Title: Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
Director: Richard Donner
Writers: Tom Mankiewicz, Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton, Based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster
Distributed By: Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Terance Stamp, Marlon Brando, Jackie Cooper, Sarah Douglas, Marc McClure, Ned Beatty, Valerie Perrine, Jack O’Halloran, E.G. Marshall
Release Date: November 28, 2006
MPAA: Rated PG
Welcome back readers! Apologies for a lack of review last Monday, but there were complications with the website, but we’re back just in time to finish off the year with one final installment of MOVIE MONDAYS! And I can think of no better way to finish off the year than to finish our year-long tribute to SUPERMAN. We’ve charted Superman’s big-screen adventures from the black and white serials from 1948 & 1950 starring Kirk Alyn, all the way up to 2013’s Man of Steel. In between we covered his first feature-length film starring George Reeves, the first attempt at a reboot, and Superman I, II, III, and IV.
During the creation of Superman I & II, director Richard Donner was fired and replaced by Richard Lester. Finally in 2006, 25 years after the U.S. theatrical release, Richard Donner was able to return to the project and show the world a new Director’s Cut closer to his original vision for the film. Let’s take a look at Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut and see how it holds up.
It’s practically impossible to give a review of this film without comparing it to Superman II considering we’re dealing with essentially two alternate versions of the same film. So for part of this review, points of praise and complaint will be illustrated through comparison. Most of this movie’s plot is the same as the previously released version of Superman II, with the three evil Kryptonians (Stamp, Douglas, O’Halloran) coming to Earth, trying to take over and kill Superman (Reeve). The differences are in the execution. For instance, the three major complaints I had with Richard Lester’s Superman II *** – 1) the annoying slapstick comedy, 2) the weird random super-powers given to Superman during the showdown in the Fortress of Solitude, & 3) the annoying British kid – are all gone. THANK GOD! However, a scene depicting General Zod as having random powers, like telekinetically levitating a gun out of a policeman’s hands, still remain in the film.
*** To understand what I’m referring to, please see my review of Superman II ***
Even with the removal of those elements, which make for a much more satisfying action with our super-powered combatants, this film still leaves a lot to be desired.
For instance, the first several minutes of this film is a recap of the first film, which is entertaining and well done, but only necessary because of the new cut’s alternate beginning, so it feels forced. One element of the new cut of the film that is both a positive and a negative is the return of Marlon Brando, which comes at the exclusion of Susannah York (Superman’s mother Lara in the first film and theatrical cut of Superman II).
Another gripe I have with this movie is that the stupid “time-travel” ending from the first film returns with a vengeance in this sequel and is handled in an even more poorly thought out way this time around. Over the course of the two hours of this movie, which spans what one might assume is weeks of in-movie time, Superman accidentally releases the three evil Kryptonians from their prison, reveals his secret identity to Lois, sleeps with her, loses his powers, gets them back, essentially kills the badguys, blows up his Fortress of Solitude, and strands Lex Luthor (Hackman) to freeze to death at the North Pole. Then, he decides to reverse time right to the beginning of the film, so that ostensibly none of the events of the film ever happened! So, if the director is going to rewind the entire plot of the film so that it never happened, what’s the point in watching?! Why bother?!
Furthermore, the time-travel isn’t even handled well. Superman reverses time, meaning none of these events ever occurred. The only person with knowledge of these events should be Superman. However, at the end of the movie, Lois Lane (Kidder) and Perry White (Cooper) are standing around with déjà vu, apparently aware that something odd has happened and are trying to remember what it was. Also, there’s a scene in the film where Superman/Clark, after giving up his powers, gets thrashed by a bully in a diner. After reversing time so that the beating never occurred, Clark goes back to the diner and beats up the bully. In the Lester version of the film, with no time-travel, Clark goes back to teach the bully a lesson about picking on the little guy. In Donner’s cut, the bully is still taught a lesson, but now by a seemingly random, stronger bully. It’s all just very un-Superman-like, and makes for a fairly disappointing ending to the film.
Another minor complaint stems from the confrontation between the Kryptonians. In the Lester version, Superman finally gets his powers back, he interrupts Zod’s attack on The Daily Planet, landing on an American Flag, crossing his arms and stating: “Excuse me General, would you care to step outside”. Equal parts wholesome and threatening, it’s a perfect Superman moment. In the Donner Cut, while Zod is attacking The Daily Planet news room, Superman shows up and says “Excuse me General, ever heard of freedom of the press”. Get it? Because news reporters are being attacked… yeah… it’s a terribly cheesy line.
One final yet major complaint relates again to the time-travel ending. If one negates all of the events of the film, reversing time so that they never happened, there are no consequences, no repercussions, and therefore there is no tension. At the end of the theatrical cut, in a heart-warming scene Superman appears before The President and apologizes for his earlier failure. The Donner Cut simply ends with Clark going out to buy a pizza and stopping off to beat up the previously mentioned bully, a very unsatisfying ending.
Much like the theatrical cut of Superman II, and with all the other entries in the Christopher Reeve Superman quadrilogy, the acting from all of our major players is top-notch. Even when not given much to work with, two-dimensional characters like Zod and his henchwoman Ursa are still charming, entertaining, and charismatic enough to captivate audiences. Reeve and Kidder deliver great performances as always, full of emotion and complexity. The other actors and actresses give strong performances for what little screen-time they have. The only weak link in the cast comes surprisingly from the legendary Marlon Brando, who just seems to be phoning it in with a lifeless, stilted, boring performance.
While presented as intelligent in the theatrical cut, Lois is far more clever in this version, attempting to get Clark to reveal his secret identity twice and succeeding the second time around. Without spoiling anything, the first time shows Lois to be overly-confident and probably insane, in a scene that doesn’t really work all that well. The second time, she manages to trick Clark into confessing in a cute, quiet character moment built around the strong rapport between Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve.
With extended action scenes, and no slap-stick comedy, this film has strong positive elements going for it, but the annoying inclusion of the time-travel plot device and the illogical way in which it’s handled really bring this movie down.
I think that if one could combine elements of both the Theatrical Cut and the Richard Donner Cut of Superman II, fans could finally get a nearly perfect version of Superman II and another excellent Superman movie for the ages. This film isn’t bad, despite what my numerous complaints might have you think, but it is extremely difficult not to view this film in comparison to the theatrical cut. Not a bad film, nor a great one, as a representation of the comics of the era, and as a film in general this reviewer feels that Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut earns a score of 7 out of 10.