After reversing time to save the earth, the last son of Krypton must save his adoptive planet from three evil Kryptonians in Superman II. A storied troubled production when Donner was replaced by Richard Lester, the film is nonetheless an entertaining jaunt even if it may not carry the same gravitas as the first film. On 4K the film comes with an overall good transfer but some grain reduction and some hot HDR hold it back while enjoying a pretty splendid Atmos track. Recommended
At this point, the making of Superman II may actually be a more interesting movie than Superman II itself. With over 75% of the film in the can, Richard Donner was unceremoniously fired from the film and replaced with his partner Richard Lester. Lester would “finish” the film while adding new sequences to appease the demands of producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler. The film trades Donner’s epic scale of the first film for more action with cartoonish slapstick humor. But I don’t hate this film or discount it completely. It was a favorite as a kid and I still have a big warm soft fuzzy spot in my heart for it even if it still feels rather juvenile in places. It's not always a deep thoughtful piece, but it's got a lot of entertainment value flying around for it.
The arrival of the evil Kryptonians General Zod (Terrance Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O’Halloran) and their battle royal with Christopher Reeve’s Superman is still the highlight of the film - even if it takes a damn long time to get there. I also enjoyed the Lois/Clark interplay better in this film than the first film. Lois feels more shrewd and like a genuine ace reporter who doesn’t miss a thing as she puts the pieces of Superman’s alternate identity together. I also felt the need for Kal-El to go through the process of choosing a human happy life versus the one he was destined for was some deep thematic material. It’s still a solid film in my opinion and on the scale of all Superman films I’d put it at third best behind Man of Steel.
For a full take on Superman II - read my colleague M. Enois Duarte’s 2011 Superman: Motion Picture Anthology Review
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Superman II takes flight on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray for the first time as part of the Superman: 5-Film Collection - You can order a single-title version from the UK right now, I’m sure eventually the sequels will be available individually here in the States but not right now. These sequel cases have their own UPC codes so they’ll be for sale eventually. A two-disc release, the 4K disc is a BD-66 disc with the same 1080p BD-50 disc from 2011 coming along for the ride. Similar to Superman: The Movie, the discs are housed in a two-disc black case with individual trays and are not stacked. The cases are bundled together in a paper slipcase. The discs load to static image main menus with traditional navigation options.
NOTE: we haven't been able to rip the actual 4K disc yet for Superman II, but when we can we'll try to circle around the globe backward really fast to insert proper 4K images and hopefully a video sample as well.
Superman II avoids a kryptonite bath for its first release on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a mostly very good 2160p HDR10 transfer. I say “mostly” because there are a few niggling issues to contend with that I will detail momentarily. For starters, I’ll say I’m overall pleased with the transfer. While the film retains a lot of the soft diffused appearance of Unsworth’s original photography the film was actually finished by Robert Paynter due to Unsworth suffering a fatal heart attack when the production was in shutdown. You can see the differences in these newer scenes as there’s a little less “dreamy” diffusion employed between the Niagra Falls rescue scene and late when Lois jumps into the river. Overall details are sharp and clear with a healthy grain structure - most of the time. There are stretches where it’s pretty obvious that some form of noise reduction has been employed, the close-ups of Clark after Lois uncovers his identity, a lot of the footage inside the Fortress of Solitude while they enjoy dinner, and a few scenes in Perry’s office are notable moments. These are sporadic brief pieces, but they’re easy to spot. Thankfully they don’t last too long and overall the image looks better than the old Blu-ray in many respects, but not picture-perfect. Folks complaining of too much grain for scenes in Superman: The Movie should look to this as reason enough to leave things alone.
The HDR10 grade can leave colors looking a bit hot in places but overall it's pretty good and not as light or washed out as the old Blu-ray. Superman’s super suit is a darker more royal/navy blue but yellows and reds are quite lovely. Skin tones can be a bit warm, Superman/Clark can look a tad orange-ish in spots, but it’s not as severely peached as we’ve seen from some other releases over the years. Black levels are pretty good and contrast is overall strong for a solid transfer. It’s better than the Blu-ray but I wouldn’t put it up against the benchmark of the first film or what we see with the later sequels.
On the sound front, Superman II enjoys a lovely Atmos audio mix that’s richly engaging and full of immersive object-based sound effects. This is the most action-packed film of the franchise so it really isn’t a surprise that this mix works so well. From Superman rescuing Lois in Paris to Zod destroying the White House to the big Kryptonian throwdown in Metropolis, the soundscape is dynamic giving a rich feeling for atmosphere and imaging while Ken Thorne’s score - while not as powerful as Williams’ efforts - sounds beautiful.
Stretches of the mix sit in the front/center channels with dips into the sides and rears - Luthor and Ottis in prison, The Daily Planet offices - have a more subdued surround presence but the channels are still active. With any flying or aerial sequence the height channels offer some appropriate “WOOSHING” effects that can move down and dip into the sides, front, and center channels, and then back into the heights. Again that siege on Metropolis is the big highlight in that arena. Throughout the track, Dialog is clean and clear without issue. I did notice some slight warble in the score during the opening montage when Superman rescues the train, but that was the only oddity I noticed.
Also included is the theatrical DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track which still holds its own nicely. If you’re not up for Atmos this is still a perfectly good mi with plenty of imaging and depth with clear dialog. Action sequences have a lot of life in them for an engaging watch. It just boils down to how you want to enjoy it. Both are great tracks for any home setup.
As with the first film, no new bonus features have been issued for this release and instead, we enjoy the same features we saw with the big 2006 Blu-ray set. At the top of the pack is another solid and informative Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler audio commentary detailing a lot of the film’s production woes. Even if recorded separately, they offer some interesting info. After that we get the return of the same making-of documentary, the 1940s Fleischer cartoons (which haven’t been updated for HD so make sure you order that Blu-ray!)
4K UHD Disc
Superman II is and will remain a compromised piece of work no matter which cut of the film you watch. It’s a cobbled piece from two directors at the whim of a pair of producers that had a conflicting vision with their filmmakers. It’s not as majestic and earnest as the first film and it relies on too much slapstick for humor, but it’s entertaining. Christopher Reeve is still in terrific form for Superman and he’d even put on more muscle weight by the time this film was finished - which you can tell he looks notably bigger from one scene to the next in places. Warts and all it’s a fun film that I loved as a kid and I still enjoy today. Now on 4K UHD, it makes a fine entrance. Not perfect, some notable smoothing and a little too aggressive HDR knock this one back a bit but overall it’s still better than the previous Blu-ray in many respects. The new Atmos mix is dynamite and exciting stuff but if you want to keep to basics, the excellent 2.0 track is still an option as well. Recommended.