SUPERMAN II

(1981)
With Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Susannah York, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O'Halloran
Directed by Richard Lester
Reviewed by JL

Gonna fly now     Hailed at the time of its release as the rare sequel that surpassed the original, SUPERMAN II now seems a bit tainted by the knowledge that it was not all it could have been.  Director Richard Donner had filmed the majority of scenes for part II simultaneously with the making of part I.  Before the sequel was completed, however, Donner was fired for reasons not totally clear to this day, whereupon Richard Lester took charge and wound up reshooting most scenes that were already in the can (presumably to justify giving him sole credit for the film).  In addition, Gene Hackman's refusal to continue with the project required the use of a body and voice double for several of his scenes, and Marlon Brando's already-filmed sequences were dropped along the way.  Brando demanded such a high fee for his appearance in the sequel that his father-son scenes with Reeve were rewritten for Susannah York as Lara, Superman's Kryptonian mother ("Those scenes really should have been between father and son," Donner said in later years).  The tone of part II is also less reverential than the first film, in that Donner had fun with the legend, whereas Lester sometimes seems to make fun of the legend.  (To be fair, many scenes are strengthened by such distinctive Lester touches as an abundance of business in the background and the use of overlapping and throwaway dialogue.)

     But despite its numerous problems, SUPERMAN II still works as a worthy and highly entertaining followup to the first film.  The characters and their relationships are fleshed out and strengthened, and the central conflict between Superman and the "Phantom Zone Three" makes for some spectacular action sequences.  It is rumored that a Special Edition DVD, containing Donner's footage and his own edit of the film, could be released in the summer of 2006 to coincide with the premiere of SUPERMAN RETURNS (which itself will incorporate the unused Brando footage from part II).  The final verdict on SUPERMAN II, therefore, may not be reached until some 25 years after its release. 4 - JL

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IS THAT WHO I THINK IT IS?

John Ratzenberger returns in a bit part. Richard Griffiths, later to gain fame as Uncle Vernon Dursley in the HARRY POTTER films, is one of the terrorists on the Eiffel Tower.