Franchises of All Time
Superman II (1980)
Superman (1978) | Superman II (1980) | Superman III (1983) | Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Superman Returns (2006)
|Superman II (1980)
d. Richard Lester, 127 minutes, 116 minutes
Superman II (2006), Richard Donner's cut, with 83% Donner original footage
Film Plot Summary
Under the credits, Krypton's respected scientist Jor-El (Marlon Brando), fearing that Krypton would be destroyed by a collision with its sun, prepared a space capsule/rocket (with one green crystal) to bear his son Kal-El safely away, just before the planet exploded. There was a brief recap of Kal-El's crash landing in a wheatfield in Kansas, his encounter with adoptive parents, his summoning by the green crystal and trek to the North to create the Fortress of Solitude, Clark Kent's (Christopher Reeve) subsequent employment as a reporter in Metropolis at the Daily Planet, and Superman's first public demonstration when he rescued fellow reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) from a crashing helicopter. The summary ended with the previous film's concluding sequence, in which Superman saved the West Coast from catastrophe when villain Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) detonated a nuclear missile on the San Andreas Fault.
At the Daily Planet Office, chief Editor Perry White (Jackie Cooper) ordered his oblivious reporter Clark Kent to do a background story on a terrorist group (disguised as repairmen) that had seized the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and taken about 20 tourists as hostages. They were making demands of the French government, while threatening to explode a Hydrogen bomb (hidden in an oil drum) and level the city. Lois Lane had already been sent to Paris as White's "best reporter" to get the story. Worried about her, Clark hurriedly left the building, darted into an alley, and magically transformed himself into Superman at running speed (on camera) - rapidly soaring toward Europe. Meanwhile, ambitious and determined Lois arrived at the scene where the terrorists had released the remaining hostages. To get the story (Lois hoped for a Pulitzer or Nobel prize!), she evaded one security guard with her tourist's translation phrase book, and climbed under the lift-elevator mechanism - after which it was raised high into the air, carrying the terrorists and the bomb. To capture the terrorists, French gendarmes with cable-cutters snapped the elevator's thick steel supports, plunging it down the shaft to the ground (with Lois pinned and clinging underneath), as one of the terrorists inadvertently triggered the timer device with only 60 seconds until detonation. Superman caught the out-of-control elevator, told Lois: "I believe this is your floor," left her off on a lower level, and pushed the elevator (with the bomb) up the shaft and into outer space past Earth's moon. When it exploded, the concussion force of its shock-wave rings caused the Phantom Zone, traveling nearby, to shatter and break open - unwittingly freeing and restoring the Kryptonians as three-dimensional beings, who then flew on toward Earth.
Outside the Daily Planet office, Clark jaywalked to reach Lois across the street, and was directly hit in the legs - but unhurt - by a Checker taxi, which suffered major front-end damage. He was bewildered as he entered the office, where the day's paper (an exclusive article by Lois) announced: "MERCI SUPERMAN - French Terror Scheme 'Bombs'."
In the prison where bald Lex Luthor (calling himself the "greatest criminal mind...the greatest genius in this world") and bumbling assistant Otis (Ned Beatty) were held to serve a life sentence "plus 25," they worked in the laundry room. Luthor had discovered that his nemesis Superman would always fly North - that was thought to be "his vulnerable point" and the crafty Luthor announced his new invention, a black box alpha wave detector: "My little black box is just about ready." It was designed to go "beyond any conventional radar - it tracks alpha waves...Those alpha waves will take me North to his secret. And his secret will give me Superman." Shortly later, the two made a deceptive getaway using Luthor's inventive holographic device to project their images (innocently playing chess in their cell) - discovered only at 'lights-out' curfew time within their cell block. In the prison yard, Luthor climbed up a ladder into a hot-air rescue balloon piloted by his moll girlfriend Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), but Otis (too heavy as "ballast" for the balloon) was left behind.
[They proceeded due North, and later, arrived at "Superman's home" -- the crystalline Fortress of Solitude, where Luthor exclaimed as they wandered about: "It's fantastic...it's beautiful...This place is genius." At the control panel console, they accidentally activated "a voice from the past" of one of the Elders in the Kryptonian memory bank, reading poetry from Earth literature (Joyce Kilmer's "Trees"). Another crystal conveniently brought up a recorded image of Kal-El's mother Lara (Susannah York), Keeper of the Archives, who told them of "the darkest episode in our planet's history" - about how Krypton's three arch-criminals, with the same powers as Superman, were placed in the Phantom Zone to be imprisoned for all eternity. She told how it was "cracked by a nuclear explosion in space" - and they escaped. Their presence explained why Luthor had received three Alpha Waves on his black box detector, and he planned to be their equally-evil, super-villainous contact on Earth: "Someone with the same wonderful contempt for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."]
