bursting with love for Lois Lane, like in the theatrical version. Also problematic is the utter lack of super–it’s a Superman movie, but this version of Superman II doesn’t actually have any real Superman scenes besides the rescue of the kid at Niagara Falls and then the last act city fight (which isn’t any better). He’s not doing anything super… it’s tedious, because so much of the Lois and Clark romance is shredded. I remember a review for the Daredevil director’s cut pointing out, although Jennifer Garner has the same amount of screen time, the film’s so much less painful because of the additional scenes without her. Well, this cut of Superman II has less Superman–and even has less Kryptonian supervillains–but it seems like they’re in it a lot more… and it’s not a good thing. They were shallow characters to begin with and they aren’t any better here.

While it was nice to see the Daily Planet newsroom under Donner’s vision again–and the maligned ending actually works out fine (if you forgive the uselessness of taking away Lois’s memory of Superman, which makes no sense in any version and does a disservice to the romance), well even–the only really nice stuff in the Donner Cut is extra Gene Hackman scenes. There are only a couple, both with Valerie Perrine, and they’re both great. I was hoping Perrine would show up again, but alas, she did not and the film was coasting along–most of the scenes not working because there was nothing connecting them anymore, with all the cuts of Lester-filmed material–until Hackman shows up again.

There’s one scene created from a combination of screen tests and, while the differences are noticeable, it’s a well-acted scene–even if it isn’t better than what was in the theatrical version. There are new special effects, some of which are fine, some of which needed something as simple as a black level fix and didn’t get it. John Williams has sole composer credit now and it’s all music from the first film recycled and you can tell. This version of Superman II sounds all wrong.

It’s unfortunate, after all the hubbub, it didn’t turn out to be a major achievement or something. Like I said, maybe it just doesn’t work in any form.



Directed by Richard Donner; written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman, from a story by Puzo, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; directors of cinematography, Robert Paynter and Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird, Michael Thau and John Victor-Smith; music by John Williams; production designers, John Barry and Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler and Thau; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Ms. Teschmacher), E.G. Marshall (The President), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) and Terence Stamp (General Zod).

This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Superman II (1980, Richard Lester), the restored international cut

I read about the Superman II restored international cut (RIC)–a fan effort to compile all the extra Superman II footage from various television prints, mostly from foreign markets–in Entertainment Weekly. It said to head over to Superman Cinema to get a free copy, just so long as you provide free copies. By that time, however, Warner Bros. had shut distribution down. I got my copy through a nice guy in alt.tv.tape-trading. It cost eight dollars, which is well worth it, considering the disc has a bunch of special features. It’s an impressive package.

The “restoration” was done in PAL pan and scan, then transferred to NTSC for the DVD. As far as the prints, they look great. As good as a regular VHS. But I’ve been seeing Superman II letterboxed since 1997 or 1998, whenever Warner got around to releasing the remastered laserdisc. But I grew up with a pan and scan Superman II, so I didn’t think it’d hurt me too much. Thought it might even be nostalgic.

Superman II, the RIC, does have some nice “new” moments. Mostly with the cast from the original film. A little more of Ned Beatty, some amusing Lex Luthor/Jimmy Olsen interaction, an attempt at a better close for the Lois and Clark romance. But it doesn’t fix the problems with the film. And watching it in converted from PAL pan and scan–which makes the film look, to me at least, like an episode of “Three’s Company,” or some other TV shot on video–made me hypersensitive. I couldn’t get lost in the magic. And then I realized why.

Superman II doesn’t have any magic. It doesn’t have the wonder of the first film. In fact, the attempt at furthering Superman as a character never appeared before this cut. In the North Pole, in the Lois and Clark scene I just mentioned, Lois tells Superman to “never forget” their romance, echoing Ma Kent telling him never to forget his youth. This scene doesn’t appear in the theatrical version and the end of the film–the idiotic super-brainwashing kiss–invalidates it. Fans constantly attack Richard Lester for the films’ faults, but he’s only partly to blame. The story doesn’t respect Superman enough. There’s no real romance between him and Lois Lane. Once he gives up his powers, it’s obvious she wants the super-dude. He gives them up, gets laid for the first (and, presumably, only) time, gets beat up, then gets them back–all in ten or twelve minutes. There’s no drama to it.

The initial online outrage about Superman II, once enough folks got together and shared what they knew of Donner’s original intent, was directed at Tom Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz responded, defending himself, and placed the blame–I think–on the Salkinds and Lester. Richard Lester is not actually dead. I always thought he was, but he’s not. He’s never responded and, unless Warner taps him for a special edition, seems to have no interest in his Superman efforts.

Watching the film, obviously there are production faults, but it is mostly Lester’s. The moments of comedy when Metropolis is being “blown apart” are inappropriate. It’s laughing at victims. The bad guys are silly, which may be partly Donner’s fault, though I think he mostly shot the good scenes, the Lois and Clark scenes towards the beginning. Since much was shot at the same time, on the same sets, but to far lesser success, Superman II–in any version–seems a disrespect to the first film. Maybe even to the characters themselves. The first film–through the wonderful combination of production, writing, and acting–created people we cared about. Hell, it did such a good job, we even cared about them in Superman IV. Superman II plays off that sentiment.

Sitting here, twenty-five years later, I can see, dramatically, what went wrong. This restored international cut shows, at the time, someone else cared about these characters, cared about developing them further, cared about doing good work. Unfortunately, whoever this person was, it wasn’t the people in charge of producing Superman II.



Directed by Richard Lester; written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman, from a story by Puzo, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; directors of cinematography, Robert Paynter and Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by John Victor-Smith; music by Ken Thorne; production designers, John Barry and Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Ms. Teschmacher), Susannah York (Lara), E.G. Marshall (The President), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) and Terence Stamp (General Zod).

This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.