Superman II 2.28: We Serve

Okay, so I might have gotten a little distracted yesterday by the unbelievably crappy little town that the Kryptonians are demolishing, and I didn’t focus on evaluating this sequence for what it is: a tutorial level.

Obviously, the town doesn’t matter; it’s literally just a set of false fronts, populated with faceless army men and wide-eyed NPCs. The three villains are the player characters, and they’ve just leveled up, so they have a bunch of upgrades to test out.

One of their new abilities is a telekinetic finger laser, so a guy with a rifle pops up and threatens to shoot, giving the player an opportunity to pick him up off the ground and shake him around a bit, with his little arms and legs kicking helplessly in the air. I can think of a half dozen PlayStation games where I’ve had exactly this power. It’s really satisfying, actually. I had no idea that Superman II invented it.

So for this moment, at least, the audience is aligned with the villains. We want to see what they can do with these powers, so the movie’s giving them a little sandbox to play in. That’s why this town is a hayseed junkyard, populated with toothless date rapists and gutter orphans. We’re playing Grand Theft Auto, and those are the dummies who drive around town, begging to get carjacked.

The three fancy space people are kind of messing around at the beginning of this sequence, and a lot of the material reads as comedy — Ursa arm-wrestling a male chauvinist to the ground, Non’s childlike struggle to activate his heat vision, Zod picking up the squirming guy with his finger laser.

But this is the moment when they have to start presenting as an actual threat to the human race, so they’ve got to transition out of comedy and into something that resembles menace.

When the army men show up, Non’s the first one to take them on, using his heat vision to blow out some tires on the approaching Jeeps. It’s a good trick, but it leads to that Herbie Goes Bananas style stunt that I mentioned yesterday, with a Jeep crashing through a second-story wall and flipping over.

And after that, there’s a disappointing, lengthy shot of one of the Jeep drivers stumbling away from the scene, with an unnecessary hayseed on hand to say, “Are you all right, buddy?” We have no real stake in whether he’s all right. The clock on the wall says that this only lasts for six seconds, but in our hearts, it is much longer.

It’s the next trick that finally breaks the comedy vibe: the army men shoot flames at Zod, who uses his superbreath to blow the sheet of flame into the Tinderbox Saloon.

This is the first act of violence that actually lands, because this time, there aren’t any jokes. The camera just lingers on the inferno, and after a few seconds, a guy tumbles out of the window and scurries away.

Then there’s a little scene with the President of the United States watching the carnage on television. I think this happens too early in the sequence, because he makes a big deal about how these people are unstoppable, when at that point really they’ve just blown some fire away.

But the scene finally accomplishes its goal when the army guys start firing rockets at the trio, which they simply ignore. They don’t flinch, or move away; they just look around, as if they’re puzzled why anybody would want to make such a racket.

And then there’s the key moment that unlocks the whole storyline for me: Ursa stepping across the lot, with clumps of dirt and debris raining down all around her, and her enormous false eyelashes are going flickety-flickety-flickety-flick. Sarah Douglas is actually walking forward through a hail of grime that is testing the tensile strength of her face furniture, and she is unbothered.

This is the thing that makes them dangerous: they honestly do not care. They have stopped processing human behavior as a phenomenon that has anything to do with them.

Ursa struts up to Zod like a middle school mean girl, and delivers what I think is the line that pushes this sequence into the realm of the uncanny: “Look. They need machines to fly!”

It’s a surprising line, probably the most surprising thing that happens in this scene. So far, we’ve seen army men target the super creeps, who brush the attack away, or turn it back on their opponents. But this is a moment when they express amusement and delight about something that isn’t delightful.

This line has the shape of a joke, but it isn’t funny, as far as we’re concerned; it’s just funny to the aliens. They’ve stopped trying to entertain us, and now it’s up to us to entertain them.

This is when the villains start to seem like a real threat. Anybody could start a fire, or shoot down a helicopter; a lot of the action is just turning the army’s tools back on their own troops. The menacing thing is the attitude. These people can walk through the world unscathed, and there are no limits on their behavior. It doesn’t matter whether the Jeep survivor is all right. Nobody is all right, not anymore.

Tomorrow:
Lois visits the Fortress in
2.29: Home, and Other Dangerous Places


Footnotes:

We saw John Ratzenberger earlier in the film as one of the NASA controllers, and he’s got another, uncredited role in this scene. When Non approaches the camera crew, we hear several perplexed voices coming from the newsroom, and one of them is clearly Ratzenberger, saying, “Who’s the big guy?” He’s got four lines in the scene: “Okay, yeah, we’ve got [unintelligible]…”, “Yeah, we got a slight crack in that diode,” and “Try to wiggle it.” It’s hard to say what most of those lines actually mean; it’s like a haiku with a Boston accent.