Houston's NASA Control Center was monitoring astronauts on the Moon, flown there in the Artemis II (it was a joint US-USSR "detente" mission). They had been there for 45 days, conducting geological surveys. One of the astronauts noted the arrival of butch-punk henchwoman Ursa, who magically drifted down onto the Moon's surface - as "an unidentified flying object." She confronted one of the US astronauts, asked: "What kind of a creature are you?", and then stole his patch as she ripped open his spacesuit - depressurizing it and killing him. General Zod discovered a second Soviet astronaut, and commented: "What a fragile sort of life form this is," before snapping his lifeline and floating him away. The third US astronaut, attempting to launch and flee in the lunar excursion module, was crushed and killed by Non. General Zod realized why they had super-human powers: "The closer we come to an atmosphere with only one sun, a yellow sun, the more our molecular density gives us unlimited powers." They decided to go to "Houston" - "To rule!" when they mistakenly believed that the Houston Space Center transmissions designated the planet's name - Houston.
Meanwhile, Clark and Lois arrived at Niagara Falls at their Honeymoon Haven Hotel suite (a pink monument to tackiness and bad taste with heart-shaped cushions, lava-lamp pillars, a "Flames of Love" central gas fireplace with a pull-chain, an open-jawed pink bear-skin rug, a vibrating bed, a heart-shaped bathtub, a complimentary corsage and cheap bottle of Champagne, etc.). They were posing as the Smiths - a newlywed couple, to an unctuous bellhop, in order to do a Sunday Magazine report to "expose a honeymoon racket." Clark enjoyed pretending to be married more than Lois, especially after she pointed out the sleeping arrangements - he would sleep on the couch. Out by the guard railing near the falls, where they were surrounded by happy, romantic couples, Lois removed Clark's eyeglasses to clean them from the mist - she did a double-take and became suspicious when he looked similar to Superman without his disguise. Although he was awed by the natural sights, she replied unimpressed: "Once a girl's seen Superman in action, Niagara Falls kind of leaves you cold." When a boy fell from the railing and disappeared in the misty water, Clark (who was off buying lunch of hot dogs and freshly-squeezed orange juice for Lois) came to his rescue as Superman, and brought him safely back to the observation deck, while snubbing and ignoring Lois' presence. When Clark returned with lunch afterwards, she remarked: "It just seems kind of strange to me that every time Superman's around, you disappear."
To test whether Superman might be Clark in disguise, as they stood next to exhibits about those who had attempted going over the falls, she told him: "I'm so sure that you're Superman that I'm willing to bet my life on it...If I'm right, you'll turn into Superman. And if I'm wrong, you've got yourself one helluva story." Clark told her that she had a tremendous imagination - when she suddenly threw herself over the railing into the raging water upstream of the falls - expecting to be saved. As a panicked Clark ran alongside, she struggled to stay afloat as she called out: "Superman!" Refusing to reveal his identity, Clark used his X-ray Heat-vision to fell a great tree branch into the water, and then yelled out: "Grab the branch." She was able to swim out of the swift current to the calm shore bank, where she had to save him as he fell in and thrashed about: "You were what I thought was Superman?" In their suite room afterwards, Lois told Clark she felt like an "idiot" for trying to summon "Mr. Wonderful - who obviously had better things to do." As he handed her a hairbrush, he stumbled over the bear-rug and his hand plunged into the flames of the fireplace. Noticing no burns on him, she exclaimed: "You are Superman!" He was forced to reveal himself - he removed his glasses and stood upright - and suggested that they talk. She thought he had a reason for showing himself: "Maybe you didn't want to with your mind, but maybe you wanted to with your heart." She told him: "I'm in love with you." Then, he decided to tell her everything: "Now that you know, I think you should know it all" - and he proposed taking her to his secret place -- the Fortress of Solitude.
The three Krypton criminals descended upon what they believed was planet Houston - a rural lake fishing area in the state of Idaho. General Zod levitated and then 'walked on water' from the center of the lake to join his compatriots on land. Ursa was bitten on the hand by a rattlesnake ("a primitive life-form") and surprised herself by glowering at the snake with her vision, and immolating it with her powerful Heat-vision: "I have powers beyond reason here." The giant Non struggled to duplicate Ursa's vision powers that he had not yet mastered. On the outskirts of East Houston, Idaho (a "Middle-American town"), the three Kryptonites blocked the road, denying passage to a police car carrying the paunchy local Sheriff (Clifton James) and his deputy Dwayne (Peter Whitman). When the trio confiscated the deputy's shot-gun (a "crude noisemaker"), they revealed their levitation, Heat-vision and indestructible, super-strong powers to the awe-struck officers. Non ripped the cherry red-light off of the top of the sheriff's car - a reminder of Krypton's red sun.
