Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)
(Release Date: November 28, 2006)
(Premiere Date: November 2, 2006 [Los Angeles, California])

Superman II returns Too for Four Stars!Superman II returns Too for Four Stars!Superman II returns Too for Four Stars!Superman II returns Too for Four Stars!

The Second Superman, more Super the Second Time!

J.C. Mašek III
The Good Guy!

The original 1978 released Superman movie was directed simultaneously with Superman II by Richard Donner fresh off the heels of The Omen. Unfortunately, due to a Sky-Missiling budget, the decision was made to Table II and finish Superman: The Movie with the understanding that Dick Donner would return and spin the world around backward once again to finish the second film, all about the return of those vicious Super Villains from the Phantom Zone.
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But there was a problem. Dick Donner had some Super Villains of his own in the form of Executive Producer Ilya Salkind and his big daddy Alexander Salkind. By the time Superman was released to great fandom and profit (back in 1978) the friction between Donner and the Salkinds was so great that the producers fired the director in favor of their best buddy Richard Lester. Donner had filmed around 80% of the picture already, but in order to get the full director's credit, Lester had to film over 50% of the final footage. Many scenes had to be completely re-shot, somewhat differently from the original scenes. What's more, the firing of Donner resulted in Gene Hackman quitting the picture and refusing to return for re-shoots. Even worse, the Salkinds refused to pay Marlon Brando more money for the scenes he had shot for Superman II. Instead, we were given body doubles of Hackman and appearances from Kal-El's mother and some other bald dude. Therefore the final cut of Superman II scarcely resembled the original vision of Donner or, presumably, that of writers Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Tom Mankiewicz.

Fandom can be a wonderful thing. While Superman II still managed to be a beloved and effective film, it still managed to have a few plot holes and strange, campy moments. Further, in the last 25 years Richard Donner has become much more beloved and appreciated than Superman II even, and fans demanded to see what his version would look like. Luckily much (though not all) of the old Donner footage was still available and... so was Donner. Five months after the release of Superman Returns, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut has been released. I have to say, it's worth the wait and a credit to the vision that linked this film to the first Superman as it originally was intended.

While this is a cleaned up and spiced up re-cut of Superman II, this is far from merely a "Special Edition" treatment. This is, in fact, a completely different movie.

Beginning with a recap of the events of the first film (particularly those relating to the Phantom Zone criminals) Donner (with Mankiewicz as "Creative Consultant") brings us a new (CGI-Assisted) release of the Alien Prisoners before their terrible invasion of Earth!

Clark Kent (the perfectly cast Christopher Reeve, to whom this 2006 version is dedicated) is still his goofy, klutzy self who still falls all over himself for the hot Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). However, Lois notices a certain somethin'-somethin' in the cut of Clarky's Jib and draws a pair of specs, a fedora and a wool suit over a photo of Supe-Baby until she's convinced that the man she loves and the man she loathes are one and the lame same.

Through a series of witty events, Lois manages to outsmart the old Aw-Shucks farm boy and has her wicked way with him. Not that he minds, of course. However, the question arises of how a man can be both Superman and Lover-Man to the world and one woman respectively. Through the Cool Tutelage of daddy Jor-El (yes, Brando's back), Kal-El is given the ultimate ultimatum and the potential grows for the ultimate sacrifice.

However, the world still does, and will need Superman, especially when greeted by three lunatics from beyond the stars in the form of the menacing Non (Jack O'Halloran), the beautiful, sadistic Ursa (Sarah Douglas, far from a "bear") and their maniacal and power hungry leader General Zod (the great Terence Stamp)! And that goes especially when you consider that each one of the THREE has the exact same powers of the ONE Superman.

What follows is a nightmare of an Alien Invasion story (we find out just how mindless, threatening and evil these Kryptonian Criminals really are with each murder and act of terror) as they take over the planet with no one to oppose them. That is until Lex Luthor (the always excellent Gene Hackman) reveals the truth that "The Son of Jor-El" is out there.

