Superman II 2.24: Kneel Before Clark

Intrepid reporter Lois Lane finally has that big scoop she’s been looking for, all these years: the true identity of Superman, high-flying space angel and secret king of the sky. I’d like to say that she uncovered it through smarts, determination and a keen insight into the human condition, but the fact is, it just kind of fell on top of her while she was thinking about hair care products.

But never mind that indignity; this is one of the great discoveries in human history. There’s nothing that even the most scattershot of directors could do, to take this moment away from her.

Oh, except to leave her on the floor, I guess, just looking up in stunned amazement…

while the six foot four thunder god walks up two steps before he turns to look at her, just to maximize the height differential.

So that’s not amazing optics, but I’m sure they’re about to turn this around, and give her a really strong opening line.

Lois:  I’m sorry.

Okay, apparently not. They’re just going to leave her there on the floor, with some artfully arranged product placement on the couch. This is actually a pretty good shot, as far as Polaroid is concerned. Sucks for Lois, though. She looks like a fucking housepet.

And the superstar stands up there on his personal podium, smiling and looking gorgeous and warm, and he says, “No, you don’t have anything to be sorry about,” which is true. There are going to have to be some apologies made at some point, but Lois is more the apologizee in this situation.

Cut to Lois, holding this pose.

“I don’t know why I did that,” says Clark, and Lois says, “Maybe you wanted to.” He executes another cute facial expression, and says, “I don’t think I did.”

Back to this. “Well, maybe you didn’t want to with your mind,” she says. “But maybe you wanted to with your heart.” Yeah, maybe. Can we get up off the floor now?

The answer to that question is no. There is a full ninety seconds on the clock before she gets up, and even then she needs a man to help her to her feet. You know, it’s funny, I thought this was going to be a scene with Lois Lane in it.

The really annoying thing about this artistic choice is that this is a movie that specifically explores the humiliation of being forced to kneel in front of somebody. They have a whole fucking catchphrase about it.

Go out and ask somebody what they remember about Superman II, and there is an excellent chance that the first thing out of their mouth will be “Kneel before Zod!” There are two crucial moments in the film where the entire focus of the scene is whether someone is going to abase themselves in front of a power-mad alien dictator.

So there is just no excuse for this.

And you can’t say that it didn’t occur to anybody while they were making the movie. If you’re rehearsing a scene with this blocking in literally any movie, television show or stage production, it is one hundred percent guaranteed that at some point, someone will say, “Kneel before Zod!” And that person wouldn’t even be on the clock; they’d be saying it pro bono. This is the one time in the history of the dramatic arts where the production is literally paying somebody hundreds of thousands of dollars to say the words “Kneel before Zod!” It’s their job to say it. This is the Kneel before Zod movie.

So, I don’t know. If Richard Lester didn’t want to do this with his mind, then he wanted to with his heart, and then he went and did it. Some honeymoon this is turning out to be.

Tomorrow:
The fans weigh in…
2.25: Before the Flood

Chapters
Movie list

— Danny Horn

18 thoughts on “Superman II 2.24: Kneel Before Clark

  1. I’m reminded of an anecdote from the One Life to Live trivia book. When figuring out how to play one of Viki’s alters, the child-like Princess, Erika Slezak got the tip to always be lower in a scene, looking up at people, etc. Ever since I read that, I find myself registering if scene partners are at especially different levels. Personally, I think Lois Lane is one of the very few people who’s earned the right to go eye-to-eye with Superman.

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  2. Even as a kid watching this scene, you might not know why, but there’s a drastic shift in her character in this scene. I enjoyed your commentary on why it’s ridiculous.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I kept reminding myself as I watched the Tom Holland Spiderman movies this week that Superman was 40 years ago and it wasn’t fair to judge it by current standards.
        The closest thing I can compare Superman II to is the 1950s bug-eyed alien movies or creature films. Like those, it’s diverting and fun enough if you just go with it and don’t expect too much. But it’s more “Revenge of the Creature” than “Creature From the Black Lagoon”.

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      2. The original films don’t hold up to modern audience expectations in terms of effects or writing, so unless you know someone who appreciates classic movies (i.e., knows how to watch them as a product of their era), yeah, they’re not really recommendation-worthy. That’s not to say that I’m not still finding things to enjoy in them as I rewatch them.

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  3. I think that in the comparison between what Lois chooses to do in this scene and what Zod forces his victims to do in other scenes Lester is making a point, though perhaps he’s making it clumsily. Whether a physical action is degrading or loving is about the relationship between the people performing it, not about anything inherent in it. So, if an enemy forces his way into your presence, hurts people around you, and threatens to do even worse unless you get down on your knees in front of him, that’s degrading. But in a different context, the same act can not only be a sign of affection, but can also be deeply liberating. You know, if two people love each other very much. Or are just kind of excited about each other. Or if you’ve had a stressful day and you want to take your mind off things. Or if- well, I could go on, but I think you get my drift.

