|Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut|
|Released||November 28, 2006|
|Directed by|| Richard Donner|
Richard Lester (uncredited)
|Written by||Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Tom Mankiewicz (uncredited)|
|Music by||John Williams|
|Studio||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Budget||$54,000,000 (original + restoration)|
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a 2006 superhero film that is a re-edit of the 1980 film Superman II. It has been officially sanctioned by Warner Bros. and director Richard Donner, and stars Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp and Marlon Brando. The cut was supervised by Donner, creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz who penned the screenplay for Superman and the 1977 shooting script for Superman II on which the Donner cut is based, and Michael Thau, an editor who worked with Donner on the 2001 director's cut and restoration of Superman.
Unlike many "special edition" and “director’s cut” movies released over the years, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a largely different film. As much as half of the film contains never-before seen material filmed by Donner, including 15 minutes of restored Marlon Brando scenes as Superman's father Jor-El as well as numerous new Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder scenes, although much of this "new" material appeared in earlier extended television cuts. There are also several newly-filmed shots with CGI enhancements. Richard Donner is credited as director of the film instead of Richard Lester — the original credited director of Superman II. More than half of Lester's footage filmed for Superman II has been removed from the film and replaced with Donner footage shot during the original principal photography from 1977–1978. Certain footage filmed by Richard Lester remains in sequences that were not shot by Donner due to the halt in production for this film.
The film was released on DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc in November 2006.
In 1977, director Richard Donner set about simultaneously filming an epic two-part adaptation of the Superman comic book series. With approximately 70% of Superman II made and after significantly going over budget and over schedule on both movies, filming on Superman II was suspended in October 1977 so that Donner could focus on completing the first film, Superman. Following the release of Superman in 1978, it was widely assumed that Donner would be re-called to complete the remaining 30% of the film. However, a number of events led to Donner’s eventual replacement as director of the movie. Most importantly, the producers (Alexander and Ilya Salkind) announced that Marlon Brando’s completed scenes for Superman II would be excised from the movie in order to prevent them having to pay the actor the reported 11.75% of gross US box-office takings he was now demanding for his performance in the sequel.
Tensions had existed between the Salkinds and Richard Donner throughout the almost nineteen months of filming it had taken to complete Superman. In the commentary track on the 2006 DVD release of the theatrical version of Superman II, co producer Pierre Spengler recounts that Donner was indeed invited to return to complete the film, but, according to an Army Archerd/Variety magazine interview, Donner declared that if Spengler remained on the picture, Donner himself would not return to direct. In the same commentary, Ilya Salkind states the removal of Spengler was allegedly one of many demands made by Donner, whom he claimed also wanted final cut of the film and more control over the production, concessions the Salkinds weren't willing to give up.
The situation finally came to a head and on March 15, 1979: the Salkinds decided to replace Donner with UK-based director Richard Lester. In 1989, Donner told Starlog magazine, "...the Salkinds, for whatever reason, chose not to bring me back. After I waited to hear for six or eight weeks, I got a telegram that said, 'Your services are no longer needed.'"
A replacement director
Lester had served as mediator (or uncredited co-producer) between the Salkinds and Donner for a large part of the initial shoot. Suspicions abounded at the time that Lester was being primed for taking over the film, despite Donner’s determination to complete the project at all costs and Lester’s assurances to the contrary.
Lester himself has never fully commented on his role in the controversial production of Superman II and has refused any involvement with the 2006 DVD re-releases, although at the beginning of an AMC widescreen telecast of II, Lester had acknowledged that the sequel was indeed "his film".
Donner, who befriended Lester during the original shoot, felt particularly betrayed by Lester's assumption of the directorial reins. Donner's replacement and the manner in which it had taken place caused a near-mutiny amongst the main cast, who had all enjoyed a close relationship with the director.
The situation was further complicated by the deaths of cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth on October 28, 1978 and production designer John Barry, who died on June 1, 1979, Richard Lester's first day as director of Superman II. Tom Mankiewicz, a key Donner ally who had re-written both Superman scripts to comply with Donner’s directive to make the features more realistic and less camp, declined to return without Donner, as did editor Stuart Baird. Following the film's completion, composer John Williams did not return to write a score for the movie as he turned his attention to other projects, such as Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
An alternate Superman II
In order for Richard Lester to earn a directorial credit on the film, Superman II had to contain at least 51% of his footage. This meant that large portions of the film were subsequently re-written and re-shot by Lester, with much of Donner’s filmed Superman II footage excised.
