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|Released||June 19, 1981|
|Directed by||Richard Lester, Richard Donner (uncredited)|
|Written by||Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Tom Mankiewicz (uncredited)|
|Music by||Ken Thorne|
Superman II is the 1980 sequel to the 1978 feature film Superman. It was the only Superman film to be helmed by two directors. For this reason the film is surrounded with controversy since original director Richard Donner had completed, by his estimation, roughly 75% of the movie in 1977 before being taken off the project. Many of the scenes shot by second director Richard Lester (who had been an uncredited producer on the first film) in 1979 are refilmed Donner sequences. It was released in Europe and Australia in late 1980 but not distributed in the United States until June 1981, which is unusual for such a major production.
According to statements by Donner, roughly 25% of the theatrical cut of Superman II contains footage he shot, including all of Gene Hackman's scenes. In 1984, when Superman II premiered on television, 24 minutes were re-inserted into the film (17 mins in US ABC TV). Much of the extra footage was directed by Richard Donner. A brand new re-cut of the film, restoring as much of Donner's original conception as possible, titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, was released in November 2006.
The film begins with a prologue in which General Zod and his co-conspirators, Ursa and Non, are banished to the Phantom Zone by the Kryptonian elders as punishment for their crimes. The story then moves forward in time. Clark learns from Perry White that Lois is in France, where terrorists who have seized the Eiffel Tower and threatened to level the city with a hydrogen bomb. Lois sneaks past a police barricade and risks her life latching onto an elevator in the Eiffel Tower. When the terrorists release the hostages, a counterterrorist unit attempts to disable the bomb by detonating the emergency brake on the elevator, but this sends Lois plummeting to her death. Fortunately, Superman saves Lois from her doom and propels the bomb into the mesosphere, where it explodes. The shockwaves shatter the crystalline conduit into the Phantom Zone, now floating near Earth and Zod, Non, and Ursa are released. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor and Otis are in jail for their plot to destroy California, and Luthor tells Otis he has been tracking alpha waves created by Superman, which always point to the North Pole, suggesting his headquarters must be there. The two prisoners break out with a hot air balloon with the aid of Ms. Teschmacher, but when Otis' weight proves too heavy, Luthor dumps his sidekick by throwing away the ladder and allowing Otis to be recaptured (although Ms. Teschmacher scolds Luthor later on for backstabbing his loyal dupe). Using the black box device, they go north to the Fortress of Solitude. Luthor, activating the Fortress control panel, then learns from hologram recordings of Jor-El and Lara about the three Kryptonian villains who have escaped. He decides that he will collaborate with the Kryptonian villains to defeat Superman and take over the world.
Clark and Lois are on assignment in Niagara Falls, Ontario, investigating what Perry calls a "honeymoon racket." Superman rescues a boy who falls over the railing, then flies behind a hot dog stand and emerges as Clark, saying he missed all the excitement as he was getting their lunch, causing Lois to wonder what Superman was doing in Niagara Falls. Clark jokes that Superman may be stalking Lois cause he may have a crush on her, but Lois thinks this is too coincidental. Later, she challenges Clark by intentionally putting herself in danger, figuring he will save her from drowning in the Niagara River. Clark panics about Lois putting herself in danger and does not expose himself as Superman, but he does covertly use his heat vision to burn off a tree branch so Lois can grab onto something. Lois makes it to safety, and remarks how idiotic she was to think a wimp like Clark is Superman. However, later in their hotel room, Clark's powers are revealed when he quickly retrieves his fallen glasses from the fireplace with his bare hands. Realizing that he wasn't burned, Lois realizes the truth. After some hesitation, Clark admits the truth and takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude, showing her the crystals which created and control the operations; Lois leaves the primary green crystal under her purse, outside the control panel. Kal-El speaks to his father through hologram about his desire to give up his responsibilities as Superman so he can live a normal life with Lois. Jor-El criticizes Kal-El for his decision, but nonetheless offers him a choice. In order for him to relinquish being Superman, he must enter a crystal chamber and be exposed to harnessed rays from the Krypton red sun, as superpowered Kryptonian men cannot bear children with Earth women. He will, therefore, lose his powers permanently and no longer be invulnerable as he has been before, becoming a normal man (akin to if he had grown up on Krypton). Despite his parents' pleas to reconsider, Kal-El, without hesitance, enters the chamber and undergoes the de-powering process, which culminates in the destruction of the crystal control panel. The two retire to his bedchamber and sleep together.
