DIRECTORS: Richard Lester & Richard Donner
May Contain Spoilers!
The official version of Superman II may not be the purest vision, as we’ve established with Richard Donner’s Cut, but this is the most cohesive. Lester, once he took over the director’s chair, had to have shot at least 51% of the film to be credited as the movie’s director, so he re-shot a lot of footage which had already been done by Donner, often the same scene and re-envisioned other elements.
Comedy was his perceived forte and at times, this version offers more humour and actually takes the time to establish our super-villains more fully as they make their way through the western town. It’s here, which is more Lester’s work, that we see some great moments, such as Ursa (Sarah Douglas) arm wrestling a trucker and the trio destroy the small town.
The tone is just more playful, enjoyable and hammy. Donner’s cut is not Shakespeare has some would suggest, but is does take a more serious position of the villains are their deeds, whilst Lester is guilty of adding goofy gags, such as man continuing to talk on the phone when the phone booth is blown away, the ice cream in the face and the roller-skating waitress during the Metropolis battle towards the end, all missing from Donner’s version too.
But the most controversial addition are the now infamous “new” powers, such as the ability to project holograms of himself and the cellophane “S”! Marlon Brando’s significant role is also exorcised here, as his role was given to Jor-El’s on-screen wife, Superman’s mother Lara (Susanna York) as she was presumably somewhat cheaper than the overpaid star, though it has been suggested that Brando was in dispute over his inflated pay packet from the first movie.
Overall, this is the version of Superman II which I, and every young boy loved during the 1980’s. A fun, action packed blockbuster, seemingly better than the first, something which I disagree with now, but the sequel which Superman: The Movie deserves. The casts are great, hamming it up at times, especially the trio of villains led by Zod (Terrance Stamp) and many elements of this movie have become solid parts of Superman lore, even in the comics.
There are dramatic elements which I prefer from the Donner cut and more playful ones which I would cherry pick from here but in the end, unless Warner Bros. decide to make the ultimate Donner/Lester cut, both films will have something to offer, but this is the slightly better film, solely for the fact that it was filmed for release properly and not rescued and cobbled together as the Donner restoration was. Would Donner’s version has been better is he had not been fired? We will never know but both cuts have their charms and this was the film which I grew up with, despite the internal politics of the production team.
They managed to maintain the consistency too, as composer John Williams was replaced by Ken Thorne who still managed to turn in a William’s score, and the despite certain plot points, this film worked well.
A classic sequel, if not somewhat dated. But they did this first…