Superman II was released in 1980, so just manages to fly its way into the films of our favourite decade. The first Superman film (full title Superman: The Movie) was a blockbuster success, making the now late Christopher Reeve a household name, and still the actor most people with associate the role with. So much so in fact that it seems the makers of the recent Superman Returns film chose actor Brandon Routh because of his similarities to Christopher Reeve.
In this film Superman has to face not only his usual foe Lex Luthor, but also three villains from his home planet, who of course also have the same super abilities that Superman has, being orginally residents of Superman’s home planet Krypton. These bad guys are General Zod (played by Terence Stamp), Ursa and Non, who were foiled in their plot to take over Krypton. As punishment they were imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, which was represented as a flat spinning rectangle in space in which they were somehow trapped – I guess it must have been some kind of weird dimension changing thingy!
Superman inadvertantly frees the evil trio from their prison when he saves Paris from being levelled by a hydrogen bomb that has been put on the Eiffel Tower by some terrorists. Superman throws the hydrogen bomb into space to protect Paris, but unfortunately the Phantom Zone device is close to Earth at the time and the shockwave from the bomb shatters it (is a shockwave in space even possible? I don’t think so, but never mind, eh?).
Once freed Zod and his miniature army first descend on the moon, scuppering an expedition that just so happens to be taking place, and then fly to Earth. They have a battle with the military (I always laugh at the bit where Non grabs a missile out of the air and bends it in half – the missile looks a little too much like it’s made out a plastic!), deface some famous landmarks, and finally enter the White House and take over the USA.
In the meantime, Clark Kent, Superman’s secret alter ego, is at Niagara Falls with Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) . They are pretending to be a honeymooning couple whilst researching a news story, but Clark’s real identity is discovered by Lois when he drops his glasses in the roaring fireplace, and is not burnt when he retrieves them. At first Clark tries to talk his way out of it, but eventually admits the truth. He takes Lois to visit his Fortress of Solitude, his retreat deep in the arctic.
Unaware of the arrival of the three supervillains, Superman decides that in order to fully realise his love for Lois, he will need to give up his superpowers. Luckily the Fortress is equipped to do this, so Superman becomes Clark Kent for good, as the process can not be reversed.
On returning to Metropolis Clark realises the mistake he has made when he is first beaten up in a diner, and then realises that the Earth is now in danger from General Zod. To make matters worse Lex Luthor has teamed up with Zod and his chums in order to finally get rid of Superman once and for all.
Clark returns to the Fortress of Solitude to try and find a way of regaining his powers, which of course he does – nothing is truly irreversible it would seem! The supervillains and Lex Luthor track him to the Fortress and a battle commences. Superman is winning until Ursa and Non get hold of Lois, threatening to kill her. Superman reluctantly agrees to step back into the Superpower-removal-a-tron, but the trick is on the supervillains as Superman has reversed the system so that he is safe and anyone outside the chamber will have their powers removed. Now Zod, Ursa and Non are powerless, making it simple for Superman to defeat them and return the world to order.
Interestingly there are now two versions of the Superman II film. Originally the film was directed by Richard Donner, but he was removed from the film before it’s completion and a new director took over. The original theatrical release has since been remastered and had some of the footage filmed by Donner reinserted. The main point of difference is that the whole plot involving the Eiffel Tower has been removed, and is replaced by a nuclear missile explosion that was originally in the ending to Superman: The Movie. There is also an alternative ending in the Fortress of Solitude.