Lois Lane realizes Clark Kent is Superman, and tells him she loves him. He flies her to the Fortress of Solitude. They wine, and dine, and he uses a special crystal chamber to negate his superpowers, presumably so the sex won’t kill her. Superman becomes human, for love.
Which is good, because the comparative limits of 1980 special effects are cheesily apparent in Superman II. It cannot be about the fights. Superman’s flying kick looks more like a stiff older man reclining. His heat vision looks tepid.
Old-school limitations, however, do not curb ambition. Superman thwarts terrorists at the Eiffel Tower and throws their H-bomb into outer space. He flies into Niagra Falls to save a plummeting child. Super villains rip the roof off the White House and force the president to kneel, then superbattle against Superman amid the skyscrapers of Metropolis.
Decades later, around 2012, absolutely everything became cinematically possible. Since then, copious Hollywood comic-book flicks feature long fights in which blocks of homes or even entire cities get destroyed. At almost 40 years old, Superman II is like an antidote to ubiquitous computer-generated violence. A 1980 action scene has to be tight. Practical, not spectacle. Mario Puzo, The Godfather author, wrote the script to Superman II, and all scenes serve the love story. It matters that Superman gives up his powers for Lois, because three evil enemies with their own superpowers have forced the world to “KNEEL before Zod!”
The simplicity is almost elegant; a conflict – Superman’s choice – is the point. Twenty-minute battles would delay our finding out what happens next.
It may not be subjectively better for a movie to prioritize storytelling. The 2013 Superman movie Man of Steel unleashes absolutely ridiculous effects in meticulously choreographed, brutal, long fight scenes, and they are amazing spectacles of strength, speed, and power. Not incidentally, the story in that film is so convoluted that viewers get lost, and stop caring what happens next.
In this (and most) cases, I guess I prefer the basic. Superman II endures as a love story with stakes (and fun bad guys). So what if it looks a little silly?