Friday, December 01, 2006

Superman II

Superman II, as completed by director Richard Lester, came out when I was 10. I watched it several times in the theater and certainly would have been my preferred Superman movie at that time. The three Supervillains, especially Terence Stamp's General Zod, were terrifying and charismatic and the developed sexuality of it was intriguing.

Coming back to it as an adult, however, it was an awkward and often silly movie. Reeve, Stamp et al are still brilliant, but the movie clunked about, rarely finding its own tone and when it did, it was the overly goofy tone that moviemakers too often stumble into when handling comic book characters. Not in the classic '50s multi-colored Kryptonite way, mind you, but the kind that gives Zod the power to lift people with a beam from his finger or gives Superman the power of launching a giant cellophane logo from his chest and erase memories with a kiss.

So, it was with more than a little anticipation that I went into the newly re-edited Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which attempts to restore the film to the way Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner intended when he shot the bulk of the material simultaneous to the shooting of the first movie, and it is indeed a much better movie in nearly every way.

First of all, it's definitely clear that this movie is part two of Superman: The Movie. The story and themes grow directly out of and even complete arc begun in the first film.

The happiest part for me was the elimination of all but one moment where Zod or Superman demonstrate powers outside what fans and non-fans alike know to be the powers Kryptonians have on planet Earth.

It is also a much tighter version of the story, often to its advantage, but occasionally it comes across as rushed. I believe this comes down to Donner's preference to cut or cut short the Lester footage as much as possible, which often times does move things too quickly.

The ending also doesn't work as intended, because it repeats the ending of Superman: The Movie. Actually, all things being equal, it would work much better here than in the first movie, where it's by far the wonkiest element of that otherwise genuinely great movie, in that it's less a deus ex machina to solve a big problem and more a small element of putting things right.

Honestly, I'd be even happier if someone recut the ending of Superman: The Movie and released them in a box-set called, "Superman: The Original Epic" or some such thing, but that's undoubtedly far too much to hope for.

As it is, this movie is much stronger, the beats work better and it completes Superman: The Movie in a way the theatrical version never did. It's more than just worth watching, it's worth holding as a preferred version of Superman II and putting on the shelf and watching as part of any decent Superman double-feature.

But somewhere out in the ether of time there remains another version, where Donner would have shot the missing scenes so they would link and hold up with the original material better, fixed the ending and whatever else. This movie helps clear up in my mind's eye what that movie might have been like and its even more tantalizing and even more unreachable.

I think Warner Brothers and Michael Thau deserve enormous kudos for making this happen and executing it this well.

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