Here's a new one: a director's cut from someone who isn't the credited director. When producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind decided to make a Superman film, they adopted the same strategy they chose for The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers: shoot two at once and save some money. But as with the Musketeers films, the plan didn't quite work out. The Salkinds fired Superman director Richard Donner before he could complete the sequel, brought in Musketeers director Richard Lester to replace him, and lost the participation of Gene Hackman (who declined to come back for the Lester-shot footage) and Marlon Brando (whose footage was cut after he raised a stink over missing profits from the first Superman). Released in 1980 in Europe and 1981 in America, Superman II met with popular success, but fans, teased by footage that showed up in TV cuts, kept the idea of a truer, Donner-ier version alive, and the clamor has finally culminated in a new cut reconstructed by Michael Thau with Donner's approval.
The standard line holds Lester's version as too camp, blaming him for all the film's failings and crediting Donner with everything that works. That wouldn't be fair even if it didn't disrespect Lester (here repeatedly called "the other director"), who helmed masterpieces like A Hard Day's Night and Petulia, especially since the new cut reveals that Donner deserves a great deal of the credit and blame for both versions of Superman II. Most of the key scenes originated with Donner, and while his cut solves some of the original version's problems (no more Superman logo snares made out of cellophane), it has problems of its own.
Big problems. Anyone wanting to avoid camp will want to fast-forward through the painful comedic scenes featuring Hackman as Lex Luthor, with moll Valerie Perrine. One key scene obviously comes from patched-together screen tests, and the finale maddeningly repeats a cheap trick from the first Superman film. It's nice to see the Brando footage and the restored scenes of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder's breezy chemistry. But where the original cut at least played as a relatively cohesive movie, loose ends and all, this looks like little but loose ends. It's a curio, not a corrective.
Key features: Donner shows up for a jolly commentary, and even more deleted scenes round out the disc.