I love the first two Superman films starring Christopher Reeve. I think they are nearly perfect in just about every way. They’re exciting, funny, dramatic, and emotional. And, best of all, they earn all of their big Superman moments by putting the character through a number of moral dilemmas and forcing him to make tough choices along the way. My favorite of these comes in Superman II.
No, it isn’t Superman’s showdown with the three Kryptonian criminals in Metropolis or the Fortress of Solitude. It’s actually the moment when Clark Kent hits rock bottom and is forced to admit that he made the wrong choice in giving up his powers to be with the woman he loves.
Not only is this a great scene on its own, but I would argue that it is the best scene in the entire pantheon of Superman films. I mean it. It’s got everything I could want in a Superman film. It shows the suffering that Superman has to endure because of his earlier choice, and it’s the reason why the fight in Metropolis and the Fortress of Solitude resonate so much. Seeing Superman fall so hard and then pick himself up and return to greatness as the Man of Steel is awe-inspiring. And seeing him outsmart General Zod at the end is so satisfying, as well, thanks to this scene.
Let’s delve deeper into the elements that make this scene perfect.
Composer Ken Thorne really shines here. He does a competent job throughout the film adapting John Williams’ score from Superman: The Movie to fit all of the scenes in the sequel. But this is one of the select number of scenes where he actually adds something substantial to the score. It has a similar tune as the first time Clark Kent traveled to the North Pole as a teenager. In that instance, the music sounded mysterious and anticipatory. It was building toward something great when the Fortress of Solitude is finally created.
This time, though, the music is decidedly somber and foreboding. Clark is returning to his Kryptonian home after taking a beating as a mortal man. He doesn’t know if there’s any chance of being restored to what he once was, but he has to try. And we’re along for the ride, feeling what he’s feeling. The music leaves a powerful impression and it goes a long way toward conveying the hopelessness of the situation.
Christopher Reeve was a fantastic actor. And he proves it in this scene. He’s holding back tears and fighting all of the shame he feels to confess that he’s failed. Then he nails the moment when he desperately cries out for his father to help him. The last of his hope fades as his arms slowly drop and he accepts that there’s nothing more that he can do. So much is conveyed with just a few lines of dialogue and a few physical gestures.
Like Watching Something Sacred
The thing I love about the first two Superman films, more than anything else, is the fact that they manage to impress upon my mind that they are presenting something deep and meaningful. All of the events in the films, even the silly ones, are adding up to something special. When Superman flies above the Earth at the end of them, I feel like he’s putting his stamp of greatness on the proceedings. He’s basically saying, “Yeah, I just saved the world, and you got to see me do it. You’re welcome.”
The moment when Jor-El’s green crystal lights up and calls out to Clark one last time in the Fortress of Solitude is beautiful. Clark is shocked by the sight of it. The music begins to build as he carefully lifts it and ponders what is about to happen. We see a close-up of the crystal and then – cut to the next scene. I know that a lot of fans have been annoyed that they didn’t get to see Jor-El restore Superman’s powers. I have seen the Richard Donner Cut of Superman II, as well as various fan edits. Honestly, the mystery is better than seeing what actually happened.
It’s practically a privilege to witness Clark’s suffering in the Fortress of Solitude. It comes across as such a personal moment in his life that it would feel inappropriate to intrude any further into the privacy of the relationship between Kal-El and Jor-El at that moment. The love of this father for his son and the sacrifice he’s willing to make for him is expertly implied by the music, the acting, and the buildup to the jump cut away. There’s no need to get any more explicit than the look on Clark’s face and the close-up of the crystal.
A Superb Scene
I’m not a fan of the current incarnation of Superman beginning with 2013’s Man of Steel. The reason for this, more than the soulless action sequences, uninteresting characters, and poor story structure, is that nothing in the two most recent Superman films inspires any kind of emotion in me for the character like the old Christopher Reeve films did. I don’t care about the current Superman or his fate. He could let the world be destroyed and I’d still be just as indifferent to it as I was at the conclusion of his films.
The three-minute scene where Clark returns to the Fortress of Solitude in shame has more heart, emotion, and drama than what most action films can muster in their entire runtimes. This is the pinnacle of the entire Superman filmography. And that’s saying something because there have been many great moments.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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