Cinema: Flying High

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Directed by Richard Lester

Screenplay by Mario Puzo,

David Newman and Leslie Newman

What the ...! Clark Kent admitting his real identity to Lois Lane after all these years? And then, in full Man of Steel regalia, flying her back to his place, pouring her champagne, cooking dinner and egad!—taking her to bed? The mind boggles—is nothing sacred? But let's face it, times change, and Superman and friend have sweetly embraced the spirit of the '80s as well as each other. They have become—no other phrase will do—swinging singles (PG division) willing to talk things out, show their vulnerability, be mutually supportive in their careers. In the next film they will doubtless negotiate a prenuptial agreement and buy a co-op together.

Meantime, there is Superman II to consider, and a pleasant prospect it is. For it is that rarity of rarities, a sequel that readily surpasses the original. This is not, perhaps, a task requiring Kryptonic levels of wit and wisdom, because the initial effort was more than a little crude. The film makers suffered from a deep insecurity about what to take seriously, what they could afford to kid around with in updating the pop legend. Whether in derision or in a desperate desire to get laughs, the picture seemed to be running around with its tongue stuck out all the time. Now it is back where it belongs, tucked firmly in cheek. The result is a stylish, well-paced film with a good variety of moods and moves. Taking it easy on itself, Superman II becomes very easy to take.

The story could be floated in about four comic-strip balloons. Lex Luthor (an agreeably tuned-down Gene Hackman only briefly abetted by Ned Beatty) is still egocentrically on hand. But he is pretty much a bench warmer for the forces of darkness. The heavyweight heavies now are Zod, Ursa and Non (an unrecognizable Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas and Jack O'Halloran), whom experts in yesterday's trivia will recall as the trio of traitors the good folks of Krypton compressed to the proportions of a flat rock and sent skimming over the ocean of space at the beginning of the first film. Accidentally released from bondage, they make their way to earth with intent to take over the territory. Since each has powers equal to those of Superman, their ambition does not seem unreasonable—particularly since, under Kryptonic law, Superman has been forced to abandon his unearthly strength in order to pursue his dalliance with Earthling Lois.

Much amusing zipping and zapping ensues as the three make their destructive way to the White House and takeover. They are always doing things like catching bazooka shells in their bare hands and blowing tanks out of their path with about as much breath power as an ordinary mortal uses to douse a candle. The final confrontation with Superman is a barroom brawl on a delightfully gigantic scale. Instead of heaving furniture at one another, they toss a bus back and forth. And when one of the combatants gets thrown, the trajectory is measured in city blocks. In short, there is wit, even a sort of weird plausibility, in the action sequences that was not present in the first film. Since the major change in the credits is the substitution of Richard Lester for Richard Donner as director, it seems logical to single out the man who did A Hard Day's Night and The Three Musketeers as the one responsible for making Superman soar.

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