Superman and Superman II were originally to be filmed back-to-back, but ultimately, production on II was halted to complete Superman. Once it was completed and a success, the crew went back to finish II. However, Richard Donner, the director of the first film, was not asked to finish the film (that job went to Richard Lester); the reasons vary, but the main reason seems to be creative differences. At this time, Donner had already filmed what he says was 75% of the film, so what ended up happening was Lester re-filmed certain scenes and changed up some stuff, which led to the film being, technically, co-directed, with 65-75% of the film being shot by Lester and the reaming being done originally by Donner. To this day there is still controversy on the whole thing. Donner's true vision was never shown to the public until him and some of the crew restored and made Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut in 2006. Regardless of the controversy and problems, Superman II was a big hit with fans and critics alike, with some saying it surpasses the original.
Indeed, Superman II manages to be better than its predecessor - as a movie, anyway. What I mean to say is this: Superman had a better story but Superman II was a better movie overall. Much of this has to do with the fact that Superman II is really a continuation and conclusion (of sorts) to the story that began in Superman. The film stars everyone who was important in the first film (except Marlon Brando) and the cast do an excellent job again. While some characters don't get as much spotlight as they did in the first film (Lex Luthor, Perry White) the film makes up for it (and makes you forget about it) with three characters that first appeared in the original: General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O'Halloran). These three are the main villains of the movie and are the best part of Superman II. But what would Superman II be without the Man of Steel himself? Christopher Reeve returns, being just as great as he was in the first one and Margot Kidder also returns as Lois Lane, who is much more likable this time around.
The story continues from Superman, bringing along with it slight allusions to the story of Christ (Resurrection) and great themes concerning the idea of self-fishness and accepting one's destiny. Like I said, the story isn't as good or as epic as the first film, but it's continuing a story so it's understandable and forgivable, especially when the action makes up for it. That's something Superman II has that Superman didn't seem to have too much of: action.
The bad guys are great and true individuals: Zod is an arrogant egomaniac who keeps telling people to kneel before him and plans to rule the planet Earth (because he can, right?); Ursa is Zod's second in command and she is a sexy and cold foe with moves of her own and an attitude that shows she cares not for human life (her outfit is also the only one of the three that has opened slits on it's arms and legs, revealing her skin, which didn't seem like a surprising choice of style in her costume's design); Non is a brute that is -what else?- mute, but still a force to be reckoned with. The three Kryptonian villains wreak havoc whenever they're around and it's their interactions with Earth and it's people that is, in my opinion, the best part of the movie. Every scene involving them is excellent and arguably their scenes alone can make the film worth watching. As for Superman? He's just as super as ever: saving the day and being the good guy he was born to be. Clark Kent is also just as fantastic, maybe even better than how we was last time, but that's debatable (not to mention a pointless thing to debate). Lois Lane seems to be the most improved here, not being as annoying and being more entertaining. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman, receiving top billing once again) is just as arrogant and hilarious, but like I mentioned before, he isn't in the movie as much (some of his scenes were cut). Even so, he still has scenes that are true highlights (one scene involving him and Ursa is a particular favorite of mine).
Sadly, I don't have as much to say about this film as I did for the first (probably because it's not as epic and doesn't have as much depth), but I do have some other things to say: The film is a bit shorter than Superman. II also features a main title sequence nearly identical to the first film (with some scenes from the first movie thrown in). The score isn't composed by John Williams this time, but it still features some of his original compositions. Unlike Superman, II doesn't seem to take place in a specific year, but we can only assume it's '79 or '80. The film has plenty of humor but didn't make me laugh as much as the first film did - maybe because I saw it in the morning in a college library as opposed to how I saw the first film: in my house at night with a glass of soda. There's also a scene that I thought was awesome for no reason involving Superman and a cellophane S (you might even know what I'm talking about). Also, Marlboro has its brand shown more than once throughout the film, but is only obnoxious about it in one popular sequence; this is because Marlboro was II's biggest sponsor. The one scene I found a tad unnecessary involves Zod and Ursa using their blow-wind-from-my-mouth power to blow people and cars away. There's nothing wrong with the scene itself, I just think it went on longer than it had to. Also, it should be mentioned that the special effects in this film are spectacular.
Superman II is a film that doesn't so much improve on its predecessor as much as it takes a slightly different approach and makes a better film overall. While the story isn't as grand, the film has more action, more enjoyable characters, a great ending, and terrific dialogue, featuring some of the best quotes I've heard in any movie ("Lex Luthor, ruler of Australia"). The action is great and the romance between Lane and Kent builds up to gather interest (or at least some interest). And even with a less than amazing story, the film still manages to address grand themes of sacrifice and destiny that, if elaborated on in this review, would surly spoil the film. Overall, Superman II is an excellent picture that rivals the original and has still to this day garnered respect and praise by fans and critics alike.