Both Superman scripts were originally written by The Godfather writer Mario Puzo, and then re-written in 1976 by screenwriters David & Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, prior to Donner's hiring as director. When Donner came on board in January 1977, he insisted on bringing in screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz to re-write the script. Mankiewicz made numerous and considerable changes to both Superman I and Superman II, removing and altering major scenes, and completely re-writing much of the dialogue. It was this Mankiewicz script that was then filmed by Donner in 1977-8. Following Donner's (and Mankiewicz's) removal, writers David & Leslie Newman were re-hired by the producers to re-re-write the Superman II script, even though most of it had already been filmed. Ultimately, the Newmans did this by making Superman II as similar as possible to the 1976 script they had originally written before Mankiewicz and Donner came on board. Scenes that had been most altered by Mankiewicz in 1977 were subject to the greatest revisions. For example, in the original Newman draft, Superman II begins with terrorists seizing a building in New York. Mankiewicz's 1977 re-write removed this scene entirely. Then, the Newmans re-inserted the scene, albeit shifting the location to Paris. The same can be said for several crucial Newman / Benton scenes, including Lois's deliberate jump into a river near Niagara Falls (removed by Mankiewicz – reinserted by the Newmans); Clark revealing he is Superman by not burning his hand (re-written by Mankiewicz to have Lois trick Clark by firing a gun with a blank bullet at him – reinserted by the Newmans). A considerable amount of cut Newman / Benton dialogue was also reinserted by the Newmans, almost word-for-word into the re-re-revised Superman II script.
It has been suggested that had Gene Hackman (who had completed all of his scenes for Superman II under Donner) returned for any further filming without Donner, almost all of Donner's Superman II footage would have been scrapped. As it was, only the Gene Hackman Donner footage – as well as Donner footage deemed too expensive to re-shoot – was destined to remain in the finished film. According to Ilya Salkind's 2006 DVD commentary track for II, Hackman was merely unavailable to return to shoot his remaining scenes for the final Lester cut.
One of the early changes made for the final Lester cut was the elimination of any scenes involving Marlon Brando, as millions of dollars would have been paid to Brando for the inclusion of these scenes.
Lester’s main task in completing Superman II was to film cheaply and quickly, and to avoid further budget or scheduling overruns. According to many of the cast and crew, this entailed a noticeable drop in the quality of film-making. Certain scenes were hastily re-written and shot quickly.
Ultimately, the Newmans' purportedly-campier take on Superman, coupled with Lester’s more comically-oriented sense of direction, led to a Superman II that, although a huge box office and critical success, was condemned by Donner as severely flawed. In 1989, Donner told Starlog magazine: Template:Cquote
Lester has often been vilified by Superman purists who link his assumption of the directorial reins with a general downward spiral in the quality of the Christopher Reeve Superman films (Superman III was directed entirely by Lester). In a June 2006 interview with Hotdog Magazine, producer Ilya Salkind conceded that Lester did not share the same passion for the material as had his predecessor Richard Donner.
The 1980 theatrical Superman II
Filming was completed for Lester's Superman II on March 10, 1980 and was released in Europe and Australia on December 4, 1980 and June 19, 1981 in the United States. This version of Superman II combined Donner footage shot in 1977 with Lester footage shot in 1979. Approximately 30% of Lester’s Superman II is Richard Donner footage.
In numerous scenes, the theatrical Superman II interweaves footage filmed years apart. Much of this interweaving was necessitated by Lex Luthor actor Gene Hackman’s refusal to return to film any further scenes with Lester. Thus, all Hackman footage in the film is Donner’s, although in certain scenes, a body double was used for wide shots re-filmed by Lester. In several instances, Lester re-staged Donner-filmed scenes, inserting certain newly-filmed shots into pre-existing material. This is most evident during a scene in which the super-villains burst into the Daily Planet. The scene was filmed in its entirety by Donner in 1977. The Perry White office set was then partly re-built under Lester in 1979, the actors placed in exactly the same positions, costumes, etc., and new material filmed and inserted into the final film.
Donner footage in Superman II
The following is a list of all major Donner footage that was retained for Superman II:
- Lex Luthor in prison, including the escape by balloon.
- The three super-villains land on the moon and kill the astronauts.
- Lex Luthor at the Fortress of Solitude.
- The three super-villains attack the White House and force the president to "kneel before Zod.".
- A powerless Clark is beaten up by a bully in a fast-food diner.
- Lex Luthor visits the super-villains in the White House.
- The villains burst into the Daily Planet and chase after Superman (some close-ups are edited-in Lester footage)
- The villains return to the Planet and decide to go to Superman’s polar fortress (some close-ups are edited-in Lester footage)
- The second part of the final scene at the Fortress of Solitude, beginning with Luthor’s belated arrival (some close-ups are edited-in Lester footage)
- Clark returns to the diner and gets his revenge on the bully.
The rest of the film, including the opening scenes at the Eiffel Tower, the scenes at Niagara Falls, the scenes of the super-villains in Midwest America and the battle in Metropolis were all shot by Lester. Several television stations have broadcast extended cuts over the years. These have largely featured additional Donner material including footage of Superman destroying the Fortress of Solitude at the conclusion of the film, as well as extra scenes between Lois and Superman.
