Superman II (1980) (2006) Richard Donner Cut Movie Review

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool,

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This week's superhero and action adventure movie review takes a look back at the one Christopher Reeve Superman movie I actually liked and changes it into an incomprehensible abomination that was apparently the original vision of the original director Richard Donner.  

As I said in the review for Superman, I generally like these movies less than most people, and my re-watching them as an adult has, thus far, done nothing to change that perception.  I do remember liking Superman II as a kid, mostly due to Zod and his gang, but I had never seen the Richard Donner cut which was released in 2006 until now. 

The whole Superman I - Superman II Richard Donner fiasco was a real mess so I'll Wiki-splain this:  "In 1977, director Richard Donner set about simultaneously filming an epic two-part adaptation of Superman... with 75% of Superman II photographed, after having to postpone the original summer 1978 release date for Superman due to an extended shoot, filming on Superman II was suspended in October 1978 so that Donner could focus on completing the first film... Following the release of Superman in December 1978, it was widely assumed that Donner would be recalled to complete the remainder of the sequel. However, a number of events led to Donner's eventual replacement as director of the movie. Most importantly, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind announced that Marlon Brando's completed scenes for Superman II would be excised from the movie in order for them to avoid having to pay the actor the reported 11.75% of gross U.S. box-office takings he was now demanding for his performance in the sequel. Donner publicly lambasted this decision, announcing that he would make the film his way or not at all. The April 1978 issue of the sci-fi magazine Starburst quotes Donner as saying, "That means no games... They have to want me to do it. It has to be on my terms and I don't mean financially. I mean control."

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Kneel before Zod.

Richard Donner was ultimately replaced by Richard Lester and the series moved on.  In 2006, after significant fanboy clamoring, the world finally got to see Richard Donner's vision at last.  I, for one, was not impressed.  This was a mess of a movie and the final scene was infuriating as it essentially completely copied the terrible ending of Superman I and basically established that the events in the movie were erased, thus you wasted a couple of hours of your life because the whole movie was just Dues ex Machina-ed right out of existence.

The Donner cut features most of the completed scenes he had originally shot and includes the original opening of the film set in the offices of the Daily Planet. In this opening, we see Lois trying to figure out the similarities between Clark Kent and Superman then the duo are sent to investigate a honeymoon racket in Niagara Falls.  Lois (Margot Kidder) jumps out of a window and Clark (Christopher Reeve) manages to save her and still keep his identity as Superman a secret at the same time.

There is a scene in a Niagara Falls hotel room were Lois tricks Clark into revealing he is Superman by shooting at him with a pistol loaded with blanks which is cobbled together from a variety of different shoots and, accordingly, Christopher Reeve's build, clothing, haircut, and eyeglasses are notably different from shot to shot.

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Kneel before Zod and his M-16 rifle which he doesn't need but has anyway.

The movie quickly descends into an incoherent mess.  Superman I already established the rules of science don't matter one lick in this universe so in all of the vastness of space, the Phantom Zone window pane just so happens to be flipping by when Superman throws the missiles from the first movie into outer space and the explosion, somehow or other, frees Zod and his henchmen and women from their prison.  The trio then come to Earth possessing the same powers as Superman, Kal-El, who just happens to be the son of the man who imprisoned them back on Krypton, Jor-El (Marlon Brando).  And the leaps of logic just keep on coming.

While the Kryptonian trio arrives, and subsequently take over the Earth, one might wonder just what Superman is doing.  Well, he's having a ridiculous existential crisis for some reason and has traveled to the Fortress of Solitude where gets all angsty and tells his hologram dad that he quits being Superman because he is in love with Lois.  Why those things are mutually exclusive I do not know but whatever.

Meanwhile, Zod is making everyone kneel before him including the President of the United States.  Clark Kent gets beat up in a truck stop by former Pacific Northwest wrestling champion Pepper Martin (shout out to wrestling historian Matt Farmer for pointing this out) and gets all sad about it and returns to the Fortress to beg dad to let him be Superman again, which he does.  If this sounds stupid, it was.

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Once again, Christopher Reeve was the best thing about this movie.

Of course, we get Superman fighting Zod, Ursa, and Non (who looked like the real heavy in the movie but literally did nothing) and Superman wins by tricking them into thinking he was a coward but it was really a secret plan to lure them into a device in the Fortress of Solitude and drain their powers.  That part was actually pretty good.

But then there was the ending...

The ending is so stupid I won't even explain it myself for risk of making myself dumber by doing so.  Here is the Wikipedia description (emphasis is mine): "After destroying the Fortress of Solitude with his heat vision, Superman returns Lois to her apartment, where she wishes him a tearful goodbye, realizing she can never be with him. To undo everything, Superman spins the Earth back in time, restoring the past few days and placing Zod, Ursa and Non back into the Phantom Zone. Clark returns to work the following day as Lois and Perry experience a slight case of deja vu. Clark revisits the diner and beats up Pepper Martin."

Yes, it is every bit as stupid as it sounds.

Some people waited 16 years for that ending.

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Photo of Superman trying to use his secret eyeball rays to erase this movie from my mind.

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