Saturday Movie Review – “Superman II: The Donner Cut”

This week’s review is of a new version of an old friend.

Cast and Crew

Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent / Superman
Margot Kidder as Lois Lane
Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor
Ned Beatty as Otis
Valerie Perrine as Miss Teschmacher
Terence Stamp as Zod
Sarah Douglas as Ursa
Jack O’Halloran as Non
Marlon Brando as Jor-El
Jackie Cooper as Perry White
Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen

Written by Mario Puzo, David and Leslie Newman, and Tom Mankewicz
Directed by Richard Donner

Complete information is available from this IMDB page.

Buy from:
or Also available in HD-DVD and Blu-Ray formats, as well as being included in the excellent Superman Ultimate Collector’s Edition.

Past movie reviews can be found here.


The basic plotline, in which Superman and Lois reveal their love for each other without realizing escaped Kryptonian criminals are on the loose, remains the same as the theatrical cut.
The details, however, change dramatically. Donner had filmed over 80% of this movie when he was fired and replaced by Richard Lester. Lester, however, needed to rewrite and reshoot significant portions of the film to maintain screen credit. This version restores as many of the original scenes as possible, which happens to fill in (or not dig) certain plot holes from the original.

It should also be noted that the original vision for Superman II was also meant to mesh with the original vision of Superman. The following is included in the recap montage at the start of this movie, but I’ll summarize it here for those who are unaware, behind spoiler protection: In the original film, Superman had no need to turn the world back in time. Instead, he was fast enough to catch both missiles. When he threw the second nuclear missile out of the atmosphere, it was intended to detonate in space, freeing Zod, Ursa, and Non, and ending the first film in that cliffhanger. End spoilers.

High Point

The “new” scene in the Daily Planet near the beginning of the film. That is a much better way to get Lois on the right track. The followup scene, reinserted using screen test footage, is also an improvement over the released version.

Low Point

They still talk on the moon!

The Review

Originality is difficult when you’re talking about a new edit of a sequel to a movie based on a lisenced property. Still, in the context of a rerelease, this is a dramatic different, with changes as extreme as those in the alternate cuts of Blade Runner or Daredevil. This isn’t just a longer version, as it is with the Lord of the Rings movies, but an entirely different sensibility. This feels like a different sequel, and one much more deserving of the title. I give it 3 out of 6.

The effects are often obvious. Many of the visual effects were done in the 1970s, and others were done cheaply this year specifically for this video release. I give it 4 out of 6.

The story is greatly improved over that of the theatrical release. The consequences of finding the green crystal, Lex’s education, and Lois’ discovery all blend together in a much nicer way. Also, some of the more random powers seen in the final confrontation sequence are no longer present. The narrative is almost as tight as the original. (There are a couple of scenes I felt should have been reversed, but it’s still a marked improvement.) I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting was better from Kidder in this cut. His displeasure at Donner’s treatment must have impacted her performance with Lester, as she is much more convincing in her scenes shot by Donner in this cut. The rest of the group performs just as well as they did originally. Hackman’s character moments are also restored, making him more than a source of exposition. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is great. Part of that is knowing some of the behind the scenes information that lead to the different versions, so simply seeing Donner’s cut in any form is an automatic boost in this category. The fact that it’s simply a better movie helps as well. It’s funnier, and does a much better job of capturing the feel of Superman. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is hampered by the fact that they’re releasing a film that wasn’t entirely shot in the first place. Screen test footage is obvious due to the appearance of the actors, and the excessive amount of time spent with the camera on Kidder instead of Reeve. (Reeve had been cast, but they used footage from the Lois Lane screen tests, so the camera was on Lois much more than it should be in a final cut.) They did a good job with what they had, but if you don’t know the history behind it, you’ll see what appear to be mistakes in a rushed product. (The only real mistake was firing Donner in the first place.) I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, it’s a much improved film, significantly closer in quality to the original. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Superman II: The Donner Cut receives 31 out of 42.