Superman II controversies and plot holes
Critics of Lester’s Superman II, including Donner, have stated that Lester’s penchant for comedy undermined the integrity of the film, especially when compared to Donner’s Superman. Examples of this trademark comedy are evident during scenes which feature Superman fighting the super-villains in Metropolis. The villains attack the citizens of Metropolis using super-breath. Several comedic sight gags follow, including the wind blowing off a man’s toupee, the ice cream being blown off of a cone and into someone's face, a man being blown over in a telephone booth and talking the whole time, a man with an umbrella being spun around as if dancing (parodying Singin' in the Rain), and a man on roller-skates rolling uncontrollably backwards across the pavement. Despite all of this, II became as much of a worldwide hit as its predecessor.
However, there was one gaping plot-hole that has dogged fans over the years. This concerns a mysterious cut between a scene featuring a powerless Clark finding a green crystal at the Fortress of Solitude, and Superman’s return to the Daily Planet to fight Zod and the other two super-villains. The question of just how Superman regained his powers proved a vital catalyst for Superman fans, who were aware that a major scene featuring Marlon Brando as Jor-El had been excised from the film, and not replaced with a convincing or coherent alternative.
Discussions about lost Donner footage have been raging for years, and with the advent of the internet, numerous letter-writing and other campaigns were instigated to persuade Warner Bros. to allow Richard Donner to create his version of Superman II. In 2005, a fan restored DVD known as Superman II: Restored International Cut was released. It featured extended scenes shown in various television broadcasts over the years and helped bring much publicity to the cause when Warner Bros. threatened legal action over the bootleg release. You can read a review of the fan film here.
The Richard Donner Cut
When filming was suspended on Donner's Superman II in October 1977, the director had completed almost all of the major character-based sequences in the film. All scenes in the Daily Planet and most scenes set in the Fortress of Solitude were completed. All scenes featuring Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper and Gene Hackman were also completed. What remained to be filmed was the villains' arrival on Earth, and their rampage through mid-west America as well as exteriors at Washington D.C. during which Zod announces his takeover of the Earth from the tip of the Washington Monument. Most of the battle scenes between Superman and the super-villains had yet to be shot, as well as both the interiors and exteriors at Niagara Falls. Several minor scenes including a love-struck Superman deliberately tilting over the Leaning Tower of Pisa (later adapted in Superman III) and a scene in which Superman warns off some English fox-hunters were also not filmed.
With the new cut of the film, Richard Donner is said to have become the first director in history to return to a project he left unfinished with a majority of the footage that had already been shot.
The new film features most of the completed never-before-seen scenes (some scenes have been deleted for narrative/dramatic reasons), which in many cases replace scenes re-filmed or altered by Richard Lester. These include the original opening of the film set in the offices of the Daily Planet. In this opening, we see Lois trying to figure out the Clark Kent/Superman similarities, followed by Perry White assigning Clark and Lois on the honeymoon racket in Niagara Falls, and then Lois testing Clark/Superman by jumping off the balcony of one floor of the Daily Planet (a revised version of this scene appears in the Lester theatrical cut).
The Mankiewicz script / original Donner shoot
The following is a list detailing restored or differing scenes from Superman II that appear in the Richard Donner Cut:
- Pre-credits: Superman reprise. The arrest of the three super-villains is deleted, but Jor-El's role in there is restored.
- The villains' travel through space towards Earth is shown alongside Kal-El's own travel pod. Superman hurls the nuclear missile from the end of the first film into space. Different shots and angles have been used to those in Superman.
- The super-villains are freed from the Phantom Zone by the nuclear missile, and fly to the moon. Zod shouts "FREE!" A combination of Donner footage and new effects.
- Credit sequence. Marlon Brando is given third billing, after Gene Hackman and Christopher Reeve, before the main title. Richard Donner is also credited as director for the first time and also “A Richard Donner Film” is credited. The music is credited to John Williams whose score from Superman is reused in some scenes.
- Interior Daily Planet. Lois glances at Clark and seemingly sees his resemblance to Superman for the first time. She draws over Superman's picture in the newspaper, and later shows this Clark. At his denial, she jumps out of the window to prove that Clark is Superman. This sequence was filmed by Donner, and features several new effects of Clark zooming through the Daily Planet and using his super-breath and heat vision to break Lois’ fall. Lester’s opening at the Daily Planet and the Eiffel Tower sequence has been deleted.
- Luthor and Otis in prison. This Donner scene featured in Lester’s Superman II. Extended to include a scene in which Otis tries to pass on a rumor about a fellow inmate being a bed-wetter, only to pass it on to said inmate.
- The super-villains land on the moon and attack the astronauts. This Donner scene is featured in Lester’s Superman II. Footage of Houston control was never filmed by Donner, and Lester material is used in the Donner Cut, albeit heavily re-edited.
