Superman II 2.49: President falls down crevasse, administration’s agenda in doubt

You know, they say that Dems are in disarray, but I don’t think anyone’s ever been in more disarray than this administration, which is currently on a badwill tour of the opposition’s main campaign strongholds. After a disastrous whistle stop in Metropolis which led to a grassroots groundswell wielding umbrellas and traffic cones, the delegation has moved on to a divisive meeting at the challenger’s North Pole retreat, where insiders report that they have made limited progress.

We’ve just completed the “slap fight” phase of this epic showdown between the forces of good and evil, which used up two minutes of screen time and accomplished basically nothing. The fugitives from Planet K are indestructible no matter what you do to them, so shooting them with finger lasers or pretending to turn into a breakable statue of yourself won’t have much of an effect on the final outcome.

So now we’ve moved on to the “Me? Lex Luthor?” part of the sequence, for the third time in the movie and the second time in the last four minutes. This is where the theatrical version of the movie and the Donner Cut version converge, because Dick Donner filmed all the Gene Hackman scenes, and Hackman refused to come back for Richard Lester’s reshoots.

The last few minutes that we’ve seen in the Fortress of Solitude were all reshoots; the Donner version didn’t include any of the newly-invented superpowers that Lester created. Lester had to keep Lex away from the action for that part of the scene because Hackman wasn’t on set, so that’s why he gets dumped on a high shelf at the start of the scene and then grumbles his way down to floor level, voiced by the Hackman impersonator.

“We have no more use for this one,” says General Zod, which is unfortunately true. Lex doesn’t really do much in the sequel, which is why you can have lengthy epic showdowns that he doesn’t participate in. The fact that he has to keep pleading for his life in every scene that he appears in indicates the logical flaw in his character arc — what is he actually hoping to gain here?

Yeah, he technically gets a promise from Zod that he can have Australia (and Cuba, in the Donner Cut), but these are vague temporary assurances that he’s aware they won’t honor. He knows that he doesn’t have much of a future, constantly defending his value every five seconds. The point of his character is that he’s a savvy master manipulator, so why is he still sticking around in a situation where he has nothing to gain and everything to lose?

It would make more sense for him to stay in Metropolis, while the Kryptonians chased Superman to the Fortress of Solitude — there’s a vague indication that he needs to give them directions, but directions to the Fortress could be adequately expressed in three words: keep going North. Then they could go off and either kill Superman, or get defeated themselves, and Luthor would be out of range.

But who cares? Style beats logic every time, and letting Luthor tag along to the conclusion gives him one more chance to do something villainous, and he deserves it. Even on a bad day, he’s five times more interesting than Zod’s crew, and Superman feigning another betrayal is a little tribute to what Hackman has brought to both films.

After all, Superman’s trick doesn’t make a lot of logical sense either — fooling the villains into throwing him into the briar patch, right where he wants to be.

There are all kinds of nitpicky questions you could ask about his final gambit: Why is the big scary molecule chamber still in operation, when all the other controls have been destroyed, and this is specifically the one that he must never use again? How does Lex know how to operate it? Also, Superman was in a lot of pain when he used the chamber to take away his powers, so why don’t the villains feel anything? And so on.

But nobody cares, because this is the moment that everyone in the audience wants. Fighting unstoppable villains who never change battle tactics gets old after a while, and at this point, we’re tired of them. Just to make sure that we won’t miss them, Superman has to kneel before Zod, which Zod has said so many times that we don’t ever want to hear about it again.

So the audience is longing for Superman to put an end to these people, and if he can make it painful, that’s fine with us. Switching the molecule chamber’s effect is a clever little trick that Lex is there to admire, and it’s giving us what we want, so nitpicks are easily swept aside with gratitude. This is how the good guys always win; they just wait until the audience is sick of the bad guys, at which point we’re willing to accept just about anything.

Case in point: Superman murders Zod.

I mean, we don’t actually see the corpse that Zod will inevitably become, one way or another; he just plunges down into one of the many bottomless crevasses that make the Fortress of Solitude such a hazardous tourist attraction. We’ve never really noticed these plentiful holes to nowhere before, but apparently it’s an architectural feature that gives you a place to dump your defeated enemies into.

