Forget Nuclear Man and Richard Pryor's computer hacker and Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor; for the last three decades, Superman's greatest movie threat has been irrelevance. It's been 30 years since the release of 'Superman II' (on June 19, 1981), the last Man of Steel film that pleased both fans and critics, and the last that treated the iconic character with the storytelling verve and dignity he deserves.
'Superman II' was notoriously taken away from its original director and largely re-shot by a director with a more comic sensibility, and yet the revised film worked so well that it remains a fan favorite to this day, one that's had an indelible influence on all the great comic book movies that have followed. Not even the sillier 'Superman III' (1983) and 'Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,' (1987) nor the reverent but airless 'Superman Returns' (2006), can dim the luster of Christopher Reeve's triumphant, poignant turn in the 1981 feature.
There have been countless attempts over the last 30 years to recapture the magic of 'Superman II,' with Warner Bros. spending hundreds of millions on efforts by big-name stars and directors to reboot the franchise, efforts that never came to fruition. Now that a new reboot is in the works (2012's 'Man of Steel') that will again try to erase the last 30 years of misfires, it's worth looking back at 'Superman II' to see why it worked, why the Superman saga stalled after that, and how the red-caped hero can recapture his former screen glory.