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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin -- Superman II

The preamble!  I used to do a thing on my podcast called Fishing in the Discount Bin, but it got too hard so I stopped.  But, not before scripting a whole bunch of entries that I stockpiled and never produced.  Not wanting to waste it, I dug it out of my archives and started posting it to my blog.  And now you're up to date.

Following last week's review of Superman, it's only logical that we get to Superman II.  This was originally written on October 2, 2010.  

Isn't it amazing how this universe works?  I do the last Fishing in the Discount Bin, which is about Superman, and I end it by saying that the next time I see Superman II floating in a discount bin, I should probably pick it up.  And wouldn't you know it?  There I was, in my friendly neighborhood Bargain! Bargain! Bargain! The Bargain Store, and what was floating on the very top of the discount bin?  Superman II, the 2-disc special edition, for the low, low price of $5.  I could NOT say no.

I feel I have to point out that I picked up the original, theatrical version, and NOT the Richard Donner Cut.  As I said last time, the plan was to make Superman I and II simultaneously, and then release them about a year apart.  Richard Donner was the director.  The two films were running over schedule and over budget, so, when Superman II was about 75% filmed, they decided to shut down production on #2 and focus on finishing #1.  #1 came out, it was a huge hit, but the producers and Richard Donner never saw eye-to-eye.  So, when it came time to finish #2, Donner was fired and a new director named Richard Lester was brought in.

Lester, of course, is a legendary director in his own right.  He directed the Beatles' movies.  I've got A Hard Day's Night in my collection, so I'll be getting to that one sooner or later.  But I digress.

Lester finished up #2, and it was a huge hit, but rumors always circulated of a "Richard Donner version" that was way better.  As part of the hype for Superman Returns, Warner Brothers finally let Richard Donner into an editing suite to make his version of Superman II.

That's all the backstory I'm giving you just to say I have the Richard Lester Superman II, not the Richard Donner cut.

Anyway, the plot, in case you've forgotten it.  The film opens with the news that terrorists have taken control of the Eiffel Town in Paris, and have planted an H-Bomb at the top.  Naturally, Lois Lane is on the scene covering the story and gets caught up in the middle of it.  Superman arrives on the scene, saves Lois, and hurls the bomb into space.  However, the bomb smashes open the portal to the Phantom Zone, releasing General Zod, Ursa, and Non, the three Kryptonian criminals that Jor-El (Superman's father) banished to the Phantom Zone in the first film.  Zod, Ursa and Non land on the moon, where they start realizing that the yellow sun of our solar system gives them superpowers.  They try things out by laying waste to an Apollo mission. 

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Lex Luthor escapes from prison.  He's been tracking Superman's flight patterns and notice that Superman always flies north.  So, Luthor follows Superman's flight plan, discovers the Fortress of Solitude, where he breaks in, learns all about Krypton, Kal-El, the three supercriminals, and then slips away as he figures out what to do with this new knowledge. 

Meanwhile, at Niagra Falls, Clark Kent and Lois Lane have gone undercover as a newlywed couple to do an expose on how the tourist trade fleeces newlyweds.  Don't worry, even Lois calls that a BS news story.  However, being in such close quarters, and when Superman shows up to make a few miraculous rescues, Lois starts putting 2 and 2 together and figuring out that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same.  The final straw comes in their honeymoon suite, when Clark Kent trips and falls face first into the fireplace, but emerges without a scratch on him.  Knowing there's no more hiding it, Clark reveals his true identity and his true feelings for Lois.  She reveals that she's also in love with him.  So, they head off to the Fortress of Solitude to have one of those long conversations about their feelings and their future that you always see in romantic comedies and sitcoms, and I've been told they happen in real life from time to time.

At this point, we catch up with Zod and his gang.  They've lain waste to a small American town as a demonstration of their powers.  They eventually make their way to the White House, where Zod meets with the President and we get the now famous line, "Kneel before Zod."  The President does, and the whole world asks, where is Superman?

Why, he's at the Fortress of Solitude, where he's decided to renounce his powers, become a mortal man, and live happily ever after with Lois.  The now powerless Clark and Lois start making their way back to Metropolis.  But, at an incident at a roadside diner, where Clark gets his ass handed to him by an unruly trucker, leaves him in deep shock.  When he sees the news reports on TV about how Zodd is now the absolute ruler of the Earth, Clark realizes he's made a grave mistake.  Clark makes his way back to the Fortress of Solitude to see if there's someway he can get his powers back.  And he does get them back, from the glowing green crystal that formed the Fortress of Solitude. 

Back in Washington, Zodd is starting to grow bored with being absolute ruler of all, when Lex Luthor walks in.  Lex Luthor reveals that this "Superman" that everyone is talking about is the son of Jor-El.  Elated that he'll be able take vengeance on his old enemy, Zodd prepares for battle.  Lex Luthor advises that, in order to flush out Superman, they should head to Metropolis and lay waste to the Daily Planet offices, and take Lois Lane hostage, as Superman is always on the scene to save Lois.  And in exchange for this information, Luthor becomes King of Australia.

So, all the villains show up in Metropolis, lay waste to the Daily Planet offices, the re-powered Superman shows up, and they have a battle royale throughout the streets of Metropolis.  Knowing that the risk to the civilians is too great, Superman draws the battle up to the Fortress of Solitude.  Zodd, Ursa, and Non take along Lois as a hostage, and Luthor because he knows the way. 

The grand climax takes place at the Fortress of Solitude, where we see a bunch of powers Superman never had in the comics, like tractor beams from his fingertips, invisibility, and the ability to generate holographic duplicates of himself.  Eventually, though, the battle reaches a stalemate when Superman takes Zodd hostage, and Ursa and Non take Lois hostage.  Getting desperate, Superman asks for Luthor's aid to lure the three Kryptonian criminals into the device that took Superman's powers.  Luthor double-crosses Superman, and the criminals force Superman into the device so Superman will lose his powers again.  But aha!  This was all part of Superman's trap.  Superman turned the whole Fortress into the device, and the device into a shield to protect himself.  Superman handily defeats the powerless Kryptonians, and leaves Luthor stranded in the Arctic. 

A few days later, heartbreak for Lois and Clark.  In order to be free to continue being Superman, Lois and Clark have decided to end their relationship.  A very heartbroken Lois says that things will be very difficult for her, as she'll be witness to all of Superman's amazing feats, but knowing that she can never talk to Clark about them for fear of revealing his true identity.  So, in order to ease Lois's pain, Superman uses one of his lesser-known powers, the superkiss, to erase her memory.  And things go back to normal.  Superman apologizes to the President for his absence, and swears he'll never do it again.  And then, to restore his pride, he tracks down that redneck trucker that beat him up and gets his vengeance.  The end! 

Well, before, I noted a lot of similarities between Superman and Batman Begins.  So, is Superman II anything like the Dark Knight  ?  Well...not really.  the Dark Knight kicked things up a notch...raised the stakes...put the hero through unexpected trials.  Superman II really doesn't do that.  All it really does is crank up the action.  Although, I will admit, it's nice seeing a lot of action in a Superman film.  And it does get quite emotional as Superman and Lois figure out their relationship.

However, there's lots of late-70s/early-80s cheese in it.  Is that a waterbed in the Fortress of Solitude?  Yes...yes...I think it is.  And man o man does that honeymoon suite look nice and gaudy.  Yup...there are some parts of the film that haven't aged well. 
And what's up with the making-up of new powers for Superman?  That's just crazy. 

All in all, though, it's a really good film.  A fun, action packed comic book film.  It's not as good as the first one, but it's pretty good on its own merits. 

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