I don’t know if there’s a floor down there to smack into, or a huge freezer, or if it just goes on forever somehow, but this is clearly a scene about Superman and Lois cheerfully murdering their three opponents, and not giving a shit about what happens to them.

You know, in the Henry Cavill movie, the audience got understandably upset about Superman killing Zod at the end of the film, but he does exactly the same thing in Superman II and everyone is totally fine with it. It just goes to show you that lighting is everything.

Next:
A special weekend popcorn post!
Morbius 95.1: The Sinister Sick

Chapters

— Danny Horn

18 thoughts on “Superman II 2.49: President falls down crevasse, administration’s agenda in doubt

  1. Maybe I was just a stupid kid, but I never got the sense that Superman and Lois killed them in this scene. They just fall into the darkness and disappear.

    It’s also possible I saw the TV cut and got some sense of ease from seeing them being taken away by the arctic police in handcuffs.

    Going by that, it would seem that the filmmakers didn’t intend for that action to end in their deaths. I can’t imagine they all got away without a broken ankle or something though.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Perhaps, as in some of the old Frankenstein movies, the three are frozen into the ice pack, with expressions of surprise or disappointment on their faces. Waiting for a sequel to thaw them, so they could return and (*insert storyline mumbo jumbo here*) to get back their super powers back and have a rematch.

    A sequel that was not to be. Instead we got Richard Pryor and Robert Vaughn, then Faye Dunaway and finally, Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man (who did have a lot of… potential).

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Poor Gene Hackman doesn’t get much to do in this one. He’s not known for being a comedic actor, but he is an awful lot of fun as Lex, and having him on screen but constantly being sidelined for the sucks/blows trio is a let down. That suit he wears in this scene where we’re introduced to him is amazing.

    This blog is making me think about Halloween costume early this year.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Any long-time soap fan knows if you don’t see a body (and often even when you do), the character is not dead. I would say the ending is a bit ambiguous, though a scene of the trio being arrested was filmed and not included in the theatrical release so someone decided to imply a darker fate. Donner undoes their demise by reversing time, undoing events and leaving them alive and trapped in the Phantom Zone. So it seems that the original intention of both directors was to have the trio survive one way or the other. I wonder who made the final decision to change that?
    Was the deleted scene of Non killing the boy who went for help in East Houston filmed by Lester or Donner? That was shown on ABC, which I thought was odd for a supposedly family-friendly movie in prime time. That version included the three being arrested, as Scarecrow mentioned. For ABC it was ok for Non to kill, but it wasn’t ok for Superman to kill. Or was that just the Salkinds adding scenes because they were getting paid by the minute?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Non killing the boy was filmed by Lester (all of the East Houston, Idaho scenes were), which is interesting considering most of his scenes were lighter in tone. But it was added to the ABC cut by the Salkinds to get more cash. Good ole’ Salkinds.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. “Any long-time soap fan knows if you don’t see a body (and often even when you do), the character is not dead.”

      It’s the same, or even more so, in comics.

      I think Superman just trapped them in the Interplanetary Zoo, which in this layout of the Fortress must be in one of the sublevels.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Hell, unless you find the corpse, dissect it, set it on fire and shoot the ashes into the sun, they ain’t dead.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. “Another bottomless pit filled up, sir.”
      “AGAIN? They’re supposed to be bottomless! It’s right there in the name!”
      “Sorry sir, it’s an election year.”

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “This is how the good guys always win; they just wait until the audience is sick of the bad guys, at which point we’re willing to accept just about anything.” Which is a drawback if you’re looking for serialized narratives that keep rotating and recombining the characters in new relationships, but absolutely fine if you’re making a stand-alone movie.

    That’s the key to Superman II- it’s less a serialized narrative in which everything is illuminated by its connections to everything else than it is a cantonized narrative, one in which the story-teller takes story elements with which the audience is probably familiar but that aren’t directly relevant to what’s happening at the moment and walls them off so that we don’t have to think about them.

