Superman II 2.3: Let’s Twist Again

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

Movie list

— Danny Horn

22 thoughts on “Superman II 2.3: Let’s Twist Again

  1. I’ve never understood this idea of Richard Lester as the B-Team, especially compared to Donner. I’ll grant that Superman: The Movie is a better film than the two sequels are. But in 1980, Lester was winding down a career filled with gems, while Donner was gearing up for one full of bland garbage.

    A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, of course, but also Robin & Marian, which is the only good “What happens when a legend gets old?” movie ever made, because it has the good sense to star Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. You slagged off The Bed-Sitting Room in an earlier post, but that movie’s hilarious and I think you’d love it.

    Donner, meanwhile, went on to make The Goonies (a bad movie about a bunch of dumbass kids who call gold “the rich stuff”), four Lethal Weapons (a franchise about Danny Glover shaking his head at Mel Gibson’s “charm”), and Scrooged (a comedy version of A Christmas Carol that isn’t even a little bit funny.) And those are the hits! Those are the highlights that people like, and they’re all bad!

    Outside of Superman, Lester made movies that are fun to watch, while Donner made movies that also exist.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I would also mention A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM among reasons to love Richard Lester.

      In defense of Donner, he did do some outstanding work on television. He directed episodes of THE LIEUTENANT, a 1963-1964 series that might have been forgotten had its executive producer not gone on to create STAR TREK, but that is in fact sensationally interesting.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I didn’t realize Lester did FUNNY THING. Love that movie! I never really got the humor of ancient Roman comedy just reading it on the page until I saw it performed.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I adore Robin and Marian, but it is such the typical seventies downbeat ending. Another scene that bugged me as a kid!


    1. Richard Donner had also directed excellent episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart and Cannon.

      Post-Superman, Donner’s next feature film was Inside Moves. Not a blockbuster, but the sort of low-key interesting drama that seldom gets released anymore. If I had to choose among sitting through Superman again or Superman II again or Inside Moves again, I would choose Inside Moves.


  2. You don’t want to get a first disorderly strike against you on Krypton. First you go on a rampage at the Crystals Bar. Then the Hula-Hoops of Big Brother 1984 judge you.

    Exile to the Phantom Zone is like being stuck in the world’s grooviest record cover. But it’s empty of the vinyl LP inside, since John Williams quit. Eternity with the sounds of silence. In space, no one can hear you scream curses at Jor-El and his kid.

    I still think John Williams quit when he learned at the London viewing that Pierre would have his finger in the pie. And that Donner had been tossed aside like Non’s wordless reign of terrible.

    Ah, those Salkinds, breaking deals and hearts just like Zod snapping his crystal thingie.

    I think you’re right about the union rules.

    Given how many different tones and genres Donner packed into the first movie, I don’t blame the Salkinds for letting Lester turn the sequel into 2/3 wacky comedy.

    And I don’t blame Lester for feeling that even though he didn’t want Donnor to be forced out, once that happened he finally had leverage to get paid to make this movie. After all, now Brando’s star power was shining a light on the finances.

    I do blame the Salkinds for breaking up what should have been the reunion of the surviving Dream Team.

    I liked the honeymoon set. Maybe not as over the top as Lex’s Lair, but it was still entertaining to me as a kid.

    “How about you just come to London, and you happen to accidentally run into Lester?”
    That worked out pretty well for Axl Rose and Duff McKagen’s Guns N Roses reunion. (They both insist it was random coincidence that after years of simmering disputes, they happened to be at the same hotel in London one night.)

    Liked by 5 people

    1. OMG!
      “World’s grooviest record cover” was exactly what I thought when I first saw it!
      And it’s almost exactly the back cover of ELO’s “Face The Music”.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m wriggling my toes with glee. Grooviest record cover, indeed!

      And that set itself, the lights out plus hula hoop deluxe, it happily puts me in mind of DS’ black box theatre days.

      Terence Stamp is probably one of the most physically appealing men, ever, and I’d seen The Collector but didn’t recognize him at all, here. He does get the best lines.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He really reads ’em, too. Stamp was super hot but also understood how to use his own charisma. You wanna kneel before Zod, if you know what I mean.

        If you’re interested there’s a lot about his early career in the terrific book Ready Steady Go! The Smashing Rise and Giddy Fall of Swinging London. Tons of pictures too!

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Also, I can’t agree that keeping Brando out of the picture was movie-damaging. The movie is mainly about Jor-El’s absence. Zod is enraged that he can’t reach Jor-El to exact revenge, and as a substitute he rains destruction on the adopted homeworld of the Jor-El’s son; Supey is lost because he never had a Kryptonian parent he could imitate, and so he sacrifices his powers to become someone who could imitate the role models he does have. The relationship between the two of them is powerful precisely because each of them longs for a relationship with the same missing man. It would be rather odd to have a big name actor playing Jor-El in a movie about Jor-El’s absence.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. What I find interesting about the Insta-Trial: Just Snap Stick For Condemnation! scene is that it is clearly 100% a setup for three evil people who apparently are so spectacularly bad at the practical logistics that they can’t see a trap that is covered with shiny pulsating crystals; everything but a giant sign saying STAND ON PLATFORM FOR INPRISONMENT.

    I think another reason for not having Brando, artistically speaking, is that he and Stamp both has such charisma it would either explode like matter/antimatter once it came into contact, or they’d end up getting married right there on set. Both would be great to watch but probably distracting from the ostensible hero.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Are you trying to say these goofballs are knowingly standing on the trapdoor? The trapdoor that’s surrounded by bright flashy lights and a sign asking bad guys to step right up? Heh. I concur, goddess, I concur.

      You’re also right about the resultant sex bomb going off which would detract from the actual hero who, though younger, definitely suffers by comparison. Brando is great but Terence Stamp is one of those rare birds blessed with an almost unreal physical appearance. Ridiculous bone structure, haughty manner, sign me up.


  5. This confused me because I had just watched a scene with Brando from Superman II on YouTube. Checking the description box, I discovered it was from The Donner Cut. Sigh. It looks like Ilya is about to become marginally richer. I’ll have to buy the original. From the comments it doesn’t sound like I should expect to get my money’s worth.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Here’s my hesitation. As far as structure goes it would make sense if after the world turns backward they went ahead and showed the bombs in space. Then for the structure of the second movie goes it would make more sense to start with a flashback to the trial or at least highlights of the trial in the first movie and then of Superman throwing the bomb into space. So I think throwing the nuclear bombs into space with To Be Continued. But you really need Brando to set the tone for the 1st movie and you need the trial to have him be important and respected before they ignore him or he’s just a twit everyone rightfully ignores. But if you do the full trial in the 1st, then you’ve got these 3 bad guys not showing up until this movie. It’s hard.


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