Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

4 stars


21st January 2007

"Let me put it this way...all the good parts of Superman II are mine."
A pissed-off Richard Donner, 1989

It's a long story, but 26 years after it was filmed, Richard Donner's version of Superman II is finally unleashed on the world. Donner had already shot 80% of the movie when the Salkinds, notorious control freaks and owners of the franchise, fired him, hiring comedy hack Richard Lester to finish the movie. The Superman II that hit theatres was a camp, overblown comic-strip made flesh, dragged down by buffoonish villains lacking menace, and incongruous slapstick that defused the film's power in popcorn bullshit. Richard Lester reshot about three quarters of the movie, and made it lesser - he also worked his 'magic' on Superman III, with even poorer results. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is not just an alternate version of the film - it is, to all intents and purposes, a new movie. Almost every shot, and every line of dialogue, is a different take, a new angle, or an alternate reading of the now well-known lines.

The tone of the film overall is nearer Donner's original Superman film instead of Lester's sequel: in this version, the villians aren't a camp gang of flying Black-Satin Village People, but a trio of bad tempered, contemptuous shits. The jokey tone - the overblown slapstick of flying wigs, ice creams, telephone boxes and nudge-nudge wink-wink innuendo - is dispensed with. Quite how anyone could have looked at this footage and thought it could be improved by adding the sci-fi equivalent of dick jokes is testament to the fact that film-makers and not accountants should make movies.

The scenes shot by the frankly ham fisted Richard Lester, replete with unsubtle 'comedy' and blunt, clichéd dialogue, have been drastically castrated and re-edited with brutal, bleak efficiency. In cases where Lester reshot footage, the Donner version tends to be used wherever possible. There are still a couple of issues that can't be fixed due to the fact that they were never filmed, and some footage is even taken from early audition tapes, but these minor quibbles aside, the new version is a coherent, superior vision. The re-inclusion of scenes shot with Marlon Brando as Jor-El are worth their weight in gold - it's an insult to think they were originally cut and replaced with scenes of Superman's Mum over a pay dispute - and go some way in plugging the plot holes that Lester's daft version left gaping.

There are a couple of moments from the Lester cut that I would see inserted into this version of the film to make it, in my eyes, the definitive cut, namely the Parisian opening and the short scene involving Mount Rushmore. Whether the new ending is the right choice for the film is up for debate, but it seems to be, in the circumstances, the best available choice. As far as the rest of the film is concerned, the Donner version comes up trumps over Lester every single time. To cut a short story long, if you like movies and if you like Superman II, you'll find Richard Donner's version is a superior experience, and as close to a definitive version of this film as you can get. It's a shame that we can't give him a time machine and get him to go and sort out Superman III and IV.

Oh, and vote for Zod in 2008.

More:  Action  Dvd  Superheroes  Sequels
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