Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
Superman II: The Donner Cut 1980/2006
Ever since I had heard about this movie, I was quite curious about it. More so after I actually watched the theatrical cut of Superman II way back when I started this site. For those not in the know, I’ll do a brief re-cap. Richard Donner originally was shooting Superman & the sequel concurrently, and had shot about 80%+ of the film before they had to stop production. For various reasons, when they restarted production Richard Donner didn’t return and was replaced with Richard Lester who re-shot much of the film with a different tone in mind, as well as a smaller budget. While both films follow essentially the same plot, this is a very different film, and well over half the movie is new or alternate footage. The overall tone is much more serious and the humor that is still there is less campy. I personally enjoyed the Donner cut much more than the Lester cut, at least up to a certain point.
One of the biggest differences and one of the first ones to notice is the return of Marlon Brando. It ties into the first movie much nicer to see the return of Jor-El instead of the random replacements used. I also find it interesting how much of a recap is used, covering a big portion of the first movie. When the movie proper starts, Lois Lane almost immediately makes the connection between Clark and Superman and goes on to test that theory by jumping out of the building. So instead of a goofy Rube Goldberg-esque comedy of errors opening (edit: I meant the Eiffle Tower terrorist opening, I was thinking of Superman III), there’s a much more serious tone and only some light comic relief to cap off the scene.
One other thing that I realized about this movie is that it really feels like the second half of an origin story. It’s easy to think of Superman as an entity that has existed for longer than many of us have been alive, and especially when going into a sequel that isn’t an origin story, but this movie really helps him to understand when it really is to be Superman. This is especially important because the Lester version of this movie completely misses that point and feels like a typical sequel. This version really sets up the importance of what it means to give up his powers of Superman to be with Lois, and not the awkward “how do we, um… you know?” version of being with Lois. He is called out by his father for what really is a selfish, almost teenage rebellion type move. Giving up the power to save millions of people in order to live a simple and normal life. Not only that, but in order to regain his powers, he has to receive the sacrifice of his father, rather than happen upon a random Krypton crystal that Lois picked up for some unknown reason.
The overall tone of the movie is much more serious, and this is especially evident in the climactic battle with the three Kryptonians. There is no chunk of comic relief moments, though I did notice the guy who gets comically blown away in roller skates, but it was only part of a wide shot. I remember one of my biggest complaints about the fight scene in the Lester version was that it felt like weak slow motion fighting on wires followed by being tossed lazily across the scene. This version has a much better knowledge of what is and isn’t possible with the special effects of the time and their budget, and that makes the fight scene look much more impressive, on top of the removal of the goofy comedy bits.
The point of the movie that really lost me though was the ending. Even though it was due to the limitations of available footage, I wasn’t fond of re-using the ending of the first movie to reset everything back to normal. This is especially true when you think of the fact that Superman and Lois Lane do eventually get together. Not only that, but there’s also a scene with a jerk trucker that beats up a powerless Clark. As a sidenote, I’m reminded of the TV show Lois & Clark and thought that Dean Cain as a powerless Clark Kent would have never been beaten up by a trucker. Anyway, a re-powered Clark Kent goes back to that diner to enact payback on the trucker, but since time was reversed, the first fight never technically happened. While they don’t make any mentions of having seen Clark there before, it’s also just a very un-Superman-like thing to do.
As far as comparing the two versions of the movie, I really did enjoy this Donner cut much more than the Lester version. It kept all the things I liked in the Lester version and got rid of all the things I didn’t like, not only that but it added several things to make it even better. And I do have to concede the fact that there’s not many options to create a better ending that I would have liked better than either the rehash of the Superman ending or the amnesia kiss. So if you get the chance to pick it up sometime, be sure to do it, it’s worth your while. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.