- Luthor’s escape from prison by balloon. This Donner footage was featured in Lester’s Superman II but is expanded here to include more banter between Lex and Otis and Lex and Eve. Arctic daytime background plates which featured in the Lester cut replaced with nightime city background plates.
- Niagara Falls interiors – the honeymoon couple arrive at the bungalow. Heavily-truncated version of Lester's scene features in the Donner Cut, which cuts away just as Lois is about go through the door into the honeymoon suite.
- Luthor and Eve head north. This scene, filmed by Donner, is not in the cut, but is in a deleted scenes section on the DVD.
- Luthor and Eve arrive at the Fortress of Solitude. Lester’s footage of Superman’s mother and the Kryptonian elders has been removed from this Donner scene. Instead, Brando’s Jor-El now informs Luthor of the existence of the super-villains. This scene has been extended to feature new sequences of Luthor and Eve’s arrival at the fortress, with extended dialogue throughout the sequence.
- Niagara Falls exteriors. Clark gets a hot dog. Superman rescues a small boy. Donner never filmed these scenes, so Lester’s footage (largely similar to original script) is used here. However, Lester's footage of Lois’ later deliberate jump into the river to prove that Clark is Superman has been removed, as well as the scene where Clark returns with the hot dogs.
- Exteriors. Luthor and Eve head back south in the Snowmobile, whilst Luthor plots and schemes. This scene is not in the film, but is featured in a deleted-scenes section on the Donner Cut DVD.
- Niagara Falls bungalow interiors. Lois fires gun at Clark, who is forced to reveal his true identity just before Lois admits she used a blank. This scene was never filmed, but the original Donner-directed Reeve and Kidder screen tests, which played out this scene, have been edited together and feature here. This can be made out by Clark's distinctly different hairstyle and glasses. Lester’s sequence featuring Clark burning his hand in the fireplace has been deleted.
- The villains arrive in Midwestern America, and meet the rangers. Donner never filmed this scene, thus Lester footage is used here. In Lester’s version, part of the dialogue intended for this scene was transferred to the army general in the small town. The Donner cut features heavily re-edited versions of the scene, removing Ursa's arm-wrestling gag from the Lester film, Non killing a boy, and Ursa's statement that the boy will never become a man.
- Fortress of Solitude interiors. Superman discusses his dual identity with Lois, and then they make love for the first time. Lester footage is mostly used here.
- Washington monument destroyed, featuring new CGI effects footage. The super-villains fly into Washington, D.C. as the Washington monument crumbles. Footage of The President and his council watching these events on TV replaces the Lester version in which Mount Rushmore is destroyed.
- Fortress of Solitude Interiors. Jor-El warns Superman of the dangers of falling in love. Superman gives up his powers and becomes a mortal. Lois appears in this scene wearing only Superman's shirt and socks. Of note, is that Lois is never seen in close-up in this scene. It remains unclear whether this was an editing choice, or whether the close-up was lost/destroyed or never filmed by Donner. Lester’s re-shoot of this scene is scrapped entirely.
- The villains attack the White House and force the President to kneel before Zod. This Donner-filmed scene was featured in Lester’s Superman II. The new cut features extended footage throughout.
- Exteriors. Lois and Clark drive toward the diner. Donner Cut features a car on a snowy mountain road.
- Clark is beaten up inside the diner by a truck driver named Rocky, and hears the President relinquish his powers to Zod. This Donner-filmed scene featured in Lester’s Superman II.
- Luthor visits the villains inside the White House and offers them the son of Jor-El. This Donner-filmed scene featured in Lester’s Superman II.
- A bruised Clark arrives at the Fortress of Solitude and screams for his father, after which he discovers the green crystal which he uses to reactivate the Fortress. Jor-El appears (both in his normal disembodied head form and in full corporial form), and 'dies' in order to restore his son’s powers.
- Daily Planet interiors. Lois, Perry and Jimmy Olsen wait for Superman. The villains burst into the Daily Planet, and Superman finally appears. A new Donner scene in which Perry White paces around replaces a similar re-filmed Lester scene. Many of these Donner scenes featured in Lester’s Superman II, though certain shots were re-filmed by Lester.
- Superman and the super-villains fight in Metropolis. Superman flees the city. Most of these scenes were never filmed by Donner. The new cut combines Lester footage (re-edited to remove slapstick sight-gags, although the backwards roller skater highlighted in the Lester version is still briefly visible in one shot), original Donner footage, and new special-effects sequences. Lester scenes featuring Lois leaning out of the office window with a rather insensitive female co-worker have been replaced with original Donner footage. Another added scene is Jimmy re-entering the office with Perry's coffee and Lex steals it out of his hand. Jimmy argues that the coffee was "the Chief's" and Lex counters calmly with "The Chief's got it."
- The super-villains return to the Daily Planet. Luthor offers them Superman’s home address. These Donner scenes featured in Lester’s Superman II, though certain shots were re-filmed by Lester. The Lester shot where Ursa seizes Lois is omitted.
