So when I saw there was a cut of Superman II by director Richard Donner, I got excited. Donner directed the original Superman and shot most of Superman II before he left the project after clashing with producers (he was replaced by Richard Lester).
I figured that if I loved Superman II the way it had been released, it’s got to be even better if acclaimed director Donner (The Omen, Lethal Weapon) is releasing Superman II the way he intended.
It’s one thing that I was wrong. It’s another that I was this wrong.
From the opening scene of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, it’s different – a roving aerial shot of Krypton, where it settles on the planet’s council of elders (led by Marlon Brando’s Jor-El) judging and sentencing the rebel group of General Zod (the great Terence Stamp), his female sidekick Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and the mute brute Non (Jack O’Halloran) for planning to overthrow the council.
Okay, I’ll admit – that added scene was cool. But beyond that, the new or altered scenes of Donner’s cut add nothing. The biggest violator is the absurd way Donner has Lois discover Superman’s true identity. It’s almost like a nuisance to Superman that she uncovers him – not the emotional, impactful revelation it should be (and was in the original 1981 release).
Other added, deleted, or altered scenes:
• An early added scene of Lois trying to make Clark save her as Superman (by leaping out of a skyscraper) disrupts her tone in dealing with Clark/Superman for the rest of the film
• Donner cut the “Houston” gag from the astronaut when Zod and company land on the moon, so later mentions by Zod and Ursa of the planet “Hooston” lose their impact
• A new, lengthy, and pointless sequence of Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) discovering the Fortress of Solitude at the North Pole
• The great sequence where Zod, Ursa, and Non intimidate some small-town locals (including Ursa arm-wrestling a man) is gone
• The villains now deface the Washington Monument (simply knocking it over) instead of Mount Rushmore (replacing the presidents’ faces with their own)
Throw in a new, overdone, unnecessary musical score and presto: instant tarnishing of a cherished childhood memory.
To be blunt, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut seems like nothing but an exercise in spite. Donner got tossed from the project, and this feels like his “so there” to the film studio that booted him. It’s like he switched or replaced highly effective scenes from the original cut for no purpose other than to put his mark on the film.
In Donner's defense, the added scenes of Brando’s Jor-El do help the picture, and an extended sequence of Zod, Ursa, and Non attacking the White House was cool. But beyond that, nothing added or switched from the original was necessary, and mostly it worsened the film.
If you cherish the original Superman II like I do, fear not: It was recently released on a two-disc special edition DVD, which features a neat little time-capsule special, “The Making of Superman II.”
In closing, all you know to know is…
Will your kids want to watch it?I love Superman II so much that I’d make it required viewing for any kids who like superheroes; I’d say kids 8 years old or older, with some parental guidance, would be appropriate. But dear Zod, make sure you show them the original cut, not Donner’s.
Will your FilmMother like it?Avoid Richard Donner’s cut like Superman avoids Kryptonite skivvies, then convince your FilmMother to watch the original cut if she hasn’t seen it already. I think the Superman/Lois romance, combined with a good balance of humor and action, would make it worth her while. (And your chance for an extra viewing wouldn’t hurt either.)
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
* Director: Richard Donner
* Screenwriters: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman
* Stars: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Terence Stamp
* MPAA Rating: PG (action violence, adult situations, mild adult language)
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