Movie review I submitted to a work newsletter in 2014.
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980/2006) by Micah J. Duckless
Directed by Richard Donner (Dir; The Omen, The Goonies, episodes of Tales From the Crypt, The Twilight Zone...)
Starring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Terrence Stamp and Gene Hackman
In 1977 Richard Donner was signed on to direct Superman 1 and 2 back to back, with one story being told over both films. But after going over-schedule and over-budget they decided to focus on Pt. 1 for release, over 80% of Pt. 2 already being 'in the can'.
After the release of Superman The Movie, the producers dismissed Donner due to creative differences, even though 'Pt. 1' opened big and would go on to be the sixth highest grossing film of all time. The second film was finished by Richard Lester. He re-shot most of the footage for the original release of Superman II, retaining only 30% of Donner's, who refused to be credited on the film.
Whether adding superpowers not derived from the comics, like a Memory Erasing Kiss and Teleportation, or adding silly sound effects to Zod's destruction of Metropolis, Lester weakened the atmosphere that the first film established.
Upon the 2006 release of the fifth feature film, Superman Returns, there was more interest in seeing the 'lost' Superman movie than ever before. With most of the old footage surprisingly recovered, Donner finally gave in and overlooked the re-cutting, done by Michael Thau. Remembering how it felt to have been removed from a project that he'd put so much of himself into, Donner was overcome with the rekindling of a love he once had for this unfinished film, almost 30 years ago.
The replacement of Lester's lackluster footage with Donne'rs is glaring. The best example may be when Lois 'figures it out'. Lester had Clark Kent tripping over a Nesquik-pink bear rug, landing with his hand in a fireplace. Lois sees no burns and Bam; he admits he's Superman. ...Gripping?
In Donner's version, having to utilize actual screen-test footage, Clark considers Lois' idea of him being Superman laughable until she pulls a gun on him. As he pleads, she fires and Clark instantly 'turns into' Superman, through only the difference in physicality of how Reeve portrayed those two characters. Criticizing her plan as foolishly dangerous, she reveals the gun is loaded with blanks.
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut brings back that feeling of the realistically fantastic. Donner had one condition when he was approached to make Superman, "We have to take this seriously." As odd a notion that may be, keep in mind the only live action superhero at the time had been Adam West as Batman, which was technically a satire.
Donner understood that Superman has been, and still is, loved by millions and that fans don't want to see him portrayed as a joke on the big screen. If he had taken the subject matter flippantly when making Superman The Movie, being the first 'comic book movie', we might never have seen films like Tim Burton's Batman, Frank Miller's Sin City, Jon Favreau's Iron Man or Zack Snyder's Watchmen.
Considering that Marvel, reportedly, has movies lined up through 2028, I think we owe Donner a huge debt of gratitude as movie-goers.
Overall, it's a miracle that we were finally given a sequel with as much merit as the original 1978 film, especially considering how III and IV turned out. It gives us a fresh look at the true Man of Steel, Christopher Reeve. As good as other actors have been in the role, there was something unique about him. When Reeve spoke, he exuded Truth and Justice without making it sound trite or contrived. And, Reeve showed the world in his final years, through his refusal to give-in and endless activism, that the term 'Superman' need not apply only to fictional beings in red capes.