- The group arrives at the Fortress of Solitude. The super-villains break through its defenses. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. This scene is not in the Donner Cut, but is available to view in a deleted scenes section on the DVD.
- Superman tricks the villains into losing their powers. Superman crushes Zod’s hand. Lester’s Superman II contained this Donner footage, though certain shots were Lester inserts (Lois Lane has noticeably different hair and make-up in the Lester re-shoots).
- Luthor is taken away by the Arctic patrol, while trying to plead with Superman to not let them take him back to prison counting down the percentages he could offer him from 3-2-1. Superman shouts, "Blast off!" This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. This scene is not in the Donner Cut, but is available to view in a deleted scenes section on the DVD.
- Superman destroys the Fortress of Solitude. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts.
- Outside the Fortress, Lois and Superman agree to end their relationship. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts, and here is trimmed and re-edited.
- Superman takes a weeping Lois home, where Superman says a final goodbye to Lois. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. Only the end shot where Superman leaves the roof was shown in Lester's Superman II.
- Superman turns back time to avoid the devastation of the planet caused by the super-villains, and thus re-imprisons the villains in the Phantom Zone, repairs the destroyed Fortress of Solitude (not shown in film), and makes Lois forget Superman's secret identity. Part of this sequence was used as the ending for Donner's first Superman film but no replacement scene was written. Includes previously unseen footage of Jackie Cooper as Perry White brushing his teeth.
- Daily Planet interiors. Lois has a feeling she may have missed something important, and asks Clark to get her a pizza.
- Daily Planet interiors. Clark bumps into Jimmy, then into a rude man, reminding him of unfinished business. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. This scene is not in the Donner Cut, but is available to view in a deleted scenes section on the DVD.
- Clark gets his revenge on the bully in the diner. This Donner-filmed scene featured in Lester’s Superman II. (The inclusion of this scene in the Donner Cut creates a continuity error as references are made to the previous encounter between Clark and the bully, even though Superman has turned back time.)
- The end credits no longer say "Superman III Coming Soon"
Creating the Donner Cut
The prospect of creating a Richard Donner Cut of Superman II did not begin to gain momentum until the 2000 restoration of Superman for DVD. At this time, six tons of footage for Superman II was discovered in vaults in England, including much "lost" footage filmed by Richard Donner. Soon after, Donner was approached by Warner Bros, to do an extended version of Superman II, but remained reluctant to revisit the movie.
Nonetheless, fans continued to campaign for the film. Ultimately, three websites were instrumental in creating the momentum that finally led to the creation of the Donner Cut. The first was Capedwonder.com, run by Superman collector Jim Bowers. In 2004, Bowers published numerous stills from "lost" scenes in Richard Donner’s Superman II, seemingly providing definitive proof that Donner had filmed far more footage than the Salkinds or Richard Lester had initially been prepared to concede. Secondly, the website Supermancinema.co.uk provided fans with detailed breakdowns of the theatrical Superman II, identifying Donner footage within the film, and also providing speculative lists of just how much lost Donner footage might actually exist. Finally, on 19th June 2004, the Planet of the Apes fansite TheForbidden-Zone.com organised hundreds of fans to email or write letters directly to Warner Bros. president Jim Cardwell, demanding that the studio allow Donner to release his version of Superman II. This effort was the first to elicit a positive response from the studio.
Other than Donner’s reluctance to re-visit the project, these legal issues were ultimately the greatest obstacle towards creating a Donner Cut. The required footage was still owned by the Salkinds, and issues relating to the use of Brando’s filmed footage in Superman II remained unresolved. Issues relating to whether Richard Lester or Richard Donner would be credited as director of any new cut also remained to be addressed. It was not until legal negotiations surrounding the use of certain Brando footage in the film Superman Returns that the key issue of whether Brando’s filmed Superman II footage could be used was resolved.
Work finally began on the project in late 2005, though without Richard Donner. At the Director’s Guild screening of the Donner Cut in November 2006, Michael Thau underlined Donner’s reluctance to involve himself in the project, telling the audience:
Thus, mixed emotions invariably followed the initial announcement in January 2006 that a new Superman II was being worked on, primarily down to the news that Richard Donner was having little or nothing to do with the re-edit.
A month later, when asked about the new Superman II cut, Donner told the website Dark Horizons: Template:Cquote
Over the years, Donner has frequently proclaimed diametrically-opposing views with regards to the possibility of re-assembling his Superman II — often stating that he would like to do it, other times stating that he would not. In June 2006, restorationist Michael Thau finally confirmed that Donner had finally decided on a far closer involvement with the project, also bringing in writer Tom Mankiewicz to assist in its creation.