Meanwhile, the three Kryptonian criminals have devastated a joint NASA-Soviet moon expedition, killing three astronauts. They fly to Earth, which they believe to be a planet called "Houston" (having overheard radio transmissions with Mission Control in Houston, Texas). Making their way to a small town called East Houston, they easily defeat the locals and attract attention of the news, where Zod learns the planet's true name of Earth. Soon afterwards a US Army battalion is deployed to East Houston, where Zod, Ursa and Non repel them and force their surrender, to which the commanding general reveals his superior is the President, causing Zod to retort that the President better surrender too or Zod will make all the metropolitan areas in America end up like East Houston. After defacing Mount Rushmore, the trio attack the White House, where Zod forces the President of the United States to kneel before him. Returning from the Fortress of Solitude, Clark is beaten up in a diner by a bullying truck driver. His despondent mood worsens when, in horror, he watches the President announcing the surrender of Earth to General Zod. The President suddenly pleads for Superman's help and Zod issues a challenge to Superman to face him. Realizing the danger posed to the world and the terrible mistake he made, Clark heads back to the Fortress, now a darkened sanctum, and calls out to his father for help. Dreading that there may be no hope left, he then notices the green crystal glowing where Lois accidentally left it– the same crystal that has called out to him in the first movie.
Lex Luthor visits a bored Zod at the White House and negotiates a means to lure Superman to the villains by holding Lois hostage. He also reveals that Superman is the son of Jor-El, their imprisoner. They arrive at the Daily Planet offices and seize Lois, only to be interrupted by the arrival of Superman, his powers fully restored. A destructive battle ensues among the four Kryptonians as Superman struggles with the new experience of battling multiple enemies of his power level. When Superman is knocked down, an angry mob attempts to lynch the Zod trio, but are beaten back by their super-breath. Superman shouts at Zod to leave the people alone, then flies off unexpectedly. Zod is perplexed about the sudden retreat, but Ursa surmises they have learned Kal-El's weakness; his respect for human life, and that he was aware people would be hurt if the fight carried on in a highly populated place like Metropolis, and will resume somewhere remote. The Zod trio abducts Lois and Lex Luthor and follow Superman to the Arctic.
At the Fortress of Solitude, Superman attempts to distract the villains with a hologram that creates multiple images of himself. However, after grappling with Zod, Ursa and Non threaten to tear Lois limb from limb, and Superman agrees to release Zod and capitulate to them to spare her life. Superman whispers to Luthor to try to get the Zod trio into the depowering chamber, but Luthor hollers the plan, and Superman is forced into the same depowering chamber he used before, and activated. Zod gloats how he finally has accomplished his goal of making Jor-El's son kneel. Kal-El humbly kneels before Zod, but when Zod says to kiss his hand, Superman squeeze his hand and Zod grimaces in pain. Zod realizes, too late, that Superman reconfigured the chamber to immerse the fortress in red sunlight while he was in the chamber, and is easily thrown into a pit by Superman. Lois easily dispatches the now-powerless Ursa, and Non leaps towards Superman, only to find he can no longer fly. All three villains fall into the depths of Superman's fortress, apparently to their dooms. Luthor guffaws that was a great "triple cross" to Superman, but Superman delivers him back to the authorities. He then turns back to Lois, who realizes and agrees that Superman must continue to serve humanity, conforming to his father's wishes. After Superman flies her home, Lois begins to break down in despair. Although life would never be the same, she heartbreakingly assures Superman that she can be trusted to keep his secret identity, which Superman acknowledges consolingly, and he flies off. Superman, realizing that life with Lois can never be, decides to erase Lois's memories of all events surrounding Zod's arrival, including her knowledge that Clark Kent is Superman.
