Picking up where "Superman: The Movie" left off, three criminals from the planet Krypton are released from the Phantom Zone by a nuclear explosion in space. They descend upon Earth where they could finally rule. Superman, meanwhile, is in love with Lois Lane, who finds out who he really is. Lex Luthor escapes from prison and is determined to destroy Superman by joining forces with the three criminals. Written by
Keith Howley <email@example.com>
(I just couldn't wait for the director's cut, so anything I say here might soon be outdated.)
"Superman II," directed in 1980 by Richard Lester, is probably the best sequel of the first wave of superhero movies. "Superman II" is big, goofy fun, with a sense of action, romance, and humor that wouldn't quite be seen again in the genre until last year's "Fantastic Four." "Superman II" is one of the great sequels, despite its sloppy editing and a controversial back-story worthy of a movie of its own.
We know that "Superman" (1978) director, Richard Donner, was originally supposed to direct the sequel but was fired under highly suspicious and (to this day) unknown circumstances following a dispute with that film's producers, the Salkinds. Supposedly, it began with issues over creative direction. Compounding that, Donner had gone over the originally planned budget for "Superman," and the Salkinds had been rushing the poor man to complete the film. Conversely, Marlon Brando (Jor-El in "Superman"), didn't want to be in the second movie and filed suit over his percentage of that film's earnings. Simultaneously, Donner had also been shooting footage for "Superman II" and had completed somewhere around 75% of it between 1976-1978 before he was fired. But of course, the lore is well-known to those who pay attention to this film's history, and what I just described were probably the biggest reasons for Donner's removal.
Lester was brought in after Donner, scrapped most of Donner's footage, and replaced it with his own material that was filmed between '79-'80 (to the untrained eye, the different footage appears seamless but to those aware of "Superman II's" history, it'll be a lot like a shooting gallery for continuity errors). Only about 25% of the original scenes Donner filmed are in the movie we know today, with jarring transitions between scenes since nearly three years had passed between the two directors' filming of scenes. This all caused a near-mutinous insurrection on the set, and many of the actors (Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve - R.I.P., Margot Kidder, and Terence Stamp) were quite vocal about this; Hackman refused to appear in any of Lester's new scenes and it's easy to tell when a body double is being used.
Original composer John Williams also walked away from the project following Donner's removal, and was replaced by Ken Thorne, who takes material from Williams's score and merely covers it with his own in much the same way Lester did with Donner. Lastly, cinematographer Robert Paynter gave a comic book look to the film that conflicted with the sparkling, epic cinematography of the late Geoffrey Unsworth. What we get, to paraphrase another viewer, is "sloppy seconds," but still an enjoyable and moving experience in its right. "Superman II" still made a box office killing in 1981, so it couldn't have been that bad (?). (Hopefully, this will all be cured by the new Richard Donner cut that's due out on Nov. 28 later this year, which should include more of Donner's original material, more Hackman footage, Marlon Brando, more violence and story dealing with the three Krypton villains' task on Earth, more scenes with Reeve and Kidder, completed special effects, a new opening and ending - ?, and Lester footage to fill in the gaps.)
In "Superman II," the Man of Steel, as Clark Kent (Reeve), is getting serious with Lois Lane (Kidder), and considers giving up being Superman. If he were to do this, however, he will become a normal human being, with no way to restore his powers, and no way to stand up to a diner's bullying customer. This romantic infatuation probably could not have come at a worse time because a nuclear explosion in outer space shatters the Phantom Zone, the eternal prison of three outcasts from Superman's home planet Krypton. The blast frees the traitorous head of Krypton's military forces, General Zod (Stamp), the man-hating Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and the brutish Non (Jack O'Halloran), who then make a bee-line for Earth in a bid for world domination. Once on Earth, they discover they have all of Superman's powers, and then some. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Hackman) manages to escape from prison (with help from Miss Teschmacher, played by Valerie Perrine), leaving a hapless Otis (Ned Beatty) behind, and sets out on a quest to the North Pole to find the Fortress of Solitude using a device he constructed while incarcerated.
What this all climaxes in, is an action-packed (if not somewhat slapstick) special effects bonanza that takes place in the skies over Metropolis, with Superman and the three Krypton villains going head to head. It's really exciting stuff to see Superman grappling with the new experience of fighting three adversaries of his power level.
Is "Superman II" a failure? Yes, because it betrays what was originally laid out by a great director and is probably one of the great, early examples of Hollywood "chopping & screwing." "Superman II" is still highly regarded as a cult classic, and director Sam Raimi makes a few nods with "Spider-Man 2" (2004). I can see that DC Comics is making a comeback; if original Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster could see these films, I bet they'd be proud.
P.S.: R.I.P. - Marlon Brando
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