Superman II is the 1980 sequel to the 1978 superhero film Superman. It was the only Superman film to be filmed by two directors (minus the alternate cut, see below). For this reason the film is surrounded with controversy since original director Richard Donner had completed, by his estimation, roughly 75% of the movie in 1977 before being taken off the project. Many of the scenes shot by second director Richard Lester (who had been an uncredited producer on the first film) in 1979 are refilmed Donner sequences. It was released in Europe and Australia in late 1980 but not in the United States until June 1981. Selected premiere engagements of Superman II were presented in Megasound, a high-impact surround sound system similar to Sensurround. It has since become the most fan-edited movie of all time, surpassing even the Star Wars movies.
A prologue recounts the trial of the Kryptonian criminals as seen at the beginning of Superman (in this version of the scene, Jor-El is absent from the trial; owing to a dispute between Marlon Brando and the Salkinds, Brando's voice was dubbed over while he was physically removed from the film's negative) in which General Zod and his co-conspirators, Ursa and Non, are banished to the Phantom Zone by the Kryptonian high council as punishment for attempting to establish a dictatorship to rule Krypton.
After the opening credits, which recapitulate many important scenes from Superman, Clark Kent arrives for work and learns from his boss Perry White that Lois Lane is in France, where terrorists have seized the Eiffel Tower and threatened to destroy the city with a hydrogen bomb contained in an elevator. Clark immediately transforms into Superman and flies to Paris. He arrives just as the French authorities make an ill-advised attempt to disarm the terrorists by blowing up the support cables to the elevator where they are keeping the bomb. This activates the timer on the bomb and sends Lois plummeting. Superman catches the elevator, putting Lois out of harm's way, before throwing the elevator out of the atmosphere and into deep space, where it explodes. The shockwaves shatter the crystalline conduit into the Phantom Zone now floating near Earth, whereupon Zod, Non, and Ursa are released.
Lex Luthor, meanwhile, has escaped prison with Miss Teschmacher's help, leaving a hapless Otis behind. Luthor locates Superman's Arctic Fortress of Solitude, where he learns from a hologram about the three Kryptonian villains. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together, he hurries south, convinced that his device has detected the three criminals' alpha wave signatures.
Clark and Lois are sent on assignment to Niagara Falls, Ontario, investigating what Perry calls a "honeymoon racket". They are walking near the falls when a boy drops over the railing. In the confusion, Clark is able to change into Superman unseen and save the boy. Lois, seeing this, suspects that Superman and Clark are one and the same. Soon after, she tries to prove it by jumping into the Niagara River, screaming for Superman to save her. Clark, however, does not change his identity and remains in his civilian identity while feigning panic and using, unbeknownst to Lois, his heat-projecting vision to sever a tree branch for Lois to use to stay afloat. After Lois reaches shore, she scolds herself for putting herself in danger and for believing Superman could be Clark.
However, later in their hotel room, Clark's powers are revealed when he accidentally trips and falls onto the fireplace. Seeing that he is unscathed, Lois realizes the truth. After some hesitation, Clark admits his secret identity and takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude, showing her the crystals that created it and control its operations; given a green crystal to examine, Lois inadvertently leaves it under her purse, outside the control panel. After a conversation with the hologram of his mother Lara about the consequences of being in love with an Earthly woman, Superman agrees to give up his powers in order to begin a relationship with Lois, despite warnings that the process is irreversible. The process, which bombards Clark with a replication of the energy output spectrum of Krypton's sun, destroys the crystal control console. The two then retire to his bedchamber.
Meanwhile, the three Kryptonian criminals have escaped from being imprisoned by Jor-El, have devastated a joint NASA-Soviet moon expedition, killing three astronauts. They fly to Earth, which they believe is called "Planet Houston" (having overheard radio transmissions with Mission Control in Houston, Texas). They wreak havoc on the town of East Houston, Idaho, easily defeating the U.S. military. After defacing Mount Rushmore, the trio attacks the White House, where Zod forces the President of the United States to kneel before him.