Clark, now with his powers restored as Superman, goes to the diner and confronts Rocky, who is more than willing to pick a fight with him. Much to everyone's surprise, this strange, young man handles the bullying customer like a little child, eventually felling him across the counter and sending him crashing into the pinball machine, knocking him unconscious. Clark then offers to pay the owners of the diner for the damage. With those around wondering how the stranger was able to beat the bully, Clark simply replies:
"Oh, I’ve been... working out."
The film closes with the reinstated President returning to the Oval Office as workmen are clearing debris from the wreckage. Superman appears to hoist the American flag, assuring the President he will never abandon his responsibilities again and always be there for people in need. Superman flies into the mesosphere as the sun rises over Earth, awaiting future adventures.
Controversy and cult status
Off-screen problems hampered production of this movie: like other Salkind productions such as The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), this was filmed at the same time as the first Superman movie to be a direct sequel. However, Marlon Brando filed suit over his percentage of the first film's profits, so as a response, the Salkind's excised his scenes from the second film. Director Richard Donner argued with the producers over their attempts to make the film "more campy," in his opinion, which led to his removal and replacement on the project by Richard Lester. Following that, Gene Hackman declined to return for any reshoots by Lester, which cut down the number of scenes in which he appears in the final cut (or with a few scenes where a body double was obviously being used).
Another reason behind Richard Donner's removal may have been that the Salkinds were upset that Donner went over their originally planned budget for the movie. Warner Brothers ended up getting more and more involved in the race to complete the film, allowing the studio to receive more profits from the film's box office take than the Salkinds had originally agreed to. With their power slipping away, Donner was unfortunately made the scapegoat.
Despite all the difficulties, and with only a few noticeable shifts in tone between the two directors' scenes (Lester's scenes tend to be more campy and humorous), it was noted by critics to be a remarkable and coherent film, highlighted by the movie's battle sequence between Superman and the three Phantom Zone prisoners on the streets of Metropolis. Scenes filmed by Donner include all the Gene Hackman footage, the moon sequences, the White House shots, Clark and the bully, and a lot of the footage of Zod, Ursa and Non arriving at the Daily Planet. Since the Lester footage was shot almost two years later, both Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve's appearances look different between the Lester and Donner footage. Reeve appears less bulked up in Donner's sequences (filmed in 1977), as he was still gaining muscle for the part. Kidder also has dramatic changes throughout; in the montage of Lester/Donner material, shot inside the Daily Planet and the Fortress of Solitude near the movie's conclusion, her hairstyle, hair color, and even make-up are all inconsistent. Indeed, Kidder's physical appearance in the Lester footage is noticeably different; during the scenes shot for Donner she appears slender, whereas in the Lester footage she looks frail and gaunt.
In the years since the film's release, the controversy continues to be fueled, while the film itself has achieved cult status. In 1983, Alexander Salkind's production company pieced together an "Expanded International Cut" of the film for television using approximately 24 minutes of footage not shown in the theatrical release, some of which was original Richard Donner footage shot before Richard Lester became director. The "new" footage expanded on the film's many subplots, including a further explanation of the villains' task on Earth, Superman and Lois' romance, and an alternate ending involving Lex Luthor, the three Kryptonian villains, and the final fate of the Fortress of Solitude. This 146-minute expanded version was released throughout Europe and Australia in the 1980s (the initial expanded U.S. ABC and Canadian CBC telecasts, though edited differently, were derived from the European/Australian TV edit).
In 2005, several Superman movie fans attempted to bring the film closer to Donner's original vision by creating their own professionally-made video restoration of the "International Cut" and offered free DVDs of it on one of the many Superman fan sites, but their efforts were thwarted by Warner Bros., who reportedly threatened legal action.
