The Movie Waffler Superman Summer - Superman 2 (1980) | The Movie Waffler

Superman Summer - Superman 2 (1980)

Directed by: Richard Lester / Richard Donner
Starring: Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O'Halloran, Valerie Perrine, Marc McClure, EG Marshall

The three intergalactic criminals imprisoned by Jor-El arrive on Earth and use their powers to rule the planet.
"Superman 2" had been shooting simultaneously with the first movie before the Salkinds decided to sack Richard Donner, replacing him with Richard Lester with whom they had worked on "The Three Musketeers".Because of this the movie now exists in two distinct versions; the original theatrical cut and one reassembled recently by Donner himself. I grew up with Lester's cut and always enjoyed it but having seen Donner's far superior edit it's impossible to go back. Clearly the Salkinds cut their noses off to spite their faces as the subtle differences in how Donner chose to tell the story make for a much better film.
The movie consists of two main plot-lines, the arrival of General Zod (Stamp) and his two companions (Douglas and O'Halloran), and Lois Lane's discovery that Clark Kent is actually Superman. It's how the latter is handled which makes the biggest distinction between the two director's cuts. In Lester's version it comes across as awkward and heavy-handed, Lane cottoning on to the theory while she and Kent are covering a story at Niagra Falls. Willing to bet her life that Kent is the Man of Steel, she throws herself into a river, falsely presuming Kent will change into his cape and rescue her. Instead he uses his power slyly to give her a branch to hold onto. Back at their hotel room, Kent clumsily puts his hand in an open fire, giving away his secret. I always thought this was a pretty undramatic way to convey such a major plot point. Donner gives us this plotline right from the outset in his cut with Lane jumping out a window of the skyscraper which houses The Daily Planet. Again Kent rescues her in a way which keeps his identity secret. The reveal once more comes in the Niagra Falls hotel room but this time in far more dramatic fashion. Here Lane tells Kent she is willing to bet his life and pulls a pistol out, shooting him in the chest. When the bullet has no effect, Kent confesses only for Lane to reveal the gun was firing blanks. It's one of the best scenes in the movie but ironically it was never actually shot for the film. Donner used footage from a screen test between the two actors but their performances are so convincing it doesn't feel out of place whatsoever. Even the makeshift set looks more realistic than the rather bizarre one used in Lester's version (what hotel room has an open fire in the center of the room?)
Donner's cut is actually shorter, mainly due to completely cutting out a set-piece at the start involving terrorists on the Eiffel Tower. Apart from that the cuts are subtle, mostly with the purpose of removing the more slapstick moments of Lester's version. Footage of Brando replaces that of Susannah York, a bummer for the actress but far more effective for the film.
No matter which version you account for, this is hands down the greatest superhero movie ever. What makes it stand out from most efforts in the comic book sub-genre is how simple the plot is. Superman takes Lane to the Fortress of Solitude where he intends to seek Jor-El's approval of the relationship. The news isn't received as well as he had hoped however, Jor-El informing him he must revoke his powers if wants to be with the earth-woman. Superman agrees, unaware that Zod is in the process of taking over the whitehouse. His first taste of life as a mortal comes when a redneck dishes out a beating to him in a road-side diner. On a TV screen he sees the news of Zod's campaign and realises he must return to the Fortress to plead for his powers back. Jor-El agrees, but with a catch, restoring Superman's powers will extinguish his father's spirit. With a heavy heart, Superman agrees and heads to Metropolis to kick Zod's ass. What results is one of the greatest action set-pieces in cinema as Superman and the three villains destroy half of Metropolis in an extended intergalactic wrestling match.
This came in the middle of a run of great Hollywood blockbusters from the mid seventies to mid-eighties, a streak which began with "Jaws" and ended with "Back To The Future". We'll probably never see such quality from Hollywood again but we can savour the treats they once gave us.
The Theatrical Cut: 8/10
The Richard Donner Cut: 10/10