Details: More information can be found at https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0839995/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman_II:_The_Richard_Donner_Cut
I was talking to one of coworkers the other day and the topic of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut came up. I had never heard of this thing before, but apparently, there are two versions of Superman II, with Richard Donner’s version being the generally accepted better one. After watching this new version, I agree that it is better, but I don’t think it’s a masterpiece that reaches the level of the first Donner Superman movie.
Back in 1980, Superman II was released for theaters. Unbeknownst to most movie goers, the original director got fired after shooting about 80% of Superman II and was replaced with another director. There was some sort of creative differences and conflict but I didn’t look into it that much.
As a result, the new director, Richard Lester, reshot as much of the movie as he could under his vision and incorporated about 30% of the footage Donner originally shot into the final product. The 1980 release of the film under Lester’s vision was not greatly received by fans.
Fast forward a few decades and the proliferation of the internet, and now we got this brand new version that faithfully seeks to recreate Superman II under the original vision of Richard Donner. What happened was, Superman fans were so active in harassing and writing letters to Warner Brothers that eventually, they just gave in. Even more miraculously, Donner somehow managed to find all the original footage he shot over twenty years ago. Taking that original footage with some of Lester’s footage, and with some new shots and even some shots from screen tests with the original actors, Donner has managed to put together a version of Superman II that seeks to be as faithful to his vision as possible.
So how is this version? Not bad. The biggest differences is the removal of much of the humor present in the Lester version. Superman II was really campy, especially when compared to the tone of many movies of modern times. Donner’s cut is a lot more serious, though it is still campy in many ways.
The biggest thing I was looking for was that Donner’s cut would approach the legendary-ness of his first Superman movie. This did version did not achieve that. It is fundamentally a bit of a silly story, as was the first Superman movie. Donner’s version, like in the first Superman movie, involves time travel, which I generally hate as an overused plot device. I think what made the first Superman movie so great to me was the contemporary-ness of it. That whole first act felt epic and mythological. The humor of Lex Luthor and the campy humor was always the weakest part of the story to me.
Which I guess is why Donner’s cut is superior. It takes a lot of that out, but not enough to satisfy. Moreover, the core plot isn’t that compelling. The core story is still basically the same. Zod comes from outer space and takes over the planet. Superman falls in love and gives up his powers. There are some changed scenes that better justify certain actions and make more sense, but the core story remains the same and no where near as epic as the first Superman movie.
The biggest change that meant the most to me was the ending scene. Superman man no longer throws his shield out and mildly inconveniences the bad guys. There’s also no holographic clones or energy beams. That stuff never made that much sense and I can appreciate their removal.
Overall, this is a better movie, but still not great. If you loved the Superman movies, then you should give it a watch. If you have a casual interest in Superman, then you can feel free to skip this film.