Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut

Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

If you’re reading this and wondering why on Earth (or Krypton) there is a Richard Donner cut, then you're likely unaware of the super-controversial story behind Superman II.

While dauntingly filming both one and two simultaneously, Donner was asked to concentrate on the first in order to meet its release date. Due to creative differences with the producers (Pierre Spengler, Alexander Salkind and son Ilya) comedy man Richard Lester was brought in to keep the peace. Then, despite the deserved success of Superman and the fact that he’d already filmed most of the sequel (estimates range from 70 to 80 per cent) Donner received a telegram saying his services would no longer be needed before finding out that Lester would be re-filming much of his material.

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So, despite some preferring the theatrical release to the epic franchise-starter, most fans felt justifiably let-down. Consequently, after years of speculation about which director shot what and how Donner's version would have been, a devoted underground following began petitioning the studios. Seeing there was profit potential, Warner Bros commissioned producer Michael Thau (who did the director's cut of Superman) to sift through six tonnes of unedited Donner material from the vault and convince big Dick to re-visit a film he once called "his baby".

The story remains the same, as, after being accidentally freed from the Phantom Zone prison, Kryptonian rebels General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sara Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) are hell bent on world domination. At the same time, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) has discovered that Clark Kent (Chris Reeve) is Superman so he decides to give up his powers to be with her. Elsewhere, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) has escaped from prison and heads to the Fortress of Solitude…

The final product is a two-edged piece of Kryptonite. While as a movie in it's own right it’s understandably rough, dotty and incomplete (given that Donner never got the chance to finish filming at the time), when viewed as something that ‘could have been’ its endlessly fascinating and a must-have for anyone who felt let down by the released sequel. Perfect? No. But much more in line with the feel and tone of Donner’s first.

With about 25 per cent Lester footage and a screen test used to fill the inevitable gaps, it’s still not the definitive Donner edit, yet, while this occasionally makes it feel like an extended collection of deleted scenes, the unseen footage is wonderfully welcome. Okay, so the continuity is shaky (what do you expect?), but the new material is more adult, less camp and with a devotion to character and logic that Lester’s just didn’t have.

So what’s changed? Well we get more Hackman, some great early scenes in the Daily Planet (including a nice shot of Clark whizzing through the office), a better explanation for our hero getting his powers back and a darker take on the villains (despite some Lester filler). Out is the Eiffel tower, Lois’ orange juice-obsession and illogical moments such as Clark clumsily hitting a car (why would he risk his identity?). As for the silly showdown involving disappearing and the cellophane S, it’s rightly jettisoned to the phantom zone.

Best of all, though, is Brando. Yes, it was a weird time in his career and the performance is mailed in, but he’s utterly magnetic and finally continues the crucial father-son plotline (having been shelved by the Salkinds for cash reasons =and replaced with, er, the mum). Then there’s the thrill of seeing fresh Reeve (to whom the movie is dedicated), which is something special. Additionally, his screen test (used as the actual scene wasn’t filmed) showcases a sublime moment where he merely uses body language to shift from the meek Clark Kent to an angry Man of Steel.

It might not replace the theatrical version as it’s inevitably not a complete movie, but Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a fascinating and bittersweet glimpse into how good the director’s vision could have been. It soars up and up, but not quite away.

Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2009
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Reworked version of Superman II, featuring footage origianlly relegated to the cutting room floor.
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Director: Richard Donner

Writer: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Tom Mankiewicz, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster

Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Jack O'Halloran, Sarah Douglas, Marlon Brando

Year: 2006

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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