Superman II (1980)

18 March 2023
Superman II, a superhero film based on the DC Comics character Superman, was directed by Richard Lester and written by Mario Puzo and David and Leslie Newman.

It was released as a sequel to Superman (1978) and stars Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Terence Stamp, Ned Beatty, Sarah Douglas, Margot Kidder, and Jack O'Halloran. The film was initially released on December 4, 1980, in Australia and mainland Europe, followed by other countries throughout 1981. Some premiere engagements of the film were presented in Megasound, a high-impact surround sound system similar to Sensurround.

In 1977, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind decided to film both Superman and its sequel simultaneously, with principal photography beginning in March 1977 and ending in October 1978. Tensions rose between the original director Richard Donner and the producers, leading to a decision to stop filming the sequel, of which 75 percent had already been completed, and finish the first film. Donner was then controversially fired as director following the release of Superman in December 1978, and was replaced by Lester. Several members of the cast and crew declined to return after Donner's firing. To be officially credited as the director, Lester re-shot most of the film from September 1979 to March 1980.

Superman II received positive reviews from film critics, with praise for the performances of Reeve, Stamp, and Hackman, the visual effects, and humor. It grossed $190 million against a production budget of $54 million, making it a box office success but earning less than its predecessor. Lester returned as director for the sequel, Superman III, released in June 1983.

In 2006, a director's cut of the film titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on various home media formats, restoring the original vision for the film under Donner's supervision.

superman II movie poster

The Plot

The plot of Superman II picks up where the first movie left off. Prior to the destruction of Krypton, General Zod, Ursa, and Non were banished into the Phantom Zone as punishment for their crimes against the planet. However, when a nuclear explosion is detonated by Superman to thwart a missile, the shockwaves release the three Kryptonian criminals from their imprisonment.

As they escape the Phantom Zone, they gain the same superpowers as Superman due to the yellow sun. The three villains quickly set their sights on Earth, where they intend to conquer and rule over the planet. In the process, they kill a group of astronauts on the moon and cause general mayhem and destruction wherever they go.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent, aka Superman, is sent on assignment with his colleague Lois Lane to Niagara Falls. Lois suspects Clark's secret identity as Superman and decides to test her theory by putting herself in danger. Clark saves her, but Lois remains unconvinced.

Later on, Clark reveals his true self to Lois at his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic. He takes away his powers in hopes of living a normal life with her. However, when Zod and his allies force the President of the United States to surrender, Clark realizes his mistake and tries to regain his powers.

Lex Luthor, Superman's nemesis, escapes from prison and teams up with Zod. He promises to lead them to Superman in exchange for control of Australia. Luthor infiltrates the Fortress of Solitude and learns about Superman's connection to Jor-El and Zod.

Superman battles the three Kryptonians and lures them to the Fortress of Solitude. Zod takes Lois hostage to use against Superman. However, Superman manages to trick the villains into the crystal chamber and exposes them to red sunlight, which strips them of their powers.

In the end, Superman restores the damage caused by Zod and erases Lois's memories of his secret identity to protect her. The movie ends with Superman flying off into the sky, leaving behind his alter ego as Clark Kent.

superman ZOD II 1980

The tricky production issues of Superman II

The original Donner production:

Filming for both Superman movies commenced on March 28, 1977 at Pinewood Studios for the Krypton scenes. However, by May 1977, production had fallen two weeks behind schedule due to budget and scheduling issues. Director Richard Donner reportedly had clashes with producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler over the rising production costs. Donner claimed he was not given a budget for the project.

In July 1977, Richard Lester, who had previously worked with the Salkinds on The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), was brought in as an uncredited associate producer and intermediary to help manage the strained relationship between Donner and the Salkinds. Lester had previously won a lawsuit against the Salkinds for unpaid work on their previous films, and they offered to compensate him in exchange for his assistance on the Superman films. Lester became a second unit director and formed a productive partnership with Donner.

By October 1977, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, and Valerie Perrine had completed their scenes, as they were all contracted to appear in both movies. However, the Salkinds put a halt to filming Superman II, even though Donner had already filmed 75 percent of it, to focus on completing Superman. During the filming hiatus, the Salkinds agreed to a negative pickup deal with Warner Bros. Pictures, which granted the studio rights to foreign distribution and television airings in exchange for additional financing.

The moves to replace Richard Donner

At this point, Donner has directed about 70 percent of Superman II.

After the release of Superman in December 1978, tensions between Donner and Spengler were confirmed at a Christmas party. Spengler expressed his pride in the film and eagerness to work with Donner on the sequel to Variety columnist Army Archerd. However, when Archerd contacted Donner with the news, he responded that he would not work on the sequel if Spengler was involved. Shortly after the film's release, Marlon Brando sued the Salkinds for $50 million, claiming that he had not received his share of the gross profits. Brando was successful in receiving $15 million from the settlement, and the Salkinds removed his completed scenes from Superman II to avoid paying him his reported 11.75% of the gross U.S. box office takings he was demanding for the sequel. T

he Salkinds claimed that Brando was removed due to creative differences, suggesting that the mother character could replace Jor-El. Donner publicly criticized this decision, stating that he would only return to finish directing the sequel if he had control over the film.

