And then she goes ahead and throws herself out of the goddamn window just to prove a point, and that is what I love about specifically Richard Donner’s version of specifically Margot Kidder as Lois Lane.
At the end of last week, I told you about the Donner Cut, a 2006 effort to reclaim the Superman II footage that Richard Donner shot during the production of the first movie. He’d finished about 80% of the film before the Salkinds fired him, and while some of that footage remains in the theatrical cut, there was a lot that was reshot by the new director, so the Donner Cut assembles the material in an approximation of what the film could have been like, if he’d completed it.
For the most part, it’s not that different from the theatrical release, unless you watch them side by side. There are only three scenes in the Donner Cut that I think are really essential to understanding the development of the film: the beginning, the ending, and the honeymoon hotel discovery sequence. Not coincidentally, all of them are about Lois.
Richard Donner’s vision for Superman and Superman II relies on two basic principles: Superman can fly, and Lois is the center of the universe. Every time Donner talked about the movie, he said that whether the audience believes that Superman is flying would make or break the picture, which is probably true. He also said that, at its heart, this is a love story about Superman and Lois, which is absolutely true. That’s why it’s okay to break causality and reboot the world if Lois is upset about something.
For Superman II to work at all, we need to believe that Lois Lane is a woman who’s worth giving up your superpowers for. And in both versions of the film — Richard Donner’s Daily Planet scene, and Richard Lester’s Eiffel Tower sequence — the film begins with an opening statement about why Lois deserves to be in charge of the most powerful energy source the world has ever known.
Lester’s Eiffel Tower scene goes deep into the “plucky” side of Lois’ character. She hops over to Paris with no luggage and an inadequate French phrasebook, and manages to talk her way into a developing catastrophe, which I appreciate.
Now that I think about it, Lois actually manages to solve this problem herself, using the technique of attracting Superman’s attention to an imminent nuclear accident, which — if she hadn’t been there — would have inevitably resulted in the demolition of a noticeable percentage of France.
But Donner’s opening scene makes her even more cunning and hazardous. The very first thing that happens in this version of the movie is that Lois Lane sits at her desk rereading her own article, when she casually figures out the world’s most important secret. And it’s first thing in the morning, too; just imagine what she’s going to achieve by the end of the day.
The thing that I like about this sequence is that it explicitly counters the tedious idea that Lois must be stupid for not figuring out that Clark is Superman. It’s entirely unfair, because people criticize the character, rather than the comics writers who spent several decades resisting any change to the status quo, under the mistaken impression that comic books are sitcoms that require a reset button at the end of every issue.
Comic books are not sitcoms. Comic books are soap operas. It is better for everyone when people recognize that.
The best thing about Superman II is that Lois is allowed to learn and grow as a character. She figures things out, and sees things from a different perspective. In the first movie, she’s basically bamboozled by Superman, who uses his hotness to distract her from the truth that he’s trying to conceal. In the second movie — especially in the Donner Cut — she’s the one who tricks him.
Unfortunately, this is balanced out by the worst thing about Superman II, which is that they feel the need to put the toothpaste back in the tube at the end. Somehow, they came up with the idea that everything would be ruined if we allow Lois to know that Clark is Superman, which is not the case.
There’s all kinds of fun that you can have in a story in which Lois knows that Clark is Superman, and if you’d like an example, I could point you towards pretty much this entire movie, except for the ending, when they chicken out and undo it all.
The problem is that from a structural point of view, Lois is actually treated like a villain in this movie. There are three obstacles in this film that stand in the way of Superman’s benevolent crime-fighting career: Lex Luthor, the Phantom Zone criminals, and how much fun it is to make out with Lois.
Taking care of the first two problems is time-consuming but straightforward: take Luthor back to jail, and trick the trio into losing their powers and falling into a bottomless crevasse.
Then Superman is left with the one problem that he can’t solve: how does he deal with the everpresent threat of the plucky, nobody’s-fool, investigative reporter Lois Lane?
I mean, sure, for now he can use his super-breath to keep her aloft while he uses his heat vision to unroll an awning for her to land on, so that she doesn’t realize that he saved her. But that’s a temporary solution, only applicable to the current crisis.
Because Lois isn’t the kind of problem that you can solve in one action sequence. As the philosopher Chumbawamba put it: she gets knocked down, but she gets up again; you’re never going to keep her down.
In the Superman movies, nuclear missiles are easy to deal with — you just grab them and direct them skyward, where they reach escape velocity and pass harmlessly into the infinite void of outer space. Superman does this three times in four movies; it’s basically routine.
But Lois Lane is a much larger threat than nuclear annihilation or black-clad alien dictators, because Superman can’t get rid of her. You can’t throw Lois into the sun, or down a sinkhole.
I mean, sure, you could drop her into a mixed fruit salad, which might slow her down for a couple scenes. But she’s just going to take a shower, move to a different location, and figure it out all over again.
Lois Lane is an omega-level threat, a kamikaze boss battle who plummets into your carefully-constructed house of cards, and just when you get things back in order, she respawns and does it again.
She will put her own life in danger in order to get the story, and the story is you, and your secrets. What can you do? What can any of us do, except fall in love with her and hope for the best?
We crash a car into verisimilitude in
2.7: To Get to the Other Side
Lois Lane jumping out of a window to attract Superman’s attention is actually a pretty common occurrence; I’ve found three other examples of her pulling the same nutty stunt.
In “Superman’s Sweetheart,” (Superman #63, July 1950), Lois is jealous that Superman keeps rescuing another accident-prone dame named Peggy Wilkins, so she throws herself off a roof in order to prove that she’s “still number one on his hit parade.” He magically weaves iron bars at super-speed into an awning for her to fall into.
In an August 1959 comic strip sequence, “The Ugly Superman”, Lois throws herself out a window just because she has a question to ask him. He thinks “I’m going to teach Lois a lesson — and give her the scare of her life!” but then he just catches her, which doesn’t scare her at all.
And she does it again in “The Satanic Schemes of S.K.U.L!” (Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #63, Feb 1966), throwing herself out the window to get Superman’s attention.
This time, it actually works out in the same way that the Superman II sequence does: he rushes to the ground level, and uses his super-breath to direct her onto an awning…
and she lands in an open truck bed filled with tomatoes, saving her life and ruining her outfit. You don’t see a lot of trucks these days carrying around tomatoes like that; I guess the truckers got tired of women falling into the produce, and they started buying trucks with a roof.
We crash a car into verisimilitude in
2.7: To Get to the Other Side
— Danny Horn