Very occasionally in cinema there are movie moments that make you want to leap from your seat and high five with God. Obviously these moments are few and far between, but one such moment is surely up there with the best of them. The climax of Superman II.
Superman II was a troubled shoot, with the majority of it shot back to back with the first film by Richard Donner. Donner was then fired after the release of Superman The Movie and replaced by Richard Lester. This caused Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder to revolt and in Hackman’s case he refused to work for Lester and quit out of solidarity for Donner. Any shots in which Hackman was required for Superman II (flying to the fortress mainly) by Lester were completed by a body double. Everything else featuring Hackman that appears in Superman II was footage already shot by Donner.
This is why Superman II is an odd film. The shots completed by Donner have a sparkle and gleen to them (thanks to the beautiful Geoffrey Unsworth cinematography). The Lester shots look fairly cheap and lack the love and attention that Donner injects into all of his work. Lester is also primarily a director of comedy, coming as he does from working with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. Therefore many Lester scenes are filled to the brim with awkward slapstick comedy (the Superman 3 opening sequence is a terrible case in point).
Despite all the difficulties, and with only a few noticeable shifts in tone between the two directors’ scenes (Lester’s scenes tend to be more campy and humorous), it was noted by critics to be a remarkable and coherent film. The remarkable part is the king-win ending.
The sight of Superman kneeling before Zod, only to then kick his ass is the stuff of multiple geekgasms. The Superman theme has never been better used and is almost in the same key as Zod’s yelp of pain. The feeling of euphoria seems to be somehow blended into every note of Williams’ theme and really makes the ending of the film, which has up until that point felt rather tepid, fly with grace and excitement.
All hail Superman!!