Since Donner was unavailable due to promoting Superman in Europe, the Salkinds approached Guy Hamilton to direct Superman II, but he was unavailable. Eventually, Richard Lester, who had worked with the Salkinds on previous films, was chosen to direct. Donner received a telegram from the Salkinds informing him that he was being replaced, which he found disappointing, stating that he had not heard from them since. The decision was controversial among the cast and crew, with some declining to return for the sequel out of loyalty to Donner. Gene Hackman declined to return for re-shoots, necessitating the need for a stand-in actor and a voice double for several scenes.

The production reshoots under Robert Lester

After director Richard Donner was fired, screenwriters David and Leslie Newman were brought back to rework the script, adding new scenes like an opening where Superman foils terrorists at the Eiffel Tower, Clark rescuing Lois at Niagara Falls, and an ending where Clark makes Lois forget his secret identity. Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth had died, and Lester was not interested in Donner's grandiose myth approach to filmmaking. 

Instead, Lester hired cinematographer Robert Paynter to make the film look like the comics with a garish color scheme. Set designer John Barry died from meningitis, and Peter Murton took his place.

Christopher Reeve had initially accepted a role in Somewhere in Time and was unavailable when filming for Superman II was set to begin. After Reeve was sued by the Salkinds for breaching his contract, he returned to the project with more artistic control demands. 

Filming resumed in September 1979 at Pinewood Studios, and additional scenes filmed by Donner were included due to budgetary reasons and actors being unavailable. Margot Kidder's physical appearance changes throughout the film due to the use of footage shot by different directors.

 The Directors Guild of America was appealed to arbitrate the appropriate co-director credit, but Donner declined to share credit.

While some scenes from Donner's original footage were added back into the final cut of the film, Lester reportedly reshot about 60-70% of the movie, including the opening and ending, and the majority of the scenes involving the villains Zod, Ursa, and Non. Additionally, Lester made changes to the visual style of the film, bringing in a new cinematographer and opting for a more colorful, comic-book inspired look.

Critical Reception to Superman II

ursula lois lane superman 2

Renowned film critic Roger Ebert, who highly praised the original film, gave Superman II four out of four stars, citing its intriguing insight into Superman's disguise as Clark Kent and the movie's subtle hint that this disguise is not unlike the ordinariness concealed within all of us. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded three-and-a-half out of four stars, declaring it better than the original, while Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times called it "the most interesting 'Superman' yet" and praised the film's fun character, dialogue, and performance.

Janet Maslin of The New York Times described Superman II as a marvelous toy, funny, full of tricks, and royally entertaining. She also praised the performances of Reeve and Hackman and found no distinguishable difference in directing style between Donner and Lester. David Denby of New York magazine similarly lauded the film's light approach and Hackman's performance. However, Christopher John of Ares Magazine categorized Superman II as one of those sequels that is highly absorbing and entertaining, yet better only if you never saw the original.

Since the dawn of the internet, Superman II has received positive reviews from both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. Rotten Tomatoes gave it an approval rating of 83% based on 58 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10. The site's critics consensus praised the film's ability to meet, if not exceed, the standard set by its predecessor, despite occasional stumbles into slapstick humor and dated special effects. Metacritic's weighted average score was 83 out of 100, indicating "universal acclaim" based on 16 critics' reviews.

The Richard Donner Cut of Super Man II

The Richard Donner Cut of Superman II is a reconstructed version of the film that aimed to restore director Richard Donner's original vision for the movie

The story of how the cut came about is interesting in itself, as it was made many years after the original film was released. During the production of Superman Returns in the mid-2000s, Warner Bros. acquired the rights to use unused footage of Marlon Brando from the first Superman film. This led to Ilya Salkind, the original producer of Superman II, to invite Donner to re-cut the film using Brando's unused footage.

The project was completed with the help of editor Michael Thau and Tom Mankiewicz, who supervised the reconstruction of Superman II. According to Thau, all the footage shot by Donner in 1977 was recovered from a vault in England. The new edition, titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, was released on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray in 2006. 

The film incorporated scenes shot by Lester that Donner was unable to shoot to make Donner's vision of Superman II feel less incomplete. Additionally, the screen tests by Reeve and Kidder for one pivotal scene were also included.

One of the most significant changes in the Richard Donner Cut was the restoration of several cut scenes, including Marlon Brando's return as Jor-El. The alternate prologue and opening sequence at the Daily Planet that omits the Eiffel Tower opening from the original were also restored. The film also features the original scripted and filmed ending for Superman II, where Superman reverses time, which was cut and placed at the end of the first film.

Overall, The Richard Donner Cut of Superman II is a unique example of a reconstructed film, aiming to restore the original vision of a director many years after the release of the original. It provides an interesting look at what could have been, had Donner been allowed to complete the film as he intended.


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.

About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
Back to Top