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    1. Why, whatever do you mean? *winking cougar gif*

      I do agree with both you and Danny, though. There’s no way the optics of this didn’t occur to anyone, but the contexts are completely different. If that had been Zod, in the honeymoon suite, telekenesis-ing pillows and Polaroids and demanding Lois write flattering doggerel about him, you can bet she’d be on her feet throwing things in a hot second.

      In this one, despite the ickiness of Clark being put on a literal stage above her, I read it as that moment when you finally get what you’ve always wanted and have no idea what to do, because the person who wanted that thing has been instantaneously transformed into someone else, who is simply can’t make a wisecrack or start heading for the nearest waterfall to prove a point. The point is right there, proven. Now what? My bag of tricks is empty and I’ve got what I wanted most instead, and it won’t fit in that bag, for sure.

      On the other hand, Danny is completely right about how the writers (and the plethora of writers before them, in that symposium) simply couldn’t mesh everything that makes Lois loveable with her actually being in a loving relationship with Superman. If he is supposed to be unobtainable as part of his job description, Lois is supposed to be the one desiring to obtain; it makes her wits, smarts, guts and unmarried status palatable, nonthreatening, safe. It makes her look silly, in need of rescue, not a Freudian nightmare of sufficiency and laughter.

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      1. After all that chasing, the dog finally caught the car!

        The scene does slightly help explain why he’d give up being a space angel. After all, we’ve seen how devoted, lovestruck, in awe she is in this scene.

        I still think it’s a huge plot hole. But, at least there’s that purpose for the scene.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The problem is that this is presented as Lois getting everything she wants, rather than Lois being presented with a choice.

        Lois the reporter should want to discover the truth about Superman the way Fox Mulder wants to find the truth about aliens. If Mulder had discovered conclusively that Scully was an alien, that shouldn’t be the end of the story. It should trigger a larger question: Does he choose to protect his closest friend and sacrifice what he’s pursued his entire life.

        This moment is not connected directly with the Lois who wanted a Pulitzer so bad she spells it as a mantra.

        But as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, discovering Clark is Superman is inherently anticlmactic because Superman isn’t a mysterious figure. He already told Lois (without much coaxing) all his secrets — he’s an alien from Krypton who can’t see through lead. It doesn’t matter that he’s also Clark Kent. His adopted parents are dead. It’s just this weird thing he does in his spare time.

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  4. I don’t think either version of the discovery/reveal works well. Maybe with some more time the writers could have come up with something that had Lois outmaneuver Clark instead of the sloppy way(s) they used.

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    1. The reason it’s so hard to make this scene work is because it’s a scene that shouldn’t happen. They made this tension the center of the story, and *zing* suddenly the tension is released. This scene belongs at the end of the movie, right before the fadeout and the credits.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Ideally there would be something more climactic on an emotional level to the reveal. Falling into a fire needlessly is a real “womp womp” method of revealing his identity, and having Lois force it out of him with a (blank-)loaded gun is not the nicest way to go about it either. A more powerful approach would be Clark having to save her in a situation where there isn’t time to change into Superman, and maybe it shreds his suit and you can see the costume underneath. With a lot of emotional build-up to that moment, it would be way more powerful than the “gotcha, I was using blanks” approach. But the writers were not thinking on the level of serious drama for most of the time that they wrote the original Superman films.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, except that it’s necessary for the crisis of the story for Superman to lose his superpowers, and that he does so voluntarily for love is surely the best possible reason. It’s awkward that they then have to undo both the loss and the progression of the love, but it’s still a pretty good plot.

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    1. The problem is that we don’t know who Superman is without his powers and the horrific diner scene would seem to reinforce the narrative that he’s nothing without his powers.

      Batman is someone who makes an affirmative choice whenever he puts on the costume. That choice keeps him from being with the woman he loves in THE DARK KNIGHT. It’s a more compelling conflict because it’s not as simple as getting in the “no longer Batman” chamber and the going “oops! there are supervillains so I must get back into the Deus Ex Machina” chamber.

      Also, couldn’t powerless Superman have tricked the Zoners into losing their powers? Batman could have. Just saying.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. In my preferred version of the movie, Lex is actually the one who reverses the power depletion in the Fortress, depowering the trio because “Hey, one Kryptonian messing up my plans is better than three.” Also, because Lex is way too smart to not think they’re about to kill him at any minute, whereas he knows Supes would never do that.

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