Returning from the Fortress of Solitude, the now-depowered Clark is beaten in a diner by a bully. His despondent mood worsens when, in horror, he watches the President announcing his abdication and Zod's now-supreme authority over the Earth. The President suddenly pleads for Superman's help, while Zod issues a challenge to Superman to face him. Realizing the danger posed to the world and the terrible mistake he has made, Clark returns to the Fortress in search of a way to restore his lost powers. Arriving in the dark sanctum, he falls into despair, but abruptly sees the green crystal glowing where Lois accidentally left it and (presumably, though this is not shown) uses it to restore himself.
Meanwhile, General Zod and his cronies have grown bored of ruling the Earth and desire a challenge. Lex Luthor pays them a visit in the Oval Office and negotiates a means to lure Superman to the villains by holding Lois hostage. He also reveals that Superman is the son of Jor-El, their imprisoner, knowing they will want revenge. They arrive at the Daily Planet offices and seize Lois, only to be interrupted by the arrival of Superman, whose powers are fully restored. A destructive battle ensues among the three Kryptonians as Superman struggles with the new experience of battling multiple enemies who match his abilities. During the battle, Ursa and Zod discover Superman's concern for human life and use this against him. Finally, Superman flees, seemingly in defeat. Luthor then convinces the villains that they must pursue Superman to his Fortress.
At the Fortress of Solitude, Superman presents himself atop an opening above them. Non immediately launches himself at him but is cast back to the ground by a triangular entrapment fabric thrown by Superman. Superman then repels all three of them and later attempts to distract the villains with a hologram that creates multiple images of himself throughout the fortress. This interesting duel concludes when Zod, slightly unsure, is seized and overpowered by the real Superman. However, after grappling with Zod, Ursa and Non threaten to tear Lois limb from limb, whereupon Superman agrees to release Zod and capitulate to them to spare her life. Superman manipulates Luthor into tricking the criminals, counting on Luthor to double-cross him. Superman is forced into the same depowering chamber he used before; but the Kryptonian sunlight is set loose on the Fortress. The three supervillains are drained of their powers while Superman, shielded in the chamber, is unchanged. Upon emerging, he defeats Zod while Lois overcomes Ursa. Non, attempting to fly, finds himself incapable. All three villains fall into the depths of Superman's fortress, apparently to their doom.
In Metropolis, Clark finds Lois in her office regretting her selfishness in desiring Clark to be hers alone. Clark then kisses Lois and in the process uses a form of telepathy to erase the knowledge of his dual identity from Lois, returning them to their former status quo.
Later, Clark takes revenge on the customer who bullied him at the diner, claiming that he has developed his muscles since their previous encounter. The film closes with Superman restoring the American flag atop the White House and assuring the President that he will never again abandon his duty. Flying away into the reaches of outer space, he smiles, knowing that all is right with the world he now protects.
According to statements by Donner, roughly 25% of the theatrical cut of Superman II contains footage he shot, including all of Gene Hackman's scenes. In 1984, when Superman II premiered on television, 24 minutes were re-inserted into the film (17 minutes on the American Broadcasting Company). Much of the extra footage was directed by Richard Donner. In the ABC-TV version, a U.S. "polar patrol" is shown picking up the three Kryptonians and Lex Luthor at the end of the film. Without this ending, it appears that Superman has let the Kryptonians die, though Superman has a strict code against killing and their deaths aren't necessary once they are depowered. On the other hand, the theatrical version's ending implies that Luthor is left stranded at the Fortress of Solitude, leaving the viewer to wonder how he got to prison in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace--that question was answered in the extended versions. The ending of the extended cuts also has Superman, with Lois standing beside him, destroy the Fortress of Solitude.
A brand new re-cut of the film, restoring as much of Donner's original conception as possible, titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, was released in November 2006. The latter part of the aforementioned scene can also be found on Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, while the part where the police arrive is a deleted scene.