Well, here we go again. We’re back on Krypton, which I’d figured was pretty conclusively in the rearview mirror.
But it’s here, on the cusp of this new dawn, that we find out what the three Kryptonians did to deserve being locked up in a revolving parallelogram, and set adrift in the void. At the beginning of the last movie, all we saw was the sentencing; we didn’t see the actual crime that they committed.
Well, now we know. They broke a crystal!
It was one of the important ones, too; there was a lot of good stuff in that one. Now, to you and me, it just looks like a spangly red lucite churro filled with pop rocks, but it must be a big deal, because when Zod snaps it in half, there’s the crash of a thunderbolt, like the Count has just successfully counted up to five.
And just like that, the lights go out, and the trio is caught in the remorseless spotlight of being sent to the principal. It’s kind of their trial, but a weird dreamlike remix, which happens immediately after doing something naughty. This is the criminals’ nightmare, where they’re just doing stuff, and all of a sudden, they realize that there’s a final exam, and they haven’t studied for it.
In the real trial, which happened two and a half years and a movie ago, there were actual charges — Zod was the chief architect of an intended revolution and author of an insidious plot, to establish a new order amongst us with himself as absolute ruler. That sounds like something that you’d put a guy on trial for.
But this time, all he did was snap into a Slim Jim, which if it was such a big deal maybe don’t leave your snappable stuff out in the open like that. If you ask me, this whole scenario seems like the careless product of wild imagination.
In lieu of any actual clue about why we’re upset with them, a disembodied bossy voice conducts a really judgmental rose ceremony.
“General Zod: Your only feeling was contempt for our society, your only desire was to command.
“Ursa: The only feeling you showed was for your vicious general, your only wish to rule at his side.
“Non: You are as without thought as you are without voice.”
Now, I get that as a personality critique, and I hate when people mess with my collectibles too, but I don’t know if I’d put someone into perpetual prison just because they didn’t have enough feelings.
Anyway, the reason why the producers situated this recap in the metaverse is that they didn’t want Marlon Brando to have any more money. This is a scene from the first movie that was basically a showcase for Jor-El, gliding around the soundstage like a big white New Paradigm Dalek with a magic light-up stick that went bing.
Brando was promised a famously oversized salary to appear in the movie, including a percentage of the profits which the Salkinds had no real appetite for paying. But the first movie was a big hit, and they didn’t need to use his name to get people interested in the sequel, so they reshot all of his scenes in Superman II using other, less expensive people.
People talk about this like it’s an epic betrayal of artistic principle, but to be fair, Brando sued the Salkinds two days after Superman came out, and tried to get a restraining order that would bar them from showing the movie to anybody else. (I don’t know how you would stop 500 movie theaters from showing an incredibly successful movie during its opening weekend, but maybe they could have set up a phone tree or something.)
So it’s not completely insane that they would cut Brando out of the sequel, since the lawsuit didn’t get settled until nine months after Superman II came out. On the other hand, the only reason Brando was suing the Salkinds in the first place was because they didn’t pay their bills or follow through on contracts, so maybe I should stop trying to be fair.
It didn’t make the movie any better, I guess is my point. Zod still screams, “You will bow down before me, Jor-El!” and spends the last third of the movie calling Superman “son of Jor-El!” so it would have been nice if they’d actually had Jor-El in the movie.
And that was just one of the stupid, film-damaging decisions that the Salkinds made, once they’d really decided to make their movie worse.
As we discussed a couple days ago, the Salkinds fired Richard Donner as the director, because he’d said some things that they found emotionally hurtful. To replace him, they hired Richard Lester, who’d directed The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers for them. Lester was unbelievably good at keeping to a schedule, and that was their main kick against Donner.
Donner had already filmed about 75% of the sequel during the production of the first movie, but with Lester taking over, they were going to have to reshoot some of that material. It’s a little hazy, but the way I understand it is that the Director’s Guild of America said that you can’t be credited as the director of a movie unless you direct at least 50% of the material in the movie — otherwise Donner would still be the director, and Lester would basically be a glorified second-unit man.
So Lester was obliged to cut out some of Donner’s existing scenes and replace them — and according to the rules, they needed to be new scenes, not just reshoots of the already existing material. They needed to go and rewrite stuff — not because it made the movie better, but just for the sake of rewriting it.
And they couldn’t use the best scriptwriter they had, because Tom Mankiewicz was Donner’s friend, and he refused to participate. An exec from Warner Bros. asked Mankiewicz if he would work with Lester to rewrite the film, and Mank said no, that would be a betrayal. So the exec said, how about you just come to London, and you happen to accidentally run into Lester? Mank said no to that too. So the producers had to go back to David and Leslie Newman, who’d written a previous draft of the film that really wasn’t very good.
Just to make sure that they’d done as much self-sabotage as possible, Lester pissed off John Williams somehow. In yesterday’s post, I quoted Ilya from the DVD commentary saying that he had no idea why Williams decided not to write the score for the sequel, which obviously wasn’t true. The fact is, Williams went into the theater with Lester to watch the movie, and then he came out and told Ilya that he couldn’t work with Lester.
The film was also diminished by a couple acts of Zod. Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth had died towards the end of production on Superman, so he wasn’t available, and set designer John Barry died in 1979 while he was working on The Empire Strikes Back. The loss of Barry explains why some of the sequel’s new sets are disappointing, like the honeymoon hotel suite, which should be wacky and memorable like Lex Luthor’s lair, but turned out to be a little box that they filled with pink stuff.
What this means is that Superman II is a film that was started by the A-squad, and finished by the B-squad. There’s a lot of good stuff in it, but there are also a lot of things that would have been better in more skillful hands.
But it’s too late for regrets, now. Like a trio of galactic supervillain brats, the three producers grabbed the beautiful spangly potential of this film and snapped it in half, just to prove that they were strong enough to do it. You will bow down before me, the Salkinds cry, flush with power and petulance, and I suppose, for the moment, that we will. What choice do we have?
Lois gets terrorized in
2.4: Fight the Tower
— Danny Horn