Superman flew protectively next to Lois to his Fortress of Solitude, a "very special place," where he gave her a tour and reverentially held the green crystal that had "called" to him and brought him there. The energy crystal built the Fortress, where he discovered his identity and his mission in life: "That's when I found out who I really was and what I had to do." Not realizing what she was doing, Lois placed her purse over the misplaced green crystal. He flew to a tropical rainforest (in Hawaii?) to pick some elegant-looking 'bird of paradise' flowers for Lois, and to gather dinner items from other exotic places around the world. When she left the control panel area of the Fortress to join him for dinner, she picked up her purse - not noticing the green crystal left sitting underneath it.
In the small town of East Houston, Zod and Ursa (wearing a NASA patch and the deputy's badge) entered a hole-in-the-wall saloon/restaurant where one red-neck remarked: "The circus is in town." Ursa demonstrated her strength in an arm-wrestling match with another local named J.J. (Bill Bailey) and broke his arm through the table, while Zod propelled Boog (Dinny Powell) through the outer wall, into a truckload of chickens, and onto the street, and also levitated (with his finger) and dropped gun-brandishing Dino/Jody (Jack Cooper) from 30 feet in the air. Soon after, a news reporter announced that the town's three new arrivals had brought havoc and "destruction in their wake" - and the town was "gripped with fear." Armed troops ordered them to surrender, but they and their weapons were completely useless. The commentator noted: "I haven't seen the likes of this since Superman." Even the US President was alerted and felt powerless: "These people have such powers, nothing can stop them." And Superman was nowhere to help. Non caught a bazooka bare-handed and crushed it in half, and when a fleet of helicopter gun-ships arrived to fire upon them, their rockets had no effect. Ursa unleashed her Super-breath on the 'flying machine' to send it out of control and crashing to the ground in flames. Zod declared, on television: "I win. I always win. Is there no one on this planet to even challenge me?" He demanded: "I am your ruler. Yes, today begins a new order. Your lands, your possessions, your very lives will gladly be given in tribute to me, General Zod. In return for your obedience, you will enjoy my generous protection. In other words, you will be allowed to live." Zod told the commanding five-star General (Don Fellows) that the US President (E.G. Marshall) would soon be answering to him.
Back at the Fortress, Superman had prepared an elegant, romantic dinner (with champagne) for Lois, and then confided that he was grateful to Clark, almost a separate entity: "If it weren't for him (Clark), I never would have met you...For the first time in my life, everything's clear." After he took her hand, she wished to change into a satiny, loose-fitting, low V-necked nightgown: "I'm going to go change into something more comfortable." When she returned, she overheard him confiding to his mother Lara that Lois was his perfect mate and lover: "She's all I want in life." He listened to her answer: "If you intend to live your life with a mortal, you must live as a mortal. You must become one of them." He would need to undergo the irreversible process of entering a crystal chamber where the rays of the red sun of Krypton had been stored and harnessed. After exposing himself to those rays -- all of his great powers on Earth would disappear forever: "Once it is done, there is no return. You will become an ordinary man. You will feel like an ordinary man. You can be hurt like an ordinary man. Oh, my son, are you sure?" Superman responded: "Mother, I love her," and then entered the chamber to be transformed. The walls glowed a deep red color and there were violent flashes of light, as the molecular restructuring chamber was activated. A mortal Clark Kent appeared and walked away from his immortal, fading Superman form. Lois was stunned by his ultimate sacrifice: "You did all that for me? I don't know what to say." Clark replied: "Just say you love me." They hugged and kissed and then walked into an interior part of the Fortress.
Meanwhile, Zod and his fellow Kryptonites flew by the Mount Rushmore historical monument and defaced three presidential faces, and crumbled the fourth Abraham Lincoln carving. They then flew onto Washington, D.C., as Clark and Lois laid in each other's arms in the sleeping chamber of the Fortress, after a blissful evening of sex. The trio crashed through the ceiling of the White House, where they overcame Marine soldiers and Secret Service agents whose bullets bounced harmlessly off them. They burst into the well-barricaded Oval Office of the President, where Zod forced the US commander to kneel and surrender to him. However, the President threatened Zod with the presence of the invincible Superman, although of unknown whereabouts at the present time: "But there is one man here on Earth who will never kneel before you."