In August 2006, Thau confirmed that the entire film, rather than simply featuring new material, would be re-cut from the original camera negatives (including the small number of Lester scenes remaining in the film). The Donner cut comprises 1977–78 pre-cut Donner Superman II negative edited at the time by Stuart Baird, 1980 Superman II theatrical negative cut by John Victor Smith, as well as numerous newly-cut elements edited together or re-edited by Michael Thau. It was essential to edit in the Lester footage in order for the Donner Cut to be coherent story-wise.
The film opens with highlights of events from the first movie: Jor-El condemning three Kryptonian villains, General Zod, Non, and Ursa, to the Phantom Zone and sending his son, Kal-El, to Earth in a rocket ship, the launching of the two XK-101 missiles, Superman being trapped with in the swimming pool wearing the Kryptonite necklace by Lex Luthor and being rescued by Ms. Teschmacher, and Superman diverging the XK-101 missile programmed to hit Hackensack, New Jersey into outer space.
The Phantom Zone drifts through space towards Earth because the shock waves after the destruction of Krypton sends it on a new course, and the XK-101 missile explodes near it, causing shock waves that destroy the Phantom Zone, freeing the three villains, who then head toward the Moon.
In the Daily Planet, editor-in-chief Perry White reads an article by Lois Lane about Superman thwarting Lex Luthor's attempts to level most of California. When Jimmy Olsen remarks to Lois Lane that Clark Kent has not been around to see Superman in action, Lois suspects that Clark is Superman and even teases him, when he arrives, that she knows his true identity. She even tries to prove it by jumping out of a window in his presence to call his bluff. But Clark simply races outside at instant speed and seeing Lois still falling, uses his super-breath and heat vision to slow her fall and open roof curtains to act as a trampoline. Lois bounces off them and lands in a fruit stand. By the time she looks up, Clark has already raced back up to the window and looks down, appearing not to have done anything at all.
General Zod, Non, and Ursa arrive on the Moon and kill all astronauts on a joint NASA-Soviet moon expedition. They note that they have become more powerful from how easily they have killed all of the moonwalkers, having acquired more powers from being closer to a yellow Sun. They decide to fly off to Earth, which they believe to be called 'Houston', upon overhearing radio transmissions between the moon mission and mission control in Houston, Texas.
In prison, Lex Luthor devises a plan with Otis to break out. When Otis reveals to Luthor that Superman always flies north to escape radar detection, Luthor decides to track him down using a 'black box' he has created that detects alpha waves. Luthor finally breaks out of jail with the help of Ms. Teschmacher using a hot air balloon, but leaves Otis behind as bait so he can escape. Using the black box device, he goes north to the Fortress of Solitude. Luthor, activating the Fortress control panel, then learns from hologram recordings of Jor-El about the three Kryptonian villains who have escaped. He decides that he will collaborate with the Kryptonian villains to defeat Superman and take over the world.
Meanwhile, Clark and Lois have arrived at Niagara Falls, Ontario to investigate a 'honeymoon racket' assigned to them by Perry White. Lois sees a boy falling over a railing and calls for help; Clark, outside of anyone’s sight, transforms into Superman to rescue him. Later, in their suite, Lois decides to try to prove again that Clark is Superman, suspecting that it is far too convenient that Clark disappears every time Superman appears. She points a gun at Clark and, despite his urges not to do it, fires a shot. She looks with amazement as Clark, who is unharmed, then removes his glasses and, giving Lois a stern look, says, "If you had been wrong, Clark Kent would have been killed." Lois, in a humorous twist, reveals that she has used a blank in her gun.
The three Kryptonian villains arrive on Earth in a small town in Idaho, where they declare their reign over the entire planet to the townspeople after using their powers to easily stop incoming military forces. They then fly to the White House and easily defeat the military defenses that are protecting the President of the United States. Afterwards, General Zod forces the President to kneel before him in submission by threatening everyone’s lives. The President kneels with despair, praying for Superman, wherever he is, to come to the rescue.
Meanwhile, Superman takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude, where he confesses his love for her. They eventually retire to his bedchamber and make love. Kal-El then speaks to his father through hologram about his desire to give up his responsibilities as Superman so he can live a normal life with Lois. Jor-El criticizes Kal-El for his decision, but nonetheless offers him a choice. In order for him to relinquish being Superman, he must enter a crystal chamber and be exposed to harnessed rays from the Krypton red sun. He will, therefore, lose his powers permanently and no longer be invulnerable as he has been before. Despite his father’s pleas to reconsider, Kal-El, without hesitance, enters the chamber and undergoes the de-powering process, which culminates in the destruction of the crystal control panel.
When Clark and Lois later attend a diner to eat, Clark, now powerless, finds that he can’t even handle a bullying customer named Rocky, who easily beats him up. Clark's mood is worsened when he watches on the diner’s TV box the President announcing his surrender to General Zod. Suddenly, the President pleads for Superman, to which General Zod calls out a challenge for Superman to come fight him. Clark realizes that he has to return to the Fortress and find a way to have his powers restored.
