Sunday, June 09, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Superman II (1980) **½

PG, 127 min.
Director: Richard Lester
Writers: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Tom Mankiewicz, Jerry Siegel (characters), Joe Shuster (characters)
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, Jackie Cooper, Ned Beatty, Valerie Perrine, Susannah York, Clifton James, E.G. Marshall, Marc McClure

It’s a little harder to be kind to the follow up to the first comic book superhero movie to get it right. “Superman II” didn’t get it right. That’s understandable when you consider the story behind the making of it.  Richard Donner began directing it simultaneously with the original “Superman: The Movie” as an epic 2-part movie. Almost finished with principal photography of the second film, production was halted so he could finish editing the first film so he could make its December 1978 release date. Then, Warner Bros. never returned him to the project. Instead, they hired Richard Lester, who made a name for himself directing the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!”, to finish the project by re-shooting a good portion of Donner’s footage and adding some scenes that Donner had never intended.

Such an unusual progression of events is bound to produce a compromised work. For it’s success, nobody would’ve known at the time, but the film has not aged as well as the original due to Lester’s insistence on adding comedy to this project which already held more camp than the original. Many of the special effects this time around are sub par, and many of the situations are awkward. Not all of this is Lester’s fault. A little too much of the film is concentrated on the Lois and Clark relationship, which takes away from the power of the villains, especially Lex Luthor, who operates merely as a liaison for the super villains this time around.

In 2006, Warner Bros. allowed Donner, his original editor and some other crew members to assemble a restored version of Donner’s original cut, or at least as close to his vision as they could get with the footage he originally filmed in 1977 and some of Lester’s footage to fill in the gaps. I regret that I still haven’t seen this version of the film. Known as “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut”, this version is available with the original theatrical version in the current Superman film collections. This original theatrical cut is always hot and cold for me. Since the story is still pretty much the same as Donner’s original intentions, it does work as a proper sequel, especially considering how far away the next two films would bring the series from Donner’s pitch perfect representation of the hero in the first film. Maybe next time I watch it, it’ll have to be the “Richard Donner Cut”, though, so I can get a better idea of the original intentions for this production.

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