    Cantonment let them keep their Sad Superman story short- his identity crisis and his longing for his absent father goes on just long enough to get us thinking “Must be mighty lonesome for the big guy.” That’s enough to explain why he renounces his powers. If they’d dug into the lore that’s grown up around that theme in the comics over the years, his decision wouldn’t have been any more understandable or his reversal of it much more poignant, and they’d have made it hard to drop the topic once it was time to move on to something livelier.

    Now they’re telling their Triumphant Superman story, and they are confident that we are just relieved to be rid of three characters who had threatened us with dullness. If they had busied themselves with extensive world-building, we would have to reflect on the moral code that is supposed to govern the actions of the Big Blue Cheese and the ominous implications of his rejection of that code. Since they’ve avoided all that, we can just cheer the final exit of the three villains in their disco outfits and leave grown-up concerns about unaccountable power for another day.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. “I think this would make a dandy form of government! Don’t like your leader? Throw him into a bottomless pit!”
    In the latest news, the new administration’s ratings have fallen off a cliff. They’ve been dropped from the ballot.

    “he’s a savvy master manipulator, so why is he still sticking around”
    So he can be used by the writers to set up the manipulation of the Evil Trio.

    “I don’t know if there’s a floor down there to smack into, or a huge freezer”
    In a soap opera, it would be a basement that people can return from years later. With no remark from anyone about their unusually long detour to start the next load of laundry.

    “Maybe I was just a stupid kid, but I never got the sense that Superman and Lois killed them in this scene. They just fall into the darkness and disappear.”
    Same here. The bad guys “got thrown away,” so we’re done thinking about that.

    “the three are frozen into the ice pack, with expressions of surprise or disappointment on their faces. ”
    Out of the Phantom Zone, into the tundra. The reverse of the frying pan & fire. Just another way to get stuck.

    “Style beats logic every time”
    Right up til Disco Villains lose to Superman.

    “a scene of the trio being arrested”
    An actually talented writer could then show them put into the same max security prison as Lex broke out of, now locked down hard. Not that it matters, the Kryptonians argue so much they couldn’t make an unpowered escape plan anyway. That would be “full-circle” and “thematic” and stuff like that which we don’t get from this script. (Compared to, say, Marvel’s best.)

    “a cantonized narrative”
    Never saw that term before. Is it some standard lit-crit I’ve missed all these years?

    “Non killing the boy was filmed by Lester (all of the East Houston, Idaho scenes were), which is interesting considering most of his scenes were lighter in tone”
    Punch & Judy can be pretty violent, after all.

    “Why is the big scary molecule chamber still in operation, when all the other controls have been destroyed, and this is specifically the one that he must never use again?”
    He thought it was impossible to use it again. After all, AI/Magic Mom Message had told him it was irreversible.
    “How does Lex know how to operate it?”
    He’s a Mad Scientist! (spelled correctly with the exclamation point!) Any Mad Scientist! can figure out things like that.

    “Superman was in a lot of pain when he used the chamber to take away his powers, so why don’t the villains feel anything?”
    Now that one just seems like careless writing. Who’d have suspected such wanton disregard for plausible cause and effect from this film?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Just to make sure that we won’t miss them, Superman has to kneel before Zod, which Zod has said so many times that we don’t ever want to hear about it again.

    Says YOU, good sir!

    Heh, yeah, though: the terrible trio are stylish as hell, but if SII demonstrates anything it’s that style can only carry you so far.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I appreciate the callback at the end of this scene, when Lois gets to knock out Ursa. Obviously this solves the “Would a male hero hit a girl” problem that Ursa even explicitly calls out earlier in the Donner cut, but it’s also a callback to when Lois punches the super-powered Ursa at The Daily Planet and hurts her hand. This time she gets payback!

    It’s especially nice because Lois doesn’t exactly show a lot of agency in this movie, so this is one tiny nod to the feisty proactive Lois that we’ve always known from the Superman stories, going back to the beginning.

    Liked by 1 person

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