I really like Superman 2, and was surprised just how much I liked more than the original. I think they must have known they had something special going and capitalised on it because it really shows.
The movie is about three Kryptonian war criminals led by General Zod (Terrance Stamp) coming to Earth to dominate it. Meanwhile, however, Superman is contemplating sacrificing his power and responsibility to have the life he’s always wanted with Lois Lane. All the while, Lex Luthor attempts to play both sides of the alien conflict.
The thing about this film is that the beginning isn’t actually that good. In one or two places I do think they took the humour too far, only to find their restraint again later on. Particularly with Lex Luthor in prison with Otis and their escape attempt. I know this is supposed to be very tongue in cheek, but suspension of disbelief does still have to exist, and the start of this movie does push it a little. Characters just sort of do things they probably shouldn’t just so the plot can happen. After about 20 minutes, the movie thankfully settles into itself and becomes much more consistent and entertaining.
It all starts with Terrance Stamp in the role of Zod who is, without a doubt, a one-note villain who in any other film would have been forgotten for how bland he is written. He’s just a strong dude who wants to take over the world. But Terrance Stamp really elevates the role because he is scary looking and genuinely intimidating. My favourite line of dialogue is when the President of America, referring to Superman, tells Zod ‘there is one man on Earth who will never kneel to you’, and Zod replies with ‘who is this imbecile?’ It’s such a great line and is one that has stuck with me for some time after finishing the movie.
What also helps Zod be a good villain in spite of his cliche archetype is how the action sequences between himself and the army is depicted. In 2013’s Man of Steel it was all spectacle; Zod and his goons running around at the speed of sound doing over-choreographed techniques to execute some regular army men. But, hear me out, Superman 2’s much more toned down action actually makes Zod look infinitely more intimidating. The army attack and for most of it he doesn’t even fight back or return fire. He just stands there, looking around as if to wonder what the hell they are trying to do. He’s so far up himself about how powerful he is that he genuinely sits there in deep contemplation, while being barraged by missiles from a helicopter, about why on Earth the humans would even try to attack him.
Eventually, Zod and his goons do fight back in this film too, but it’s not over choreographed nonsense, it’s just them slightly tilting their heads and using their powers in the most non-shelant way possible, like they have better things to do than fight the army. It’s just so much more compelling to watch than anything a modern blockbuster could have come up with for the scene.
Superman goes on a journey of introspection in this film, through the typical superhero character arc of questioning if he should give up his responsibilities for his own happiness, ultimately sticking with his responsibility to the people of Earth. Though Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder are still in top form as Clark and Lois, their storyline just isn’t as compelling as anything else happening in the film. It’s not bad, just not as notable as the other stuff. Although the way it all comes to a head with Clark losing his powers and getting the crap kicked out of him at a bar is really moving and powerful. It’s a real turning point for the film and another great moment where everything you’ve been watching has a payoff. This ultimately leads to Clark learning about Zod’s invasion of Earth and sacrificing his happy life with Lois to get his powers back and save the world.
One of my main complaints about the first movie was how they undercut the bittersweet ending of Clark saving the world but not Lois. This movie also has a bittersweet ending, but it isn’t undercut. Lois is in agony and Clark (through yet another instance of these movie’s randomly inventing powers for him to have) erases her memories while he lives on knowing about the happiness they could have had alone. It does so while still feeling like the movie was worth watching – just because Lois lost her memory doesn’t mean her arc was inconsequential.
Obviously, the big highlight of the film is Superman fighting Zod and his goons in the city. It’s a bit silly like when Zod blows up cars with his heat vision the moment his lasers make contact with them, but he takes so long to laser an actual truck of gasoline that Superman is able to prevent it from exploding. But it’s all good fun still and keeps your eyes glued on. It’s amazing how this film did a much better job showing the effect the fight had on civilians than any modern Marvel or DC film attempting to do the same thing. I mean Batman Vs Superman and Captain America Civil War both exist as reactions to audiences realising how many more civilians die in these films than are saved, and yet Superman 2 all the way back in 1980 already addressed it in a single battle scene near the end of the movie and concluded what it had to say about all that in about ten minutes. Superman flies away, lurring Zod into a trap elsewhere where it’s safe to fight. Zod wants to rule Earth so he stops harming the humans – his subjects to be – when Superman leaves the battle. It makes sense. And it doesn’t take a whole other 2 and a half hour movie for Superman to realise civilian casualties are bad. He saves people simultaneously while fighting here.
Like I said in my review of The Batman, what I like about these movies is how they’re not just spectacles about the goodie superhero punching the baddie villain until his evil plot is undone. The’re about saving people directly. Dedicating time to being a hero as well as a defender. And Superman 2 is proof you can have that spectacle and touching moments of the hero being a saviour work together instead of against one and other.
So yeah, I really enjoyed Superman 2. It’s not perfect. In fact, it arguably has one or two more flaws in it that the original, but I definitely enjoyed it more. It’s just an example of how to do a superhero movie really well.