Not Guilty: Superman II

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Apr 11, 2018, 1:01 PM EDT

In Not Guilty, we look at movies that the general consensus tells us we should feel bad for liking, but that our hearts tell us we should embrace — "guilty pleasures" we don't feel guilty about. This time we're strapping on the primary colors for Superman II.

It has come to my attention that there are people in the world who do not like Superman II. Now, I’m not one to go around telling people their opinions are wrong, but in this instance I cannot just let injustice go unpunished. I understand hating Superman IV, because it’s terrible. I’ll even give you a dislike of Superman III, because no one likes to see their heroes turn into raging assholes. But Superman II? Oh no. Not only is Superman II wholly deserving of your appreciation, I would go so far as to say that, of the original run of Superman films, it’s the best installment.

Before you start throwing your slightly expired vegetables at my head, understand that I know Superman: The Movie is great. I even agree with you. It’s pretty high up there as far as superhero films go, even when compared with the current modern slate, and it’s easily one of the better attempts at a live-action Superman, but Superman II takes things over the finish line.

For one, Superman II is shorter. Sure, part of that is because the first Superman film had to deal with all that set up and backstory, but at nearly two and a half hours it starts to drag, especially through Clark’s early years. Superman II, on the other hand, is compact, moving from plot point to plot point, never really meandering on one section or another. Occasionally, that doesn’t exactly work in its favor — it would have been nice to spend a little more time understanding why Superman has to give up his abilities to be with Lois — but ultimately, it keeps the movie from ever getting boring.

Speaking of giving up abilities, that arc is half of the overall plot of the film, which largely separates Superman from the majority of the action while Zod and his compatriots attempt to take over the world. It seems strange removing Superman from so much of the story to take Lois on a date in the Fortress of Solitude, but what it actually accomplishes is forcing us to consider a world without Superman. That is, of course, what the movie is all about. Once Superman exists, can he ever go away without leaving the world vulnerable?

From that perspective, Superman II becomes both a better version of Man of Steel and a more interesting blueprint for last year’s Justice League

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Superman II concedes that main point. In this world, a world in which Superman is both Earth’s greatest hero and Earth’s only hero, no, there is no way he can put that genie back in the Kandorian bottle. Superman’s public existence means bigger, badder villains might eventually come to challenge him and if he chooses, selfishly, to give up his abilities to pursue a normal life with Lois, he risks leaving the Earth in peril. The fact that it is Zod, another Kryptonian, who represents that threat merely serves to increase his feelings of guilt. If it were merely another megalomaniac like Lex Luthor, perhaps he would feel less pressure. 

Justice League essentially presents the same argument, only with Steppenwolf instead of Zod. Steppenwolf arrives as a threat to a world without Superman, a world with much less hope and a great deal more cynicism. But he also arrives to a world full of heroes who just needed a push to realize their potential. Imagine if Justice League had been a little more like Superman II, or if Man of Steel hadn’t used Zod as their villain, instead allowing him to arrive for this story. Imagine a planet defiant because it knew a world with Superman, knew what he stood for and was inspired by him, and then imagine those same heroes coming together to prove that there is still hope in the world.

And then, like a jacked-up, highly masculine Tinker Bell in a suit made of primary colors, Superman returns in the final act to deliver the final blow against Zod, perhaps even just outsmarting him, using his Kryptonian arrogance against him and making him no more than the mere mortals he holds himself so far above.

Man, we could learn a lot from these original Superman movies.

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