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Did Superman Kill General Zod in SUPERMAN II?


Did Superman kill General Zod in Superman II? No, he didn't, and I'll explain why.

Movies often look very different from the perspective of a child. I was young when I saw the Superman sequel and the movie thrilled me. It's not perfect but, to me, it was wonderful seeing Superman facing off against the trio of Kryptonian villains. The ending was a little confusing but it seemed to wrap everything up perfectly. 

For those who may not have seen it Superman II opens with a flashback to the last days of Superman's home planet of Krypton. It's actually footage from the first film. Three criminals named General Zod, Ursa, and Non are on trial. Superman's father Jor-El sentenced to banishment into the Phantom Zone. Zod vows revenge as they're exiled. The movie then moves to the modern-day. Superman tries to get rid of a nuclear weapon and accidentally frees the trio from the Phantom Zone. They head towards Earth killing astronauts on the way. 

Meanwhile, Superman reveals his true identity as Clark Kent to Lois. Realizing he can't be with her as Superman he goes to the Fortress of Solitude and uses a Kryptonian chamber to turn him into a normal human. He gives up his powers to be with her. The two are blissfully unaware that Zod, Ura, and Non are wreaking havoc on the world. 

Zod demands the planet bow to his will. When Superman realizes what's happened. So he returns to the Fortress and restores his powers. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor escapes from jail. He goes to the fortress and learns the history of  Superman's father Jor-El and General Zod. He uses the information to convince Zod to confront his jailer in exchange for Australia. Superman flies to Metropolis and confronts Zod. The three Kryptonians battle across the world before Superman lures them to the Fortress. 

He tricks them into sending him into the crystal chamber to remove his powers. But it's revealed that the chamber had been reversed and it removes Zod, Ursa, and Non's powers instead. He picks up Zod and throws him into an abyss. Lois decks Ursa sending her into the pit. Non, who's not too bright, tries to fly and falls into the abyss. The day is saved. Clark kisses Lois to make her forget his secret and we never hear from the three Kryptonians again.

When I was a kid I didn't think much about it. Villains often die in old movies by falling. Percival C. McLeach from The Rescuers: Down Under, the wicked Queen from Snow White, and Scar from Lion King. They all die by falling. This one seemed even easier to take because we don't see them die. It's just implied.

But somewhere in my young mind, I thought the abyss was actually a path back into the Phantom Zone. I don't know where I got that idea but it stuck.


No one really thought much about this scene until the backlash against General Zod's death in Man of Steel (2013). Superman is a historically peace-loving character. Many fans complained he wouldn't kill General Zod like this. Suddenly everyone was using the scene in Superman to justify Kal-El snapping Zod's neck. 

But are they right? Did we really see Superman kill Zod in 1980?

History of the Superman Movie

First, we have to get into the history of Superman II. Richard Donner originally intended Superman: The Movie and the sequel to be the same movie cut in half. So he filmed all of the first film and about 70-75% of the second film. Behind the scenes, things got tense.  The production was running two weeks behind schedule. The notoriously frugal producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind were getting upset.

The rising production budget and the schedule overruns were escalating tensions between them. Donner and the Salkinds got to the point where they didn't even speak with each other. Richard Lester, who had worked with the Salkinds before came on board and became a go-between for the director and producers. Upset by the rising costs the producers stopped production on Superman months before it was supposed to be completed. This forced Donner to abandon work on Superman II and complete the first film. 

How Was Superman Supposed to End?



What was the original ending for Superman? In Mario Puzo's shooting script the movie was supposed to end with Superman stopping most of Lex Luthor's missiles. However, he can't stop them all, and massive quakes rock California. But he saves the day. 

The movie would end with a cliffhanger. One of the missiles he threw into space explodes and releases the three villains from their interdimensional prison. The last scene would show the three evil Kryptonians howling with glee as they drift in space.  