At the same time, Clark and Lois were on a long car drive back from the North to Metropolis - she was still astonished by what he had given up for her. At an Alaskan roadside diner, Clark was forcibly engaged in an altercation with a local bullying trucker named Rocky (Pepper Martin) who called him "four-eyes," and he was hit from behind and sent through a glass window frame. Feeble, hurt, and embarrassed, Clark was stunned by the sight of his own blood, and sickeningly realized his own physical limitations. When Lois attempted to comfort him, "I want the man I fell in love with," Clark noted that he wished Superman was there to help: "I wish he were here." Clark was again punched in the stomach and in the face, and went down a second time, in terrible pain. Afterwards as they sat at one of the tables, they listened in disbelief to a TV broadcast, in which the worried President abdicated "all authority and control over this planet to General Zod." The humbled President urged strict obedience to Zod to prevent the loss of millions of innocent lives. Then he burst out: "Superman, can you hear me?" Zod took charge and defied Superman on the national broadcast: "Come to me, Superman. If you dare. I defy you! Come! Come and kneel before Zod."
With Earth doomed, Clark realized that he must return to the Fortress to attempt to restore his super-powers: "I have to go back...I have to. I've got to try, damn it. I've got to try something. Anything!" -- Clark numbly trudged along in the snow by himself on a bleak northern highway in the frozen landscape. Exhausted, he finally reached the Fortress, now desolate, cold, dark and silent. Needy and desperate, he called out to his father and mother in vain, wishing they could hear him in the echoing space. He frustratingly admitted: "I failed." In the darkness, he saw the glowing green crystal on the floor. (During their earlier visit when Superman called her to dinner, Lois had not seen the green crystal, out-of-sight and hidden under her purse.) Would it be possible for him to restore his Superman abilities with the intensely-glowing crystal?
In the White House's Oval Office, General Zod and his companions were deathly bored without a rival arch-nemesis, until interrupted by the brazen arrival of boastful Lex Luthor, who planned to partner-in-crime with them: "I can give you anything you want. I can give you the brass ring, the unlimited freedom to maim, kill, destroy. Plus Lex Luthor's keen mind. Lex Luthor's savvy. Lex Luthor's career guidance. Lex Luthor's School of Better..." He offered them the son of Jor-El -- better known as Superman. Zod was intrigued: "Revenge. We will kill the son of our jailer...We will bring him to his knees." To gain Zod's cooperation and trust, Luthor promised to locate Superman, in exchange for becoming the ruler of the "beachfront" continent of Australia. Back in the office of the Daily Planet in Metropolis, Lois, Jimmy, and Perry White were speaking about Superman's unusual "disappearing act" (with Lois uncertain about where he was since he left her to return to the Fortress), when suddenly, the trio of Kryptonite villains (accompanied by Luthor) crashed in and smashed up the offices and furniture. They were there to kidnap Lois - "the next best thing" besides Superman, according to Luthor: "Hold onto that little lady and he'll be along."
A stack of the latest Daily Planet newspapers fluttered, with the headline: "WHITE HOUSE SURRENDERS," as a restored and rejuvenated Superman flew into the city, and landed on a horizontal flagpole outside Perry White's office. As Zod demanded that the "son of Jor-El" kneel before him, Superman defiantly challenged the three villains: "Would you care to step outside?" and then flew away to await their arrival atop another skyscraper. Their destructive Herculean conflict in the skies high above the city also carried over to the Hudson River and into the cavernous areas between the towering buildings. Superman found the three of them to be as formidably strong as he was, especially since he was outnumbered and the fact that he was also protecting innocent bystanders from falling debris (i.e., the top of the Empire State Building). Zod proclaimed he knew Superman's weakness: "He actually cares for these Earth people," and began setting cars and gas tanks ablaze with his Heat-vision to draw Superman away, although the Man of Steel thwarted him by reflecting back the Heat-vision beam with a rear-view mirror, and freezing a heated gas tank (under a gasoline tanker truck) with his breath. The fight was taken underground, causing the ground to tremble and manhole covers to explode open. One of the covers was tossed into Superman's stomach like a frisbee. Superman hurled Zod into a giant, lighted Coca-Cola sign, and then absorbed the impact of an imperiled, tossed-aloft city bus with passengers aboard. The three villains used their Super-breath to cause a tremendous hurricane-force gale, producing more devastation and chaos (flying cars, phone booths, fire hydrants, etc.). Deciding that it wasn't safe to continue to confront the three with so many innocent people around, although he was deemed a "coward," Superman soared off to a more secluded place. Zod declared: "Our victory is complete. The son of Jor-El has fled." But Luthor knew the fight wasn't over - he persuaded Zod to not kill him by promising to lead them to Superman's address (at the Fortress of Solitude), while Ursa added that they should increase his handicap by taking Superman's "favorite" human (Lois Lane) with them, to trap him. Both Luthor and Lois were flown northward to the Fortress by the Kryptonians.
