Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980/2006)

2986690_640pxStarring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Marlon Brando, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, E.G. Marshall, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Valerie Perrine, Clifton James, Marc McClure

Directed by Richard Donner

Expectations: I’m so excited.

threehalfstar


So all those problems I wrote about in my review for the theatrical version of Superman II? Gone. The Richard Donner Cut is head and shoulders a better film, reconstructing the original vision for the follow-up story to the first film perfectly. It’s a true shame that Donner wasn’t allowed to finish this at the time, as it really could have led to a much better Superman series if they let him continue making them after the first two films. Donner expresses a long-gone desire for doing this in the “Making Of” featurette on the DVD, and you can see the pain in his eyes. Even so many years later, it’s still a sore subject.

Watching the two versions of Superman II shows perfectly how editing and context can completely change scenes. Where certain scenes in Superman II feel long and out of place, within the context of the Donner cut they make sense and work naturally with the flow of the movie. The story slowly builds, where in the theatrical cut everything seemed to slowly go nowhere. So much of the first hour of that movie is painfully disjointed, a result of the producers and Richard Lester needing to rewrite key scenes and doing a poor job of it. I find it interesting that without prior knowledge of what was what, I took the most issue with the two main sections they added: the Eiffel Tower and the extended Niagara Falls bits. I guess this doesn’t bode well for the upcoming re-watch of Lester’s Superman III, does it?).

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Superman II (1980)

Superman-2-posterStarring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, E.G. Marshall, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Valerie Perrine, Susannah York, Clifton James, Marc McClure

Directed by Richard Lester

Expectations: I’m so excited.

twohalfstar


If I didn’t already know that this film had a troubled production, the end result would speak for itself. Superman II feels like a direct sequel to Richard Donner’s original film AND a completely different movie from a different team, which makes it quite an odd watch. You’d think after such a massive success as Superman there’d be no way they could botch a sequel this bad, but they indeed managed the impossible. To know the story behind the film’s production only adds to that fire, giving birth to all sorts of “What might have been?” frustration. But it’s not all bad, as when Superman II decides it actually wants to be a Superman sequel, it’s pretty damn great. I’m now even more excited to see the Richard Donner reconstructed version, which I hope rectifies a lot of what felt so wrong about this one, especially in the first hour or so.

The plot of Superman II was set up (in part) during the opening minutes of the original film, as Jor-El imprisoned the evil General Zod and his minions Ursa and Non. But this time around, the producers didn’t want to pay Marlon Brando so he is completely excised from the film. Consequently, the scene plays out different than you might remember it, but the result is the same: the Kryptonian baddies are locked inside the Phantom Zone for all eternity. Well… until Superman throws a hydrogen bomb connected to an Eiffel Tower elevator into space. The detonation breaks them free and soon they come to Earth, each sporting powers equal to that of Superman himself. Uh oh.

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