Superman II Finally Makes Sense

Superman II, originally released in 1980, had a plot hole the size of Kansas.

Having decided to give up his life of saving the world and what-not so that he could instead enjoy the occasional snuggle with Lois Lane, Superman consults with the spectral image of his mother. She tells him that, in order to do so, he must give up his powers by stepping into a molecular chamber, and that he CAN NEVER EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES EVER GET HIS POWERS BACK. WITH NO EXCEPTIONS.

NO KIDDING.

Superman then steps into the molecular chamber, where he loses his powers.

Then, guess what? About fifteen minutes later, he has his powers back.

There is no explanation as to what happened. He returns to the Fortress of Solitude. A green crystal glows very eerily, and the next thing we know he is flying all over the place, fighting with super villans.

It turns out that Superman II, which was originally shot alongside the first Superman film, had to be re-worked after Marlon Brando successfully sued the producers for a substantial cut of the first film’s revenue. As a result, the scenes  involving Superman giving up his powers and then getting them back – which involved footage originally shot with Brando – never made it into the film. A new director was brought on to replace Richard Donner, director of the first film, and a newly revised script now had Superman in dialog with his mother in these critical scenes.

200px-sup2-donner-dvd.jpgBut now, thanks to the efforts of a handful of editors, sound engineers, and effects people, Richard Donner’s original vision of Superman II can be viewed on DVD. I just finished watching it – and it was instantly my impression that getting rid of Brando and Donner in the sequel was the mistake that sent this very promising film series into the tank.

Here’s how the plot involving Superman losing his powers originally played out:

Superman consults with a spectral vision of Brando/Jor-El and is told that he must give up his powers if he wants to live the life of a mortal. This is very similar to the conversation with his mother in the 1980 film. However…

When he returns to try and get his powers back, he has ANOTHER conversation with Jor-El. Jor-El says he anticipated that this might happen, and that he allowed in advance for one, last hope – by giving up his own, last strength, preserved by Kryptonian technology in the Fortress of Solitude, Jor-El will give Superman his powers back. That is, Jor-El offers to give up his life so that Superman can return.

Brando’s last words before his second “death” in the series? He says that a prophecy will now be fulfilled: The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son. These are the same, last words that he speaks to infant Kal-El before he leaves Krypton. In other words, Superman must now think of who he is as both father (Jor-El) AND son (Kal-El). He must be faithful to who his father was, as well as to who he is.

It is so obvious now: this scene – tragically cut from the 1980 film – was the thing that tied it all together. Not only are we given a plausible, if still slightly cryptic explanation, for how Superman’s powers return, but it underscores the theme of Jor-El’s sacrificial act in giving Superman to the world and adds a whole new layer of meaning to the subsequent conflict and dialog between Superman and the three Kryptonian villans that Jor-El originally imprisoned. In short, without this scene, Superman I and II become disjointed, lacking in continuity or adequate exposition of the motivations of the characters.  With it, the first two films form a very tight, very sensible couplet that is centered on the themes of fathers, sons, love, sacrifice, and faithfulness to identity.

If you have ever been a fan of the Superman films, rent Richard Donner’s 2006 director’s cut. It will give you a whole new perspective not only on Superman II, but on the original film as well.

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3 Responses to Superman II Finally Makes Sense

  1. Thurman8er says:

    So what about that magic “forget everything” kiss?

    I can’t wait to see the Donner cut. I’ve been hearing about it for years. Sadly, I have to wait until after Christmas since I’m virtually assured of getting it then. I’m holding out for the whole Superman set that includes the new version of Superman II, Superman Returns, and a whole slew of extras including some restored Fleischer cartoons.

    Can you imagine how good part II would have been if Donner had been allowed to flesh it out and actually finish it?

  2. Matt says:

    Thurm-

    The kiss – the second lamest element in the 1980 version – is also, thankfully, gone. I won’t spoil it for you, but its a much better way of dealing with the problem of getting Lois back to where she doesn’t know about the Clark/Superman thing.

    Also, you’ll have to tell me more about the boxed set once you have it in hand.

  3. logan says:

    a see the movie…..genial….

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