Tomorrow:
Lois visits the Fortress in
2.29: Home, and Other Dangerous Places

Chapters
Movie list

— Danny Horn

11 thoughts on “Superman II 2.28: We Serve

  1. Okay but can we talk about Ursa’s sleeve??? That thing is driving me crazy and she looks like she has an extra right arm.

    The other thing I want to know is how the President is watching this on TV. Did the army let a local news crew through? It would make more sense if he was getting updates in the Oval Office or the War Room.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. They have a news crew there. Zod asks if it’s being broadcast to the entire planet Houston. Those sneaky reporters, always getting past the caution tape.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. > can we talk about Ursa’s sleeve

      Goddess, we see that Kal-El’s baby blanket makes a nice invulnerable cape. Meanwhile, the criminals have space tunics as fragile as they are stylish.

      Probably from the evil trio so busy with evil, that they forgot to tell their tailor to use the magically invulnerable cloth this time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So terrifying that not even East Houston, Idaho’s best can withstand them.

    That’s a pretty low bar. Anyway, they fly right over it.
    If this keeps up, we’ll have more than a cracked diode to deal with here.

    We’ve seen that these first two Superman movies mix genres.
    Still think that if this sequence is a monster movie (as it is), Godzilla should face the whole Army sooner.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll say again that I find this scene delightful. The villains start by learning they have powers on the moon and then come to East Houston where they discover more powers. They beat up on comedy yokels but then have their mettle tested by the Army. The President sees the broadcast, thus setting up the later capitulation scene in the White House. All of which is a build-up to the fight versus Superman in Metropolis where we see some real destruction porn.

    It would have been nice to see Donner’s world tour of destruction incorporated into it all, but I still get giddy watching this. And scarecroe rightly quotes one of the very best lines!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m being really nitpicky again, I know. Just can’t seem to break the habit.
    How did Kryptonians get airborne before the planet was obliterated? I remember that originally in the comic strip, they all had superhuman powers; but then the ‘red sun/yellow sun’ retcon came and everyone on Movie Krypton was just ordinary (otherwise they would have flown away from the planet’s destruction).
    And besides, didn’t our supervillains just see one of the luckless astronauts attempt to escape them by using a flying machine?

    I won’t even go into why it is that Kryptonians speak English… since almost every alien does anyway.

    Maybe I should switch to decaf again. ☕

    Liked by 2 people

    1. John,

      > How did Kryptonians get airborne

      As shown with the Jor-El’s Tot Transporter in movie 1, and a major plot point in Superman Returns, and in the recent Supergirl TV series. When too far from yellow sun for full powers, or too young to fly on their own, Kryptonians use space ships. Just like the rest of us.

      I remember, as a kid, reading comics with Superman on board the Legion of Super-Heroes space ship. It was drawn as a kind of cross between Star Trek’s Enterprise and 2001’s Discovery. Always had the impression he actually needed the ride, rather than flying alongside.

      > why it is that Kryptonians speak English

      Superman I & II agree that Kryptonians – at least super-scientist Dads and Moms, and Educational Crystal Announcer Dudes – were familiar with Earth. Part of the “known knowledge of the inhabited planets” a super-scientist’s kid would get growing up.

      First movie shows that on Krypton, joint custody means Dad can send the kid WAY out of state without bothering with Mom’s opinion. Librarian Lana was familiar enough with Earth to be concerned about human biology, society, and physics providing an appropriate place for her son to grow up. One of Danny’s best blog posts on this scene.

      Super-scientist council member’s kid would grow up familiar with Chinese literature and “Trees” from Krypton-to-15 education, provided after Earth high school graduation.

      Evil criminal trio likely cut class, so didn’t know of Earth, or at least didn’t recognize it. But maybe they just picked up Earth languages as general knowledge, the way Bond’s Jaws was likely familiar with 2+2. Or maybe instant language knowledge is another “unlimited power” from enough “molecular density.” Who knows?

      > Maybe I should switch to decaf again.

      Not before more entertaining nitpicking!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I remember an imaginary (?) story in which Jor El convinced the Kryptonians to flee to Earth. I don’t remember it turning out well for us, either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This scene is in fact an update on the 1950s alien invasion movies. By now they don’t need big battle cruisers or heat rays, it’s just three guys making a pit stop on their way home.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s