As seen in the 1978 Superman movie, Krypton arch-criminals General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and dumb-as-rocks but powerful Non (Jack O-Halloran), were sentenced to eternal banishment in the Phantom Zone by Superman’s father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) for insurrection and murder. Shortly thereafter, Krypton was destroyed as its supergiant sun went nova and the criminals have been trapped for thirty years. Now, Krypton child exile Kal-El, sent to Earth for safety, has grown into Superman (Christopher Reeve), protector of Earth. Diverting a rogue missile into space, he accidentally frees the trio from captivity.
At the Daily Planet newspaper in Metropolis, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) suspects that Clark Kent is Superman. She actually jumps out a window to test her theory, but he saves her without showing up. Mastermind Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) is busted out of prison by his girlfriend Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), but he leaves his own dumb-as-rocks henchmen Otis (Ned Beatty) behind, thankfully. Luthor finds and breaks into Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. He learns of General Zod and his cronies and wants to meet them. They, in fact, are on the Moon, discovering their powers under the yellow sun and casually murdering astronauts.
Editor Perry White (Jackie Cooper) has Lois and Clark pose as newlyweds to learn about a honeymoon suite scam at Niagara Falls. Superman saves a young boy on the falls; Lois is suspicious again and tricks Clark into revealing his alter ego. He takes her to the Fortress of Solitude. Zod, Ursa, and Non arrive on Earth and take over a town in Idaho. They learn that the U.S. Military takes orders from the President, and they go after him in the White House.
Superman, wishing to be a real boy—sorry, wishing to be a normal person—exposes himself to red kryptonite and loses his powers. On the way home, he is beaten up by a trucker and learns of Zod’s invasion. So, he has to go back to the Fortress of Solitude and get his powers back. To do this, he joins with the power of his father Jor-El, which makes the Fortress of Solitude inoperable.
Lex Luthor arrives at the White House. He makes a deal with Zod and gets Australia for his kingdom as a reward. They all go to Metropolis to kidnap Lois. Superman arrives and battles the Krytonian criminals but does not yet have all his powers. He flees to the Fortress of Solitude, and they pursue him there, taking both Luther and Lois. The Fortress of Solitude is getting crowded. They supposedly strip Superman of his powers again, but he has reversed the process, perhaps by reversing the polarity of the neutron flow as Doctor Who does all the time, so Zod and cronies are the ones rendered helpless.
They are quickly defeated, and Superman destroys the Fortress with his heat vision. He returns Lois to her apartment, where they realize they cannot be together with constantly putting her in danger. He spins the Earth backwards again (Please!) which put the Zod Gang back in the Phantom Zone. Next time they meet. Lois has a vague feeling of déja vu but can’t quite figure out why. Clark returns to the diner to give the mean trucker a lesson, though I don’t know how the people at the diner remember that incident.
The version of Superman II that I saw this time is called the Donner Cut—a re-edited director’s cut made in 2006. It contains footage by Richard Donner that was excised when he was replaced by Richard Lester. It was re-edited by Michael Thau and Tom Mankiewicz, the son of the brilliant Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It is generally, though not universally, considered to be superior to the 1980 release. For me, I’m happy that so much of the so-called comedy has been edited out. Twelve tons of footage from both Superman movies had been discovered in vaults in England. The Internet was largely responsible for this event, and a number of lawyers were involved. Superheroes in the comics literally spent decades hiding their identities. I suppose the creators of the movies were as sick of this as much as I was. In any event, in the movies, the superheroes tend to give up this information to their girlfriends at the drop of a hat.
Superman III was directed by Lester, whose slapstick style was perfect for the Beatles. It was basically a comedy co-starring Richard Pryor. I love Richard Pryor. His concert movies are just about the funniest I have ever seen, and he was wonderful paired with Gene Wilder in Silver Streak, but I think Superman deserves a little decorum and gravitas. Superman IV: Quest for Peace was a nuclear disarmament essay by Christopher Reeve. It was a low-budget film, a critical failure, and a box-office disappointment. In the Donner version of Superman II, the character shows more genuine emotion and Lois Lane is, on balance, more intelligent, both of which I liked a lot. Christopher Reeve was thrown from a horse in 1995 and never walked again, but he continued to act and died in 2004. Margot Kidder had serious emotional problems and committed suicide in 2018.