Superman II 2.41: The Big Dance

And then there was the night when the President of the United States appeared in the sky above Metropolis, and tried to beat a guy to death with a bus.

So here we are, ladies and gentlemen, at the event we’ve all been waiting for: the big super-on-super action scene, where things stop being polite and start getting real. For the first time ever on the big screen, in color and on purpose, we’ve got the titans of the skies battling it out mano a mano for unquestioned air supremacy over a couple of blocks in Midtown.

And the thing that strikes me, from the comfort of the backseat four decades later, is how dumb this is. Not that it’s a bad scene, or stupid filmmaking. This is exactly what people paid their money to see in the first-ever blockbuster supersequel, and the movie delivers. But these characters are fucking idiots, and they’re about to have a big dumb fistfight in the sky.

The scene begins with Superman standing on a flagpole outside the Daily Planet office, annoying the undisputed leaders of the formerly free world, and General Zod bellows, “Bow down before me, son of Jor-El! Kneel before Zod!” And then he points at the floor with a dramatic flourish, to indicate where he would prefer the Son of Jor-El to kneel.

And then they go and hurl themselves head-first through the window. These people think that they run the entirety of the planet Earth right now, and this is how they behave. I can just imagine Jen Psaki, trying to explain this to the White House press corps.

And then they all go and distribute themselves across the skyline, to have the stupidest possible conversation.

“Son of Jor-El!” says the Master of All He Surveys, positioning himself topside at a construction site. “We were beginning to think you were a coward.”

“I’m not a coward, Zod!” is the retort.

Then Non floats by and goes rraaaaaaajhhhhhhh, and Ursa cries, “Let him prove it!”

So that’s where we’re at, strategy-wise: Prove you’re not a coward. They flew all the way here from Washington, D.C.

So then Zod’s like, “Then die, as you deserve to!” and he throws, I don’t know, part of a house, I guess? And Superman’s like, oh no, part of a house. And then he burns it up with the heat vision that Zod knows perfectly well that he has.

Also: “I’m not a coward” — “Then die, as you deserve to!” For not being a coward? These people need to listen to themselves for a minute.

At that point, for reasons of his own, Superman decides to go fly around aimlessly for a minute. “Take him!” says Zod to his officially stupidest minion. “He’s yours!” Why?

There’s a little bit of flying over the river, and then they start flying over the streets again, and then Superman hears Ursa’s voice, saying, “Superman!”

And he just stops what he’s doing, and looks around, and Non punches him in the face.

Their strategy was to distract him by saying “Superman” and then punch him in the face. That was a successful strategy.

The thing that’s amazing to me is how mythological this isn’t. This is the ultimate battle of good versus evil, on which hangs the destiny of countless billions, and they’re just throwing architecture at each other. It’s like they’ve been given the lantern that hangs at the crossroads of the end of all things, and they can’t figure out how to turn it on.

Next thing that happens: Superman kicks Zod in the face.

And then Ursa goes and gets a big stick. I’m not even trying to dumb this down for comic effect; they are consistently going and making these choices. Big stick.

Ursa yells to Non to “Hold him!” which allows Superman the time to notice that she’s swinging a stick, so he ducks out of Non’s grasp and Ursa ends up hitting Non, knocking him all the way backwards to smack into the Empire State Building, and what was the original plan for that move? Non was supposed to hold Superman so that Ursa could hit Superman with the stick… which would still knock both of them backwards. Non’s the one who would have hit the building anyway. How are you so bad at this?

The thing they’re not really grappling with is the fact that they’re all indestructible, which means that none of this is going to have any effect. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw an indestructible guy at stuff. He’s indestructible. He’s going to be fine. This entire battle is happening because there are four of you and you haven’t figured that out yet.

The problem is that this battle is entirely literal; there’s no mental or emotional or metaphorical struggle going on here. This isn’t a moment when Superman comes face to face with his own fears, or the consequences of his actions, or the sins of his father, or the terrible dent that he’s made in human history. It’s four people in the sky, hitting each other with sticks.

I mean, they don’t even do “We’re not so different, you and I.” How dumb is your dumb scene when you can’t even do that?

Tomorrow:
2.42: Save My Baby!!

Chapters

— Danny Horn

25 thoughts on “Superman II 2.41: The Big Dance

  1. I can’t hear “Bow down before me, son of Jor-El!” without thinking of the MST skit about outfits to wear if taking over the world.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I’d argue there was often more emotion in Silver Age stories. Also, there was limitless imagination. This battle in the Silver Age would venture across the solar system, maybe through time.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Total agreement. Most of my collection is silver age. It’s very earnest, which is oftentimes really sweet. But can also be mind boggling in the bad way, it’s a tossup.