When they reached their destination by flight, Non sprang towards Superman, who magically tossed the plastic "S" insignia from the chest of his costume onto the villain - a cellophane net to wrap around him and subdue him. Zod proposed that the three Kryptonites combine their strength together, and they each beamed their red-hot Heat-vision rays onto Superman, but he repelled their rays with the palm of his hand. When the villains quickly teleported to shift their positions, causing disorientation by being in different places, the "real" Superman projected three copied images of himself in the same way into three different areas of the Fortress, to fool the villains about his own multiple whereabouts. Superman was forced to release Zod, held in a head-lock stranglehold, when the other two - in a tug of war - threatened to pull Lois' arms from her body. Superman's love for Lois always functioned as his major weakness, and he had no recourse but to release Zod, who then proclaimed: "The son of Jor-El will be my slave, forever." Superman had to admit defeat (with Lois as their hostage), as Zod ordered: "Destroy this place."
Luthor was momentarily upset that promises made to him were not being rewarded by Zod, and complained to Superman about the Kryptonites' treachery ("Promises were made, gifts exchanged"). Superman plotted with the deceitful Luthor to trick the three into entering the Kryptonite molecular chamber to lose their super-powers -- but then Luthor predictably betrayed his secret to Zod: "Don't go in there, General. It's a trap!" Luthor activated the machine while Superman was forced to enter the chamber. However, this time, the lights in the entire interior of the Fortress turned red (Kryptonian sunlight), not inside the chamber. [Superman had cleverly reconfigured the machine before they arrived to reverse its effects, knowing that Luthor would betray him, so that anything outside the chamber would lose its powers when the machine was activated.] Superman appeared to writhe in agony in the chamber, and then emerged humiliated, to disgrace himself and penitently kneel before Zod to "swear eternal loyalty." He took Zod's hand - and crushed the bones in it - and then hurled the helpless Zod through the air into a far wall and to his doom in a crevasse. Non fell to his death in a second crevasse when attempting to fly away, and Lois punched Ursa in the face, sending her into the depths of a third crevasse. Although double-crossing Luthor claimed to Superman that he was in on the plot: "I was with you all the time," and tried to bargain for his release: "I promise to turn over a whole new leaf," Superman wouldn't listen, and left Luthor standing there.
Superman flew Lois back to Metropolis and deposited her on her outdoor penthouse terrace, as she promised: "I'll never tell them who you really are." The next day in her private office cubicle, Clark Kent came to speak to Lois, who had been up all night crying and trying to listen to the "voices of reason." She admitted being selfishly in love when it came to him: "And I'm jealous of the whole world," and described the pain she felt about keeping his identity a secret. Lois told him he would be a "tough act to follow" if she was told to find someone else. When he kissed her to reassure her of his love, it somehow erased her memory of her past few days of his being Superman - allowing her to function without that painful knowledge, and to keep his identity secret and safe so that he could continue to dutifully protect Earth.
In the film's epilogue, Clark entered the Alaskan diner where Rocky had beaten him up, and this time provoked the bullying truck driver into punching him in the stomach. Rocky's fist cracked as he hit solid rock, and then Clark spun Rocky's diner stool at a dizzying speed. He placed Rocky on the counter ("This order's to go") and shoved him down its entire length into a pinball machine, reading TILT. Clark paid the astonished, open-mouthed owner for the damage, and then casually explained: "I've been working out." In the final scene, Superman flew the American flag back to the top of the White House. He stood on the roof and apologized for being away so long. He then assured the President: "I won't let you down again," before soaring into the stratosphere above Earth, to vigilantly keep protective watch.
Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)
With a production budget of $54 million, and box-office gross receipts of $108 million (domestic).
Warner Bros. released the film in Europe at the end of 1980, but waited about seven months later to release it in the summer of 1981 in the US.
Director Richard Donner who directed the original film was replaced by Richard Lester for the sequel, amidst controversy between Donner and the producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind. Superman II combined director Richard Donner's 1977 footage with Richard Lester's 1979 footage. Approximately 25-30% of Lester's Superman II was Donner's footage.
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