The Richard Donner Cut. After the events of the first film are briefly recapped Lois Lane is back to pestering Clark Kent, this time suspicious of his super-powered secret identity. As she and Clark are sent to Niagara Falls on a journalism assignment General Zod and his cronies, once sentenced to eternal banishment in the Phantom Zone, escape their prison and make their way towards Earth, forcing all to “Kneel before Zod!”
It’s really General Zod that gives Superman II the edge over its predecessor. Christopher Reeve is still the ultimate Clark Kent/Superman, owning both roles completely. He affects a sheepish goofiness for Clark Kent that makes his banter with the spunky Lois both hilarious and full of chemistry. As Superman he glows with the responsibility and moral compass the hero is known for, although still allowing human elements to sneak in around the edges.
But Terence Stamp brings a presence as the General that is simultaneously full of humor and malice. He walks on water, making him the symbolic Anti-Christ to Kal-El’s Messiah (highlighted well in an exchange with Marlon Brando’s Jor-El). “I like the glow that flashes red like our Krypton sun. But not this irritating noise. Make way,” he declares at a police cruiser. Balancing campy pompousness with intimidation, few comic book villains have bested Stamp’s effort. He often speaks in third person (“Swear eternal loyalty to Zod!”) and is utterly vain. It’s rare that a villain so one-dimensional is so arresting.
Even as a fan of Man of Steel it is hard to deny the lack of warmth, thanks primarily to Christopher Reeve, that made the first two so special. The big action finale in downtown Metropolis may be dated in its use of special effects but its ultimately representative of the film as a whole: fun and exciting.