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    1. Which, for me, is one of its highlights. As Stephen notes below, a battle in a comic could have spanned space and time, which is one of the benefits of comics in that they’re not limited to a film’s budget and technical ability. But this is the closest we’ve ever come to a good, old-fashioned superhero vs. superhero knock-down fight in the movies. Batman 66’s BAM POW battles didn’t compare, nor did those in earlier serials. In STM, Superman got to battle bursting dams and chase missiles and be sexually assaulted by a moll, but he didn’t get to have a battle like this. This is brand new to superhero films, and I find it glorious to watch despite the bad strategy employed by all involved.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I think I came off sounding snide, I didn’t mean to! I really like it, even if it is silly. It honestly does make me think of all the stuff they’d do in the old comics—tossing walls and giant flagpoles and heat vision—it’s good stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “Ladies and friends”?
    I hope a distinction does not have to be made between your female readers and your friends!
    Seriously, though, the visuals are better than the dialogue. The line Superman delivers (“General, would you care to step outside?”) was “General, haven’t you ever heard of freedom of the press?” in the Donner Cut. It may be the one example where the Lester script is marginally better.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. That was a weird little sort-of rhyme that tickled my ear for a minute. It’s not actually funny, and I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t like ladies, so I took it out. I am entirely friends with ladies.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. I’d assumed it was a reference to something or other, and was surprised when a Google search for the phrase turned up so little. The only thing that showed up more than once in the results were organizations affiliated with Knights of Columbus chapters.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. What I remember from the first time I saw this fight scene in theater in 1981 was all the product-placement still going on. I recall one of them crashed into a giant neon Coke (Coca-Cola) billboard, presumably on Times Square. It seems like there were other product placement billboards that got crashed into?

    Liked by 3 people

  4. In the comic books, whenever Superman encountered rogue Kryptonians – from the Phantom Zone, from the bottle city of Kandor, from wherever – his big advantage was that he had lots of practice using superpowers and they didn’t. It’s not clear if that applies in this situation though. True, he’s been on Earth virtually his entire life but it seems he just turned “professional” recently. He knows how to rescue kittens but his battlefield experience appears somewhat limited.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. A very good point: Superman uses his powers for helping people, because he’s too overmatched to use them as offensive weapons. If your heat vision is usually in your toolbox to weld dams shut you don’t think “I bet I could boil that guy alive ” as your go-to, thank goodness.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. “This battle is entirely literal; there’s no mental or emotional or metaphorical struggle going on here.”

    And thank heavens for it. Supey’s had his identity crisis, Zod has shown that sadism and vengefulness make you boring, Lois has come face to face with the transcendent and been struck dumb with awe, the president has demonstrated the futility of worldly power in the face of the utterly unexpected, and all of it without overexposed footage of Marlon Fuck**g Brando moping around giving pompous speeches over a grand orchestral score. This is a MOVIE, and the people making it knew that deep insights into human psychology or social structure or the cosmic order belong on film if and only if they connect the audience to the characters and give us something to be excited about. They’ve taken care of that, so now it’s time to see some airborne chop-socky.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think the problem is that the parties involved are too good at grievances and not experienced enough at hand to hand, you know?

      Superman, of course, does not do this kind of thing on the regular–if he battles anything its the destructive side of Nature or man’s hubris, and only long enough to fix the problem. His last fistfight was with a truck driver and that didn’t go so great.

      Zod and Company certainly have the hang of destruction, murder and awe-causing, but that’s really not the same as fighting flat out. It’s one thing to toss puny humans around like socks in a dryer and change Mount Rushmore but another to go up against a foe who isn’t going to break like a 7-11 hotdog at the first punch. Even when they were bad guys on Krypton there wasn’t a lot of derring-do–they broke one crystal and BAM, Phantom Zone.

      So yeah, of course they’re destroying perfectly good real estate and such, and it’s fun to watch them try stuff, but it’s kinda the Pro-Am stuff before the big bout.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Zod resents Superman solely bc he’s the son of his jailer, which by the way is why Zod didn’t die in a fiery holocaust and is alive to enjoy god like powers. There’s zero compelling motivation here.

        I have always wished that Zod was written more like Ra’s Al Ghul and would want to Superman to join him in ruling the Earth, perhaps as a surrogate son.

        As for the fight itself, I agree that it’s way too literal. I don’t know how a child would connect to this movie after watching more modern superhero movies (esp. the MCU).

        Liked by 2 people

      2. And this is literally the first time that any of them have ever attempted fighting with super powers against super powers. I can forgive them for not being very good at it yet.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Well, the fight might not be well thought out; but as long as they’re outside in the fresh air getting some exercise, not just sitting around watching TV.

    Liked by 7 people

  7. That flying kick by Superman is so unbelievably bad that I’m surprised they left it in the movie. If you can’t make a shot work (and it’s understandable why that shot was almost impossible to do with actors on wires), just find a way to shoot around it. Show Superman flying towards the camera, boot outstretched, and then show Zod flying backwards. Even if you don’t show the impact, it’s better to leave it to the audience’s imagination then to show the impact happening at a breathtaking speed of one mile an hour. I can only wonder what the actors were thinking when they filmed that.

    Like

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