All four Superman films received Special or Deluxe Edition releases in 2006 coinciding with the release of Superman Returns. It was confirmed that Ilya Salkind has released Donner's footage for a separate Superman II disc and that Donner was involved in the project. According to an interview conducted by website supermanhomepage.com, Ilya confirmed that Time Warner now owns all of the footage shot for 1978's Superman, 1980's Superman II, 1983's Superman III, 1984's Supergirl, and 1987's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace including distribution rights. SE restorationist Michael Thau worked on the project alongside Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz, who supervised the Superman II reconstruction. Despite some initial confusion, Thau confirmed that all the footage shot by Donner in 1977 was recovered and transferred from England. The new edition was released on November 28, 2006 and called Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. The new cut also features less than 20% footage filmed by replacement director Richard Lester.
- Superman II was released in Europe and Australia (December 4, 1980) before being released in the United States (June 19, 1981).
- The original script had the nuclear missile from Superman: The Movie releasing Zod and companions from the Phantom Zone, instead of the Eiffel Tower bomb.
- In the version of the film planned by Richard Donner, Superman flies around the Leaning Tower of Pisa at incredible super-speed, accidentally causing it to stand up straight. This was dropped by Richard Lester, but re-used in Superman III, where evil Superman straightens the Tower of Pisa on purpose.
- Some scenes from the Metropolis battle may have been shot and then cut: the destruction of the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty's arm being destroyed, melting of the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Ursa's reshaping the faces on Mount Rushmore.
- In one TV version, a US "polar patrol" is shown picking up the three Kryptonians and Lex Luthor at the end of the film. Without this ending, it appears that Superman has let the Kryptonians die, though Superman has a strict code against killing and their deaths aren't necessary once they are depowered. The ending of this version also has Superman, with Lois standing beside him, destroy the Fortress of Solitude.
- Superman also uses the rare "super-kiss" to make Lois forget he is Clark. While this was a real power Superman had in the comics, it was rarely used, and eventually removed.
- Richard Donner briefly appears in a "walking cameo" in the film. In the sequence where the de-powered Clark and Lois are seen approaching the truck-stop diner by car, Donner appears walking "camera left" past the driver's side. He is wearing a light tan jacket and appears to be smoking a pipe.
- In the scene where the young boy falls over the rail at Niagara Falls, as Superman is rescuing him, a woman's voice can be heard saying in a stereotypical New York/Jewish accent, "Of course he's Jewish." The creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were both Jewish; as was Batman creator Bob Kane.
- Selected premiere engagements of Superman II were presented in Megasound, a high-impact surround sound system similar to Sensurround.
- The first resistance Zod gets from Earth is in the form of a small-town sheriff and his deputy. The sheriff has a Louisiana accent and cannot believe what he is seeing. This is similar to Sheriff J.W. Pepper of the James Bond film Live and Let Die, which was also filmed at Pinewood Studios. As Clifton James played both sheriffs, it is strongly suggested he reprised his role as J.W. Pepper in Superman II.
- In an episode of Family Guy, Peter remembers a scene in which Superman throws the crest from his chest, where Superman and Non discuss how it was only a minor inconvenience. This power of Superman using his famous family crest to temporarily trap enemies was also seen in the comics, albeit very rarely akin to the "memory kiss". "Throwing the S" has entered the vernacular as an example of an obscure super power that only serves to briefly inconvenience a villain.
- Four comics bridge Superman II and Superman Returns, entitled Krypton to Earth, Ma Kent, Lex Luthor and Lois Lane. See Superman Returns for more details.
- In the 2006 documentary You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman (included in the DVD set The Ultimate Superman Collection), Sarah Douglas says she was the only cast member to do extensive around-the-world press tours in support of the movie, as she was one of the only actors who held a neutral point of view in the Donner/Lester controversy.
- Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, and Marlon Brando are the only actors who didn't parcticipate in the film's reshoots. Their scenes in Lester's version (with the exception of Brando) were portrayed with body doubles.