The action begins with Superman (Christopher Reeve) foiling the attempts of terrorists to blow up the Eiffel Tower with a hydrogen bomb.
Flying to Paris faster than the Concorde, the man of steel saves twenty hostages as well as Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), who is climbing up the tower in heels and a lavender fashion ensemble muttering “Pulitzer Prize, Pulitzer Prize” to keep from freaking out before Superman plucks her to safety.
He takes the bomb into deep space where it can do no harm – or so he thinks. In fact, the shock waves from its detonation release three dangerous villains by shattering the Phantom Zone – an extraordinary prison in which the power-mad General Zod (Terence Stamp), the beautiful but wicked Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and the brutish giant Non (Jack O’Halloran) were sealed, supposedly forever, by the Kryptonian Council of Elders just before their world exploded.
Later, while Superman is retrieving a drowning child from Niagara Falls and lowering his defences to Lois’s female charms, his three alien enemies are moving closer to earth, stopping on the moon to murder some American and Soviet astronauts along the way.
Sneering at the Declaration of Independence and demolishing Mount Rushmore and replacing the faces with their own images en route, the villains are clearly a threat to mankind.
The evil trio land in the sleepy rural village of East Houston in the American state of Idaho where they cause havoc until they are searched out by Superman’s old nemesis, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), freshly escaped from prison.
Lex tries to gain favour with Zod, Ursa and Non by promising to lead them to Superman so they can destroy him – all in return for a small favour – like being named “King of Australia.”
But where is Superman when the country needs him most?
He’s in bed with Lois (!) discovering the magic of post-coital bliss, junk food, rock music and probably quaaludes (sex with Superman, Lois learns, is a psychedelic experience – she floats, as though stoned).
Stripped of his powers by the love of a woman, Superman is disgraced when he can’t even protect her against a bully – Are you ready for Superman being beaten up in a roadside diner by a redneck hillbilly truck driver?
There’s only one thing to do: Superman must denounce Lois, give up women, get back into those blue long johns (no more need for phone booths since his cover is blown anyway) and clean up the world.
The movie’s most inventive sequence is the showdown in the middle of Times Square where Superman retrieves his powers long enough to pucker his cheeks and blow up a hurricane, freeze a flaming oil truck with his breath, hurl Terence Stamp through the Coca-Cola sign and use the Empire State Building’s radio mast as a jousting lance.
None of this makes any sense, of course.
Two more Superman instalments followed, without success.