It all leads up to still the greatest and most expansive Superhero Battle to hit Film before or since. Although, yes, this is now enhanced with computers to closer match Donner's vision, this is done with taste and class in a manner which closely emulates the look of a 1978/ 1980 picture. To see this with so very much of the film as originally shot, it's amazing to see how expansive and incredible this film is. This is huge! Flying cars (not CGI), sliding busses, exploding scenery... it's in there like Prego, kids!

The Superhero and Science Fiction quotient is more than satisfied by this film, even more than the original cut. However, this film still isn't quite perfect. For one thing, the Uber-Mensch-Ex-Machina ending (so like the first film's) not only fails to sit quite right (why does anything bad ever have to happen with this guy around?), but it also makes the first film's ending less unique. Further, Donner was required to use SOME footage from Lester's version (yes, there are Richard Lester scenes still here), he took advantage of the CGI budget (albeit thankfully sparingly) and he made the brilliant choice of recreating one of his favorite scenes (never filmed for film) by editing together two screen tests, one for Kidder and one for Reeve. By the way, both are great to see, but Reeve's is INCREDIBLE, encapsulating both Superman and Clark Kent in one reality-morphing scene. The problem is that not quite all of this fits together seamlessly. In places this looks like what it is... an amalgam of different movies, some shot a few years apart, some a couple of decades apart. Oh, it's great, and the rough edges won't detract from a great experience, especially for fans... but it's hard for a critic not to notice.

Further, the campiness isn't really gone in this version. To be fair, Lester is more of a comedy director (see the silliness of Superman III) and Puzo's original story reportedly contained many more elements akin to the 1960's Batman TV Show in its farcical nature. In II, even Donner decided to "have fun" and a less serious tone was felt (though some of the murders are hard to laugh about). Still, some of the more silly pieces of dialogue are given a silly delivery by even the best actors (Reeve and Stamp seem to be in a Cheese contest once or twice).

On the other hand, occasionally the acting is just fantastic. Brando was a hell of a lot of fun and his performance here outshines even his performance in Superman (note: they were filmed at about the same time). Meanwhile, Kidder's goofy, yet sexy portrayal and the serious and caring Superman is greatly balanced with the sweet and nerdy Clark Kent by Christopher Reeve. For their comparatively small parts, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, E.G. Marshall, Marc McClure and Valerie Perrine all do a great job with their parts. And then there's Hackman! It's no secret that Hackman is an incredible actor. Here he just has fun, proving that he can do anything. He's menacing, yet funny as hell. Great man, great actor.

The Richard Donner Cut ties up virtually every loose end that Superman II left hanging, sometimes in remarkably touching and beautiful ways. The story makes a lot more sense and adds up to a much more satisfying final act (yo-yo Earth be damned). Many (but not all) of the additions of out-of-the-big-blue new Kryptonian powers have been expunged which makes for a smarter film... but one with just a bit too little action in a place or two. Ironically, however, while this new old fashioned version fits much, much better with Superman I, the restored events cause major continuity issues with Superman Returns. This is especially ironic because much of the (formerly) unused Brando footage from II made its way into Returns, which stands to link them more... kids, it just don't add up (anymore).

I, for one, couldn't possibly be happier that Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut has finally seen the light of day, both solo and as part of the larger Fourteen Disc "Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition". In spite of its flaws, this labor of love more than satisfies the fan and the critic in me, cheese, fractured edits and all. The colors are beautiful and the picture, incredible. The film itself... it's a keeper, even more so in this version. It only makes me wonder what could have been with Donner at the helm for all four (which both Mankiewicz and Donner say they intended). Four Stars out of Five for Superman II: The Director's Cut, which is somewhat close to Donner's original version. It would have been a different film if completed back in 1980 by Donner himself, but it was a different film anyway when completed by Lester himself. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get some writing done. Michelle has threatened to fire me from our Sci-Fi novel series and bring in another writer on the cheap. If I don't "See you in the Next Reel" this time, you'll know it's because I've got bigger pages to type. I could use some Kryptonian powers to finish this one!

Superman still rules... Deal with it Pink Boy (or, Big Blue, as the case may be)!
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Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006) reviewed by J.C. Mašek III
Who is solely responsible for the content of this review...
What else is he going to do in here?
He's been trapped in THE PHANTOM ZONE for years now.
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