CLOSE 0N ROCKET

The ROCKET nears the Phantom Zone, then suddenly explodes. The massive shock waves ripple furiously through space. 

CLOSE ON PHANTOM ZONE 

The intense waves caused by the nuclear explosion collide with the Phantom Zone. It cracks releasing the VILLAINS.  They rush to the opened section and their unexpected freedom. NON lets out the horrible roar or an animal suddenly uncaged.

ZOD
Free!

URSA
Free!

Their grotesque faces fill the SCREEN with howls of glee as they drift off into space.

Here's where it gets fun. Donner was in a tough spot. He didn't know if the second film would ever get made. 

The theatrical version ends with Superman flying around the world to turn back time and save the day. But that was supposed to be the ending for Superman II. To save costs and prevent wasting massive special effects shots he moved that scene to the end of the first film. 

The ending we see in Superman: The Movie is not the original ending. This is important.

History of Superman II

The first movie was a hit and the sequel was announced. But Donner refused to return to finish the sequel without getting more control. 

So Ilya and Alexander Salkind fired him by telegram and hired Lester as director to finish the film. The new director reshot most of the film and changed a ton of the story.

Did General Zod Die in Superman II?

The original ending for Superman II is very similar to the theatrical version except for some key changes. According to the shooting script for Superman II the three supervillains were supposed to be knocked out and fall to the floor instead of into the pit. 

ZOD is hurled helplessly through the air the entire length of the Fortress, crashes against the far wall, drops to the floor.

BACK TO SCENE

LUTHOR horrified, suddenly realizes what's happened.

LUTHOR
He switched it! He did it to them! The lights were on our here! He was the only one safe in here!

NON rushes at SUPERMAN with a roar, is tossed into the wall in a heap like a rag doll. 
LOIS turns to URSA, the new information sinking in.

LOIS
You're a real pain in the neck, you know that?

LOIS uncorks a tremendous haymaker, knocks URSA out cold on the floor. 

General Zod and his men are now helpless without their powers. A deleted scene shows them being arrested by the Arctic Patrol along with Lex Luthor.



 

This shows that they originally planned for the three to survive and what we saw is an incomplete part of the story. The three never died in the theatrical cut. We missed the part where they were arrested. Does that make sense? Sure. 

What kind of jail sentence would you get for murdering dozens of people and trying to over throw the government of the United States? They'd be in jail for life and we'd never see them again. That's exactly what happened to the three villains.

Even though the characters never returned that doesn't mean they were dead. Did Otis die after the prison break? Did Ms. Tessmacher die after being arrested? No. We can't assume a character is dead because we don't see them again. So we can assume the three are still alive in jail.

Did General Zod Die in the Original Ending for Superman II?

Now, what was Donner's original plan for Superman to deal with the villains? Years later he got the chance to show us in the "Richard Donner Cut". Like in the theatrical version the re-edited movie ends with the three being defeated. Also, Superman uses his heat vision to destroy the Fortress of Solitude. Does that kill them? We don't know. The three are powerless. 

Meanwhile, Superman can't reconcile the death and destruction caused by the three villains. So he flies around the world and reverses time. That means the three are never released from the Phantom Zone and Earth is spared. His time with Lois is lost. But the Kryptonian villains are never killed.

The point is no matter which version you look at Superman didn't kill Zod. In the theatrical version, there was a scene showing them being arrested. In the original script, Superman was supposed to turn back time and they were never killed. 

So, while it's possible to watch the movie any way you like, the reality is that Superman didn't kill Zod in Superman II. I hope that ends that debate. 


About the Author
Maurice Mitchell has been a passionate science-fiction fan of movies, television, books, and comics since age five. He and his twin brother Nigel created the site "The Geek Twins" to share that passion. Maurice has written and created infographics for sites like The Geek Twins and About.com. His work has been featured on sites like Business Insider, io9 Slashfilm and more.
Read more of his posts | Follow him on Twitter @Mauricem1972 

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