Here's a review I wrote in 2006...
Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut should be a fan's dream come true. At long last, footage only seen in photos and scenes that only existed on the printed page would finally come to life. A director that was unable to complete his vision would have the opportunity to have his vision restored. It seems like a winning situation. And then you start watching this assembly of footage and you realize this "esoteric dream" is a very real nightmare of sloppiness and incompetence. While it's entirely possible that no movie could compete with the finished perfect version each of us has imagined over the years it really should have been a thrill to finally see this project. And it is only a very few times.
You know things are shaky when the very first bit of text on screen looks like home brew computer graphics. But then we start seeing new footage (alternates from Superman - The Movie for the trial) and that first bit of hesitation fades away. Hey, this is pretty neat! Things are alright for these few fleeting moments until we see footage from STM intermixed with new effects for this project, and it doesn't convince at all. And from this point on, it never ever lets up. It's probably not right to judge a movie because of bad visual effects, but when this is supposedly the direct follow up to a movie whose tag line was "You'll Believe A Man Can Fly" it's difficult to believe anything shown on screen here. The best effects in this are from the original productions.
I get the feeling that when Richard Lester was brought in to complete this movie, he viewed this same footage with his team and realized it wasn't working. The opening Daily Planet scene isn't exciting or interesting. It doesn't even make sense. This is the next day following the missile caper? Luthor is sentenced that quickly? Miss Teschmacher's dialogue later on indicates he's been away for some time so it doesn't work in any logical manner. Neither does Clark using his super powers in broad daylight with pedestrians walking past! It makes me wonder if Donner even intended for the heat vision to be visible, since the "destruction of the Fortress" scene has been shown on television with "incomplete" effects. Perhaps he had something else in mind. We'll never know. In both scenes, animated red beams have been added. That being said, I'm not even sure why Superman destroys the fortress here, but then I've never understood that. I guess Donner never got to shoot the scene explaining that.
That's another issue with this re-cut. A lot of it just doesn't make sense. The only reason any of it really works is because we've all seen the theatrical version of Superman II, a movie that does make sense. Lester's Superman II fills in the holes of this assembly. Part of this could be because Donner didn't get to complete shooting, the other part could be because the makers of this project were intent on using as little Lester material as possible. What we end up with is an assembly of footage that makes Superman IV look airtight and coherent.
After viewing this, one gets the sense that while Lester was faithful and comfortable using Donner material, Michael Thau and his team were extremely disrespectful towards anything filmed by Lester. The best scenes in The Donner Cut are the ones lifted relatively intact from the released version of Superman II. That includes the moon sequence and the diner sequence, not ironically, both were filmed by Donner. But anything else from that movie filmed by Lester is re-edited in such a hasty fashion, that it now makes Lester seem like a ham fisted know nothing. While Lester honored the Donner material, Lester here is thrown under the bus.
So is there anything good in this release? Well Marlon Brando is in it, and that's neat to see. In fact watching any of the material shot by Donner is neat since it was all filmed at the same time as Superman - The Movie. But that only highlights the problems of this release. Any of the major scenes (really just Lois jumping and scenes with Marlon Brando) would have been better served as completed scenes in a deleted scenes section. Instead they are shoe horned into a nonsensical narrative with inferior performances (many alternate takes from familiar scenes are used) sloppy edits and bad decisions.
Watch the opening scene at the Daily Planet. Why are we looking at Jackie Cooper's back as he calls for Lois and Clark? At the end why do we have Lois walking into her dark apartment only to have that followed by Jackie Cooper walking into a dark bathroom turning the lights on? I was initially confused by this, because I expected to see Lois. The entire assembly is filled with questionable choices like this.
Battle scenes are a mess too, with no geography between cuts. It's just random action. Of course, the major action scenes were shot by Lester and his material is only used as a bridge to the next set of Donner outtakes or alternates. They should have used more of Lester's footage, but probably had too much pride to admit that.
Many other reviews have talked about the music editing, so I'll just chime in here and repeat what others have noted: it's terrible. It's as unmusical as you can get. The main titles are a mess and the end titles aren't any better. You'd think they would be great sequences to let the music play out, but no, they are hacked all over with no rhyme or reason. And the feature proper is just a disgrace. The moon scene is essentially the same as the Lester version (there is only one minor trim that I could detect) but the music has been entirely replaced, and what's there now no longer works. The scene is more effective in the Lester version. I should also note that when General Zod kicks the Russian astronaut, no sound effect is present. Oops! Did I say this was sloppy?
The sloppiness extends to the military missile as well. As noted elsewhere, the missile shown in The Donner Cut bears the designation "XK 10" while we all know it's the "XK 101"! A blind man in STM knows that! The producers of this assembly, who tried so hard to honor the original film, dropped the ball less than five minutes in and that mistake is indicative of the quality of the entire production. For all the supposed care that was put into this, the final product has an air of shoddiness to it that is inescapable.
Other reviews have already detailed the turning back the world ending. I know, it was in the script and it was planned and the team responsible for this assembly probably had no choice but to use it. That doesn't change the fact that it's entirely unmotivated and stupid. It was stupid when Donner was filming it and it's stupid almost 30 years later. Moving it to STM has caused nothing but problems for this script, but it did wonders for that film.
The entire affair would probably be easier to digest if Warner's didn't make this a separate release here in the states. As it is, we're expected to pay for what is essentially a bonus disc of deleted scenes with a "Play All" option. It's really only worth one viewing so that we can finally see the legendary cut scenes, but after that initial viewing, I expect that this will be an excellent magnet for dust and little else. I know after my experience of watching this, I had new respect for Lester's version. It's by no means perfect, but Lester realized the deficiencies that were in the script that stand out here in bold relief. He managed to make a movie that has entertained for many years and will continue to do so, while this new re-cut will most likely only be remembered as a footnote in that films history.