The film opens with highlights of events from the first movie: Jor-El condemning three Kryptonian villains, General Zod, Non, and Ursa, to the Phantom Zone and sending his son, Kal-El, to Earth in a rocket ship, the launching of the two XK-101 missiles, Superman being trapped in the swimming pool by wearing the Kryptonite necklace by Lex Luthor and being rescued by Ms. Teschmacher, and Superman diverting the XK-101 missile programmed to hit Hackensack, New Jersey into outer space. Meanwhile, the Phantom Zone drifts through space towards Earth because the shock waves after the destruction of Krypton sends it on a new course, and the XK-101 missile explodes near it, causing shock waves that destroy the Phantom Zone, freeing the three villains, who then head toward the Moon.
Later, at The Daily Planet, Lois Lane begins to suspect that Clark Kent is Superman. She confirms this belief when she draws clothes that Clark is wearing on a picture of Superman in the newspaper; the posture of both looked almost the same. She tries to prove to Clark she knows his secret by jumping out of a window believing that Superman wouldn’t allow her to die. Instead, Clark races outside at super-speed and uses his super-breath and heat vision to slow her fall and open roof curtains to act as a trampoline. Lois bounces off them and lands in a fruit stand. By the time she looks up, Clark has already raced back up to the window and looks down, appearing not to have done anything at all.
General Zod, Non, and Ursa arrive on the Moon and kill all astronauts on a joint NASA-Soviet moon expedition. They note that they have become more powerful from how easily they have killed all of the moonwalkers, having acquired more powers from being closer to a yellow Sun. They decide to fly off to Earth, which they believe to be called ‘Houston’, upon overhearing radio transmissions between the moon mission and mission control in Houston, Texas.
In prison, Lex Luthor devises a plan with Otis to break out. When Otis reveals to Luthor that Superman always flies north to escape radar detection, Luthor decides to track him down using a ‘black box’ he has created that detects alpha waves. Luthor finally breaks out of jail with the help of Ms. Teschmacher using a hot air balloon, but leaves Otis behind as his weight holds the balloon down. Using the black box device, he goes north to the Fortress of Solitude. Luthor, activating the Fortress control panel, then learns from hologram recordings of Jor-El 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.
Meanwhile, Clark and Lois have arrived at Niagara Falls, Ontario to investigate a ‘honeymoon racket’ assigned to them by Perry White. Lois sees a boy falling over a railing and calls for help; Clark, outside of anyone’s sight, transforms into Superman to rescue him. Later, in their suite, Lois decides to try to prove again that Clark is Superman by pointing a gun at Clark and firing a shot. She looks with amazement as Clark, who is unharmed, removes his glasses and, giving Lois a stern look, says, “If you had been wrong, Clark Kent would have been killed.” Lois, in a humorous twist, reveals that she has used a blank in her gun. Meanwhile, the three Kryptonian villains arrive on Earth in a small town in Idaho, where they declare their reign over the entire planet to the townspeople after using their powers to easily stop incoming military forces. They then fly to the White House and easily defeat the military defenses that are protecting the President of the United States. General Zod forces the President to kneel before him as the President prays for Superman to come to the rescue.
Meanwhile, Superman takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude, where he confesses his love for her as they retire to his bedchamber and make love. Kal-El then 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. In order for him to relinquish being Superman, Kal-El must enter a crystal chamber and be exposed to harnessed rays from the Krypton red sun in order to lose his powers permanently Despite his father’s pleas to reconsider, Kal-El enters the chamber without hesitation and undergoes the de-powering process, which culminates in the destruction of the crystal control panel. Later, Clark and Lois visit a diner, Clark, now powerless, finds that he can’t even handle a bullying customer named Rocky, who easily beats him up. Clark’s mood is worsened when he watches the President announcing his surrender to General Zod on the diner’s TV. Clark realizes that he has to return to the Fortress and find a way to have his powers restored. Clark returns back at the Fortress, now a darkened sanctum, and calls out to his father for help. He then notices the Green Crystal glowing among the remains of the destroyed control panel and he uses the crystal to activate the panel. Jor-El appears and tells Kal-El about his terrible mistake and offers him one last resort to regain his powers – he will channel all of his remaining energy to his son, thereupon dying. Jor-El bids farewell and emerges in full body and spirit; upon touching Kal-El, he restores his son’s powers and dies by fading away.
