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Superman II

Were you a fantasy-loving geek between the magic ages of 8 and 13 when Superman II was first released? If so, then watching the Superman II DVD will likely be a bittersweet, sobering experience. It's "bittersweet" because — although Supes II is in many respects a textbook example of how sequels should be structured — the movie's also aged surprisingly poorly, thanks to some ill-placed comedy, pacing problems, dated F/X, and a badly looped soundbed that begs for a remaster. The basic story structure is marvelous, logically expanding on the first film's characters and themes: The three Kryptonian criminals from Superman: The Movie's prologue (Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, and Jack O'Halloran) are freed from the Phantom Zone by a nuclear explosion, making their way to Earth to do battle with Superman (Christopher Reeve) — who just happens to be the son of the man who put them in their plate-glass prison. Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) finally makes the Clark Kent/Superman connection, allowing romance to blossom and compelling Kent to give up his superpowers for mortal love. And Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) escapes from prison and heads north in search of Superman's secret lair. These narrative paths merge when everyone meets for a brawl on (and over, and under) the streets of Metropolis — a confrontation that forces the Man of Steel to choose between his need for love and his duty to the planet. It's a great story, one remembered fondly by viewers who gobbled it up in 1980. So why is it so frustrating to watch on DVD today? Well, for one thing, the film takes its own sweet time, lingering too long on subplots and unimportant characters; watching Stamp's greasy General Zod terrorize small-town hicks, children, and two-bit cops en route to the real action in Metropolis grows more tiresome with each viewing. And director Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night) — taking the reins from Richard Donner, who shot several of this movie's better scenes — undermines more than a few tense moments with ragged, surrealist slapstick better-suited to his work with The Beatles. Another inconsistency can be found in the superpowers ascribed to the hero and villains — by film's end, Superman and/or Zod have shown that they can teleport at will, breathe without oxygen, turn parts of their costumes into giant cellophane sheets, and shoot repulsor beams out of their fingers (arbitrary powers one has trouble recalling from Action Comics). And finally, the film's technically sloppy, and we're not talking about the flying effects: The picture's woefully soft, and the audio (presented on this disc in unrestored Dolby Digital 2.0 mono) is an unmitigated disaster — featuring such horrors as the shabby looping of Hackman's voice by someone who sounds suspiciously unlike Hackman. All that said, there are plenty of charms to be found here, most notably in Reeve's nuanced portrayal of the Man of Steel. The actor plays his character in three different permutations — as Kent, as Superman, and as a mere mortal — and you never doubt his humanity for an instant. Warner's DVD release of Superman II is a bare-bones affair, featuring the movie, a trailer, and cast and crew info. Unfortunate for completists, given that a 17-minute-longer cut has been shown on network TV (although, to be fair, several Superman II extras can be found on the Superman: The Movie disc). Good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), snap-case.
—Alexandra DuPont

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