REVIEW: “Must There Be a Superman II?” “There’s Two of Them.”

Last week’s installment of #TBT at the Cinema centered around the 1978 Superman movie.  As such, it seemed appropriate to take this week to discuss the two cuts of Superman II.

In 1980, Superman II debuted in theatres.  Directed by Richard Lester after Richard Donner either left the production or got booted due to creative differences with the producers, it focused around the escape of General Zod and two of his followers, and their subsequent attempt to take over the Earth.  Superman enters into a brief, ill-fated relationship with Lois Lane.  This leads him to get rid of his powers, not knowing that Zod has come to subjugate humanity.  He gets his powers back and defeats (and kills) Zod, but can’t continue his relationship with Lois.

Almost thirty years later, Bryan Singer acquired the rights to Marlon Brando footage from the first movie.  Soon came the revelation that Richard Donner would recut Superman II for a rerelease.  It arrived on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-Ray in November of 2006.  Generally held up by fans as the superior cut of the film, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut differs significantly from Lester’s version.

This week, I decided to watch both.

Lester Cut:

Okay, my overall reactions to this film are:

  • I get why people don’t like Superman as a concept and also why they don’t like Cavill’s Superman specifically and it has to do with Superman’s disconnect from humanity in these films specifically.
  • Gene Hackman is still Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex + twenty years and set in the seventies. But with fewer excuses to be that way and no money. I still love him. Also, uh, where’s Miss Tessmacher? She vanishes halfway through the film. Is she okay? Is her mom okay?
  • I really, really hate the gender politics of the 1970s and the gender politics related to this version of Lois Lane a lot. Like wow, this is painful. From the infamous Amnesia Kiss to the fact that she is either insulting Clark’s masculinity as being inferior to Superman’s or she’s crying because Superman can’t properly be with her.
  • I don’t get why people are okay with Superman and Lois killing Zod, Ursa, and Non after depowering them if they threw a hissy fit about Cavill Superman being forced to kill Zod — which has psychological ramifications for him over the course of the next film that implicitly mark Superman’s approach to violence and his feelings about being Superman.
  • Cinematically, it coheres okay on a visual level. Very much a spectacle movie before spectacle movies were a thing in the way blockbuster superhero pictures are today. I prefer the kinds of action in modern superhero movies, but I won’t hold that preference against this picture.
  • One thing I did like was that this movie did engage in my favorite trope of all time: fake marrieds. It does get points for that.

Overall ranking? Frankly, I like it less, but mostly for personal and political reasons, than Superman. So far, it ranks as my least favorite, but it probably is the same quality as Superman on an objective level. 6.8/10.

Donner Cut:

So this movie definitely ranks higher than the theatrical cut. Some opinions:

  • Still not cool with the idea that Superman’s okay with killing off depowered Kryptonians — who are basically about as capable as humans at most things.
  • This film way outstrips its predecessor in terms of pacing, sequencing, and structure. Donner just does it better than Lester in each of these arenas.
  • This cut doesn’t reduce Lois to a crying wreck for the entire last act of the film, which is nice.
  • Also, no amnesia kiss. That’s fabulous, to me.
  • I’m still annoyed by the use of time travel to prevent bad things from happening and maintaining whatever this version of Superman sees as the status quo. Like I said in my last review, it totally kills any and all stakes the movies can have.
  • The fixation on Clark’s masculinity v. Superman’s, as depicted in the diner scenes, feels even more gross and egregiously hypermasculine in this cut than it did in the previous one.
  • My favorite scene in the whole film is when Lois pulls a gun on Clark.  That whole scene in the hotel room feels really, really in character to me in a way that many Lester scenes did not.

Overall, the Donner cut is definitely superior.  Most of my qualms, again, come from not agreeing with this characterization of Superman.  As someone who started with Smallville, I don’t much like Jor-El to begin with.  This version of Jor-El seems just as controlling to me, and his hold over Superman’s decisions kind of undercuts the idea that Superman could choose to be a hero.

Additionally, the idea that being Superman and having a life with Lois are mutually exclusive is frankly ridiculous.  Superman frankly looks like he completely sways to his father’s orders by letting Jor-El convince him he has to choose one.  He takes orders, essentially, from a ghost.

Anyway, final score: 7.2/10.  It’s better, but not better enough.


Murphy Leigh

Murphy is a vaguely femininish malady who spends most of their time worshipping at the altars of Lois Lane, Chloe Sullivan, Jean Grey, and Wanda Maximoff. Their first confirmable event-memory is Princess Leia at the start of A New Hope. Has more in common with Lex Luthor than Lex Luthor would probably like to admit.

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