Lex Luthor finally arrives at the White House and offers the three villains a way to find Superman, who he notes is the son of Jor-El, their imprisoner, in exchange for possession of ‘beachfront property’: Australia. Luthor agrees to help the three villains and hopefully find a way to have Superman defeated. The Kryptonian villains attack the Daily Planet and confront Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane. Superman appears, taking up Zod’s challenge to fight. During an epic battle in the Metropolis streets, Ursa and Non throw a bus at Superman crashing him into a building. To the people of Metropolis, Superman appears to be dead, and they try to attack the villains, who blow them back with super-breath (with much less slapstick than the Richard Lester version). However, Superman emerges alive, but flies off, seemingly in defeat. After the battle, Luthor offers the villains the location of the Fortress of Solitude, in exchange for Cuba.
The villains fly north bringing Luthor and Lois with them. When they arrive at the Fortress, they confront Superman and Zod threatens Lois’ life to force his surrender and, in the meantime, betray Luthor and plan to kill him as well. Luthor seemingly sides with Superman, who tells Luthor about trying to trick the villains into entering the de-powering chamber. However, Luthor double-crosses Superman and warns Zod of the trap in which Zod decides to spare Luthor’s life and agrees to the term of his demands. Superman enters the de-powering chamber and later emerges with a look of weakness and hopelessness on his face. Zod orders him to kneel and take his hand in submission, but Superman crushes his hand and throws him across the room down into the abyss below. Luthor then realizes that Superman switched the process so that the de-powering rays have been set loose in the Fortress while Superman has been safe inside the chamber. Non and Ursa are also defeated and Superman and Lois leave Luthor stranded in the Fortress and fly away (however, in a deleted scene it is stated that Luthor has been arrested and taken away by the artic police). Superman then uses his heat vision to destroy the Fortress and flies Lois home. Lois begins to break down in despair since 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 once again turns back time by flying around the Earth at tremendous speed and reversing events that have occurred throughout, such as the destruction and mayhem done to Metropolis during Superman’s battle with the villains and the shattering of the Phantom Zone that releases the Kryptonian villains, as well as Lois’ knowledge of his secret identity. The status quo is finally changed back to normal, although both Lois and Perry White seem to experience a sense of déjà vu. Clark also 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.”
Before I begin this review, in case you didn’t catch in the title or plot synopsis, I need to make sure that you all know this is about the Richard Donner cut (the way Superman II was intended to be) of the film, so if you were expecting a review of the “standard” version, you will be sadly disappointed.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I have to say this is one of the best sequels I’ve seen in my lifetime and a worthy sequel to Superman. Of course, this did come out in a time when sequels were made to improve upon the original and keep the story going rather than make a quick buck like today’s films.
Christopher Reeve does more of an acting job in this film than in the last, showing conflicting emotions as both Clark Kent and Superman. Reeve really captures Superman’s “weakness” for both Lois and humanity here in this film. I did find it a bit funny that with his longer hair in some scenes he resembled Zack Efron.
Margot Kidder isn’t annoying as Lois Lane as she is in the first, except for her constant prodding and assumptions that Clark Kent is indeed Superman. Once that gets out of the way, though, she becomes your typical damsel in distress.
Gene Hackman takes a backseat to the Kryptonian villains from the Phantom Zone here, but is no less effective or eccentric as Lex Luthor.
Speaking of the Phantom Zone villains, Terence Stamp is perfect as General Zod. The lack of emotion on his face is fitting of a man who wants nothing more than to rule and case destruction. Not to mention the fact that he utter s the infamous line, “Kneel before Zod.”
An upgrade that this film has above its predecessor is that there is actually a fight scene. Superman squares off against the three villains in downtown Metropolis for a good 5-10 minutes near the end of the film. Why can’t all Superman films include a fight song. This one proves that even though it isn’t the longest fight in history, it makes for an even more exciting film.
It’s been years since I’ve seen the original Superman II cut, so I can’t tell you all the differences and what I think of them, but from what I hear, this film is far superior to the wannabe version that is considered the “real” film. There is a nice mixture of action and drama, and even a bit of comedy thrown in for good measure. Who wouldn’t like this film? It is a sure-fire must-see for everyone.
4 1/2 out 5 stars