One of my favorite films ever is The Mummy (1999) (yes, the one with Brendan Fraser). It came out when I was 10 years old and it was the perfect mix of fun, horror and action that worked so well it became a sort of modern day Indiana Jones. But for all my love for the film, there was always one moment that really bothered me, and it’s right near the end when the titular mummy, Imhotep, opens his mouth really wide when he’s already in human form. Here’s a screenshot of it so we can all cringe together:
For a movie that managed to keep my attention despite being something of a comedy of horror movies while keeping it serious enough to be investing for a pre-teen, that was the moment that took me out of the film – even if for a few seconds. It was just too silly, in my mind. If somebody had told me that I could’ve gotten a version of the film without that moment, I would’ve been the happiest person ever. Oh, the silliness of youth. But if you’re reading this, then you’re probably a child at heart like I am.
Alternative versions of movies have an immediate appeal to them, not just for me, but also for a lot of people. For instance, these days, it’s like the Internet is constantly talking about Zack Snyder’s cut of “Justice League”, and I can understand why. These characters mean a lot to a lot of people, and it makes sense that so many are looking for a better version of the film that we got, kind of like me with “The Mummy”, but this time in a more substantial way.
However, the Snyder Cut will not be the first time that DC has released an “alternative” version of one of their films. That honor goes to “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut”, released in 2006 as an alternative version to the 1980 film of the same name.
Without delving too deep into the story behind why there are two versions of the film, it’s sufficient to say that Donner, who was supposed to direct both “Superman” (1979) and most of “Superman II” at the same time, left production after the release of the first film but when only 75% of the second film had been shot. Another director, Richard Lester, was brought in, and he ended up reshooting the majority of the film and adding some additional silly humor and plot points that were not intended by Donner in his original cut.
Most people were pleased with Lester’s cut, and since there was no Internet for people to rant on, that version prevailed with little demand for Donner’s version for the first few years. But there were some people that felt about “Superman II” the same way I felt about “The Mummy”, so as time went on, the interest in Donner’s version increased, to the point that DC decided to allow Donner and his editor to work on it, as originally envisioned, as a promotion for the release of “Superman Returns” (2006).
For starters, it’s important to say that Donner’s version is, for the most part, pretty close to Lester’s, although most of the changes make the film work and feel more grounded. Gone is Superman’s made-up “super kiss” power that somehow erases Lois’s memory, that whole pointless scene at the Eiffel Tower, and, most importantly, this moment that will puzzle me for the rest of my life (kind of that moment in “The Mummy” I keep bringing up).
And it’s a good thing that Donner’s version doesn’t deviate as much, because the original film was quite strong for its own merits – albeit a product of its time. And that is something you really need to consider before you watch or rewatch this film. Even though Donner’s “Superman II” was edited in 2006, it still feels like a movie from 1980, which is why it’s hard to compare it to modern Superman films (or any other superhero films, for that matter).
For instance, Superman here is quite dorky. He’s very polite, and you can bet he’ll always make the worst dad joke you can think of. The suit also doesn’t hold up as well, but it’s Christopher Reeve’s performance that carries the character and makes him more memorable, in my opinion, than anyone else that has worn the suit in a live action film. There’s a scene where the antenna of a building is about to fall over a woman and her baby, and I found myself cheering right when Superman saves them. The sight of the extremely charismatic and sorely missed Reeves smiling at the people he just saved, combined with John Williams’s timeless score, is something that stays with you. It is because of him, not all the special effects, costumes, or props that people fell in love with Superman in film back then and they continue to love him since.
Here, Superman has the 1980 version of a massive fight against General Zod (the main villain, expertly portrayed by Terrence Stamp in a way that still influences any portrayal of the character today) and his goons in downtown Metropolis. As opposed to more recent incarnations of the character, the Superman in “Superman II” emphasizes saving people as opposed to fighting the villains. He gets very few punches in, and spends most of his time saving the people around him instead of trying to beat the villains. In fact, Superman doesn’t really save the day by using his fists, but he makes it a battle of wits in the climax (I’m trying to be ambiguous, in case you haven’t seen any version of “Superman II”). And I think that’s brilliant, because you definitely don’t need to break someone’s neck to beat them (and that’s all the comparisons I’ll say for the day. Tune in next week for more random comparisons. Or not).
Gene Hackman comes back as Lex Luthor in this film, and his scenes are all identical to the original cut because Hackman did not shoot any scenes with Lester. Unfortunately, however, in many of his early scenes in prison, Lex is played for laughs a bit too much when he interacts with Otis and Mrs. Teschmacher and their scenes come close to slapstick. Thankfully, once Luthor is on his own and interacting with more serious characters like Zod, he more than makes up for it. I like Hackman’s performance as Luthor overall, even though I’m glad that the character has become more serious in recent Superman live action projects (perhaps the best of which is Michael Rosenbaum’s in “Smallville”).
All in all, “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut” is a great film that keeps all the great elements from the theatrical cut but puts them together in a more cinematic and logical way. The film flows better and is not overblown by silly humor, although there are still some weird or silly moments that definitely do not make any sense (e.g. General Zod suddenly having the power of telekinesis at some point). However, the movie is not brought down by these moments.
Ultimately, this cut is still a light, friendly movie that comes from a different time in genre filmmaking, where people took these films less seriously and weren’t afraid to have logical stretches in the story in order to fulfill their plot ambitions (that DEFINITELY doesn’t happen today anymore, right “Martha”?!).
Perhaps there’s a version of “The Mummy” without that silly big mouth moment, who knows. Maybe I’m the only one that’s bothered by it. For now, I’ll just settle for “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut” refining an already great film by getting rid of some moments, and ESPECIALLY for getting rid of this one. And if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy it just as much.