Lex Luthor finally arrives at the White House and offers the three villains a way to find Superman, who he notes is the son of Jor-El, their imprisoner, in exchange for possession of 'beachfront property': Australia. Luthor agrees to help the three villains and hopefully find a way to have Superman defeated.
Meanwhile, Clark arrives back at the Fortress, now a darkened sanctum, and calls out to his father for help. Dreading that there may be no hope left, he then notices the green crystal glowing among the remains of the destroyed control panel – the same crystal that has called out to him in the first movie. He uses the crystal to activate the panel, and once more, Jor-El emerges in hologram. He tells Kal-El about his terrible mistake and offers him one last resort to regain his powers – he will channel all of his remaining energy to his son, thereupon dying. Jor-El bids farewell and emerges in full body and spirit; upon touching Kal-El, he restores his son’s powers and dies by fading away. Kal-El emerges once again…as Superman.
The Kryptonian villains attack the Daily Planet and confront Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane. Luthor advises them to take Lois as a hostage, informing them of her close relationship with Superman. Suddenly, Superman appears, taking up Zod’s challenge to fight. An epic and destructive battle ensues in Metropolis between Superman and three villains of equal power and strength. Finally, the Ursa throws a bus at Superman crashing him into a building. Superman, to the people of Metropolis, appears to be dead, and they try to attack the villians, who blow them back with super-breath (with much less slapstick than the Richard Lester version) Superman emerges alive, but flies off, seemingly in defeat.
Luthor offers the villains the location of Superman’s address, the Fortress of Solitude, in exchange for Cuba. Together, the villians fly north, with Luthor and Lois. When they arrive at the Fortress, they confront Superman and Zod threatens Lois' life to force his surrender. However, they also betray Luthor and plan to kill him as well. Luthor seemingly sides with Superman, who tells Luthor about trying to trick the villains into entering the de-powering chamber, the same one he has used before to lose his powers. Luthor, however, double-crosses Superman and warns Zod of the trap. Zod decides to spare Luthor's life and agrees to the term of his demands. Luthor then informs them of how to activate the de-powering process and is ordered to activate it himself.
With Lois' life being threatened, Superman has no choice but to enter the de-powering chamber. After the de-powering process, Superman emerges with a look of weakness and hopelessness on his face. Zod orders him to kneel and take his hand in submission. Much to everyone’s amazement, and Zod's painful surprise, Superman crushes his hand, picks him up, and throws him across the room. Zod falls down into the abyss below. Luthor then realizes that he has been double-crossed into tricking the villains, since Superman has switched the process so that the de-powering rays have been set loose in the Fortress, while Superman has been safe inside the chamber. Non leaps toward Superman, only to realize that he can't fly and fall into the abyss as well. Lois then lands a punch on Ursa, knocking her off her platform into the pit.
Superman and Lois, leaving Luthor stranded in the Fortress and fly away. Superman then uses his heat vision to destroy the Fortress. He then turns back to Lois, who realizes and agrees that Superman must continue to serve humanity, conforming to his father's wishes. After Superman flies her home, Lois begins to break down in despair. Although life would never be the same, she heartbreakingly assures Superman that she can be trusted to keep his secret identity, which Superman acknowledges consolingly, and he flies off.
Superman, realizing that life with Lois can never be, decides to turn back time, flying around the Earth at tremendous speed and reversing events that have occurred throughout, such as the destruction and mayhem done to Metropolis during Superman's battle with the villains and the shattering of the Phantom Zone that releases the Kryptonian villains, as well as Lois' knowledge of his secret identity. The status quo is finally changed back to normal, although both Lois and Perry White seem to experience a sense of déjà vu.
Clark, now with his powers restored as Superman, goes to the diner and confronts Rocky, who is more than willing to pick a fight with him. Much to everyone's surprise, this strange, young man handles the bullying customer like a little child, eventually felling him across the counter and sending him crashing into the pinball machine, knocking him unconscious. Clark then offers to pay the owners of the diner for the damage. With those around wondering how the stranger was able to beat the bully, Clark simply replies:
"Oh, I’ve been... working out."
Superman then flies away from and around the Earth, once again, as the defender of humanity.
Critics have generally applauded the effort, thrilled Donner had the chance to piece his film back together, at the same time bemoaning the lost opportunity. Filmjerk.com’s Brian Orndorf proclaims the film “…a triumph of intention, sending the imagination soaring again over this new angle on a very old question mark. It breaks my heart to even consider what Richard Donner might’ve accomplished had he not been fired, but the “Donner Cut” gives the fans that close, breath-on-the-glass look at a lost classic that never received its chance to soar in the cinematic heavens.”
Other critics disparage the use of the screen-test footage used, as well as the repetition of the time-reversal element used in Superman, with other criticisms pointing to the film’s inevitable restructuring and less than perfect visual effects.
