Superman 2 (1980)
Director: Richard Lester
Writer: Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel (Character created by) Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman (screenplay)
Actors: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terrence Stamp
Available on Netflix
Superman 2 is in every way I can think of, the best superhero movie that has ever been made. I hold this to be true despite the frankly paleolithic special effects, the lack of emotional depth, and the hokeyness of the screenplay, because it is fun. This movie is so fun that when Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his dim-witted henchman Otis (Ned Beatty) escape from their cell using impossibly sophisticated holographic technology, they are lifted from the prison yard in a hot air balloon. This is plainly ridiculous and fitfully hilarious, yet what is most exemplary about this scene and the movie as a whole is the way that despite the sometimes farcical nature of the events depicted, they are never boring.
This favorite childhood comic book of a movie opens on the trial of the three Kryptonians who will become this movie’s central villains: Non (Jack O’Hallaran), Ursua (Sarah Douglas), and one of the most iconic super villains in movie history, General Zod (Terrence Stamp). They are banished to float through space forever, imprisoned in a constantly spinning pane of glass. There is never any explanation of what this prison is exactly, nor why the shockwave created by a French terrorist’s bomb that Superman hurled into space (a long stupid story) frees them from it, but it is this freedom of narrative that is Superman 2’s greatest asset.
In an era where superhero movies seem to get darker every year, Superman 2 is a joy to behold, as are all performances of the movie’s somewhat ham-fisted screenplay. Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor is completely goofy, wearing brightly-colored oversized suits as he talks about his disdain for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Hackman’s Luthor more than twice refers to himself as “the greatest criminal mastermind the world has ever known.” While I don’t believe that a great criminal mastermind would go around telling everybody about it, the comic relief Hackman delivers is the perfect counterpoint to the romance of Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder).
As the movie begins, Clark pines after Lois from afar, even when the two are sent in disguise as newlyweds to investigate tourism scams at Niagara Falls. Kidder and Reeve do a splendid job of convincing the audience that their attraction is mutual, and when Clark finally admits that he is Superman, Ms. Lane’s eyes swoon with an unbridled desire. Seeing Superman and Lois Lane lay next to each other in their marital bed (presumably) having consummated their feelings, the fifteen-year-old boy in everyone jumps for joy. Joy is the word that first leaps to mind considering Superman 2, as it imbues every frame with childlike laughter.