After hearing Margot Kidder passed away yesterday I decided to watch Superman II again last night (the Donner cut). The first film’s better than either version of the sequel but I feel like Kidder has more screentime in II, despite being fifth or sixth billed. This is probably do to other actors’ agents being better negotiators, leveraging clout for higher profiles. Thankfully to-day actors seem to have too much shame to pull that kind of thing.
Superman II is a movie about shame, Marlon Brando’s ghost (in the Donner version) imbuing Superman with the sense of duty—telling him virtue is its own reward in an earlier scene, setting up the idea that having a relationship with Lois is too selfish. To be fair, a relationship does take a lot of time and Kal-El probably already wastes too much time being Clark Kent. There are probably at least a million horrible things happening every minute in the world that would benefit from Superman’s attention.
Still, it’s weird to stick to such a point of logic when we’re talking about a movie where Superman can reverse time by reversing the Earth’s rotation and it seems to take an hour for that kid to fall down Niagara Falls. And Margot Kidder looks so sweet in the super shirt.
Richard Donner, director of the first film, was fired from the second film and replaced by Richard Lester, who received credit for the theatrical version released in 1981, despite a lot of footage having been shot by Donner. Donner finally released a cut in 2006 which, among other things, restored Marlon Brando’s scenes to the film—he’d been entirely cut in the Lester version. But there are a lot of other differences, too, like the fact that the first scene with Kidder and Reeve is entirely different.
I’ll admit the juicer scene in the Lester version is a little funnier than the scene in the Donner one where Lois starts to figure out Clark bears an uncanny resemblance to Superman. But I like the energy of the Donner version better. Nothing quite equals the His Girl Friday inspired tone in the first film’s first scenes with Lois but Donner maintains a sweetly innocent tone that every incarnation of Superman since has taken itself too seriously to attempt. Even though Lois drawing glasses on a picture of Superman clearly seems to have been inspired by a thousand conversations people’ve likely had that began with, “Why doesn’t Lois ever . . . ?” It’s the story playing catch up with the too clever audience but at the same time reminding us that such nitpicking misses the point.
Kidder never seems dumb when she’s not seeing the Superman behind the bumbling Clark—she had the sense to play it straight and like the screwball comedies that inspired most of her scenes with him there’s plenty of other things going on to distract her from examining him. Why should he be the centre of the universe? The common criticism is that Clark is a long term joke Superman is playing on Lois but in the Donner films the persona is almost like a form of self-punishment, an exercise in keeping himself humble. It’s like he’s silently pleading with Lois to be his dom but she hilariously has no time for it aside from a few random crumbs of cruelty. And kudos to Lois for not falling into that black hole. Kidder’s performance in particular is as much a surpassingly human take on Lois as Reeve’s is on Superman. In spite of my problems with the Zack Snyder films, I do think Amy Adams is good casting, but Margot Kidder is always the “real” Lois for me.