Some reviewers have responded very positively, applauding the darker, more serious tone of the film and admiring that the film seems to flow as a true sequel to the original SUPERMAN. Bryant Griffin of SyFy Portal.com “It really feels like a direct continuation of the first film, honoring the Man of Steel with dignity…” Most have praised the new performances of Marlon Brando, Margot Kidder, and especially Christopher Reeve. The Fulvuedrive-in.com review laments, “It is sad to see Reeve in such great form and not be around to see it…”
Of course, the inevitable comparisons to the theatrically released Superman II run the gamut. Colin Jacobson of DVD Movie Guide notes, “When I compare the Donner cut to the theatrical edition, I think the latter remains more compelling and enjoyable.” Yet, Clint Morris Of Moviehole.net extols, “From the storyline to the tone to the performances to the pacing…. it works a hell of a lot better than the condensed “Superman II” that we know...”
Cast members Margot Kidder, Jack O'Halloran, and Sarah Douglas have openly stated that they believe The Richard Donner Cut is the superior Superman II. IMDB users rate the film 8.1/10, compared to 6.6/10 for the theatrical Superman II. Rotten Tomatoes gave the Donner Cut an aggregate rating of 83% compared to 84% for Lester's Superman II.
As with many re-edits of popular films, particularly vocal fans have criticized the re-cut and have largely lashed out at editor Michael Thau for their misgivings. One fan “review” published on the Supermancinema.co.uk website noted 'By far, the Donner Cut's greatest weakness is the way the film's scenes have been re-structured and shuffled around. Scenes essentially play unto themselves, with no real cohesion between the three threads. Donner himself has also come under criticism for an apparently uncompromising approach to Richard Lester's material, which in certain cases is heavily truncated in the new film.
In addition, many fans have been critical of the fact that Mr. Thau did not produce an expensive visual effects sequence using computer generated images (CGI) to create a "villains-rule-the-world-scene." This scene, which has the villains destroying monuments around the world, was not photographed by Donner before he was fired. Thau, in an interview published on www.supermancinema.co.uk justified the decision based on the amount of footage that would need to be created in CGI. He said "We're talking about creating villains. We're talking about I don't know how much footage ... new footage .. of three villains."
Fan reaction to the Donner Cut has led to many so-called 'fan-cuts' - edits that attempt to address many of their criticisms of both the Lester and Donner versions of Superman II. Some of these efforts have been posted on the Internet, including on the Youtube.com website.
- Body Doubles
- Margot Kidder: Lois falling from the window of the Daily Planet and bouncing off the awning, and typing on her typewriter during the time-reversal sequence.
- Christopher Reeve: Clark Kent looking out the window of the Daily Planet, several shots when Kal-El/Superman is inside the depowering chamber, and when he is repowered by Jor-El.
- Marlon Brando: Jor-El with his hand on Kal-El's shoulder.
- The green crystal Clark picks up in the Fortress of Solitude is a prop from Superman Returns. A shot of editor Michael Thau's hands was used for Clark picking up the green crystal.
- There is a new live-action shot of the White House before the super-villains attack, as well as several new live-action shots during the time-reversal sequence.
- This is the only Superman film to utilize the famous comic book line, "up, up, and away", although it is not Superman who says the line but Lois Lane, saddened at the thought that her relationship with him is over.
- According to the website Supermancinema.co.uk, the Donner cut breaks down thus: 75% is the original Donner shoot, 8% is newly filmed or CGI material, scenes from the first film and also the Niagara Falls Donner-filmed screen-test, and 17% is Lester footage edited to reflect Donner’s vision of the film, specifically removing many of Lester’s trademark sight-gags. About 50 percent of the film is brand-new to the audience.
- Christopher Reeve's first day of filming Superman and Superman II was April 5, 1977. His first scenes were for Superman II as Clark Kent in the Fortress of Solitude, with Marlon Brando as Jor-El.
- Marlon Brando received $3.7 million, 11.75% of the dosmetic gross and 5.65% of the foreign gross for thirteen days of filming on Superman: The Movie and Superman II.
- Gene Hackman received $2 million to play Lex Luthor in both Superman: The Movie and Superman II.
- Christopher Reeve received $250,000 for Superman: The Movie and $500,000 for Superman II.
- There are about 200 new special effects in the film, according to editor Michael Thau.
- It took 9 months to restore Richard Donner's Superman II footage.
- Margot Kidder and Terence Stamp were asked to reloop some of their scenes but declined.
- The footage of Zod kicking Superman into the torch of the Statue of Liberty, and Superman punching Non into the Empire State Building was shot by Richard Donner for a Superman II trailer.
- The time-reversal ending was the original intended ending for Superman II, but it was used for the first film to give it a more exciting conclusion. Richard Donner has stated that he and writer Tom Mankiewicz would have come up with an alternate ending for Superman II if given the opportunity.