Thursday, June 13, 2013

Superman-a-thon Part 7: Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)

[Author's Note - These links will become active as the blogs are written: Superman and the Mole Men (1951)Superman (1978)Superman II (1980)Superman III (1983), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), Superman Returns (2006)]

As I said during my review of Superman II, Richard Donner had meant the first two Superman films to be one massive story (basically think the adaptation of the final Harry Potter book). He had shot the footage for both movies simultaneously and was about 75 percent done with Superman II by the time they took a break for the release of the first movie.

Unfortunately, despite making a massive amount of money, Donner's story was considered too expensive (and the sequel's material too dark) to be used, and so Donner was sacked and Richard Lester took over.

To Lester's credit, he did as good a job as he could with what was there, but in order to get top billing, he needed to shoot 51 percent of the content at least. So he could either make the movie an hour longer or take the route he actually did - namely cutting massive amounts of the Donner version.

As such, many of the story elements that had been set up in the movie either didn't pay off or got no explanation. The theatrical version of the movie is still good; it's just not AS good as it could have been.

Richard Donner posing with Supes in the background
Fast forward to the filming of Superman Returns where Warner Bros. negotiate a deal with the Marlon Brando estate to utilize the material the actor shot for Donner's film. It was at this point that it became possible to gain access to all of the unused Donner footage.

And so the studio worked with Donner to produce a cut of Superman II with all of his footage and only using enough Lester footage to produce a full story.

I've already reviewed the story, so I'm going to mostly go through this movie's differences in plot, the first being that the early sequence with the three evil Kryptonians is shown from alternate camera angles, giving the focus more to Zod. Giving Zod, Ursa and Non a more imposing feel was definitely a big priority for this film.

The biggest example of this is an added scene where the three proceed to beat the ever-loving crap out of the president's security forces. It's great to see how effortlessly they can beat the best military forces the planet has to offer at the time.

Lois defeats Superman via Magic Marker,
Second, Lois Lane isn't a complete moron. She picks up on Clark being Superman minutes into the film by simply drawing glasses and a suit on a posed photo of Superman. Again, I LOVE this because Lois is supposed to be the best journalist in the world, and giving her the ability to figure this out very shortly after the first movie was a great call.

Also, the way she tries to make Clark admit it are far more creative. Instead of jumping into the river at Niagara Falls, she calls him out immediately and jumps out of Perry White's office window. This forces Clark to surreptitiously use his wind breath to slow her fall and his super speed to get back to the window before she notices.

Probably should have planned this better, Lois.
When this doesn't work, she begins to lose her suspicions until that idiot kid slips down the Falls and Superman has to save him. Lois takes note of Clark's lack of presence and in a very good scene calls him out and shoots him because she knows Superman is bulletproof. Yes, it's a little psychotic, but heck, I'd be willing to bet my life (or Clark's in this case) given the evidence at hand.

The tone of this film even makes Ned Beatty's character less annoying, and that's a plus, even if he is only around for two scenes.

And Jor-El. OH YES, JOR-EL! Brando's scenes, which were kept out of the theatrical release to avoid paying him, prove to be as pivotal as Donner always claimed, as virtually every complaint about why things are happening disappears here.

First off, Jor-El gives an infinitely better explanation as to why he can't love and be Superman at the same time. Hell, he explains it better than the Jedi do in the prequels. The gist is that you cannot serve as a protector of all humanity when you value one human's life over all the others. 

It's not the best excuse, but Brando's argument holds some real weight and it's at least somewhat sensible. If you begin to favor certain humans, then that means you won't be above putting certain humans beneath yourself and prioritizing based on what's good for yourself instead of the world.

Additionally, when Superman goes into the Red Sun radiation room in this one, it destroys all the crystals... except the one that created the fortress because it carried the most power. It turns out it was a fail safe for the event that Clark would ever need to fix a serious situation after losing his powers (like, you know, three escaped Kryptonian murderers).

So when Clark comes back to the Fortress looking for any way to regain his powers, Jor-El appears to him and, similar to Zordon's wave at the end of Power Rangers in Space, he releases the life energy he placed in the crystal and gives it to his son, fulfilling the 'father becomes the son, son becomes the father' thing in the older footage.

Best scene of ANY Superman movie, and it only took 26
years after the original release.
This... wow. These scenes literally make the damn movie. The sheer emotion from Christopher Reeve when he knows this will be the last time he hears his father's voice is heart-wrenching and probably the best energy of either of the first two films. I would literally tell you to buy the DVD of this movie simply to own Brando's scenes in this movie.

The last major difference is the ending, where Superman actually destroys the Fortress of Solitude (because it's obsolete now) and kisses Lois WITHOUT wiping her memory. I tend to agree with their belief that Superman, not Clark, should kiss Lois. Superman is the primary persona in this movie and it's good they stayed true to that.

In order to execute the return to status quo, instead, they chose to do the 'reverse time by circumnavigating the earth' thing again. According to the commentary, this scene was always supposed to end this movie, but the producers wanted the most expensive effect in the first film. (which helped to REALLY put them over budget. Morons.)

Interestingly, had that plan been executed, the first Superman probably would have gone down as just about perfect, while this one would lose points for such an insane ending. As it stands, though, the first film takes the brunt of that criticism, while I barely hold anything against this one.

The power already exists in this universe thanks to the first film, so it makes sense that he'd use it here. Granted, it creates just as many questions, but that's part of how this ridiculous ability works, I guess.

Overall, yeah, this is miles better than the theatrical release. Heck, I'd say it's better than the first Superman film. It is really that good. The saddest thing is that what few issues I have with it come almost completely in the Lester footage that had to stay in place, but it doesn't detract all that much.

There was no stupid Paris scene, no tripping in the fire and NO MIND-WIPING KISS. I honestly cannot thank Warner Bros. enough for making this movie happen.

As for it's rating, without hesitation I give it 4 stars out of 4 and 9.1 out of 10. If you see any Superman movie... well, see the first one because you deserve the background, but then make a point to watch this one later on. This is the sequel the original deserved, and the two combined are what Man of Steel has to compete with when it releases.

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