The switch of directors from Richard Donner to Richard Lester [during production of the Superman movies] may have involved more than window dressing and contractual squabbles, but it is difficult from this corner to sort out the Donner footage from the Lester footage and assign responsibility and meaning for each….
Still, I suspect that the switch from Donner to Lester has resulted in a perceptible shift from the rollicking adventurousness of Superman I with its intimations of a happily unfurrowed brow, to a mood of pessimism and disenchantment in Superman II. Again, I got the feeling of decline and fall from the very first shot of the skyline around the Daily Planet. The screen seemed comparatively gray and somber, and then the next scene seemed equally gray and somber, and so on and so forth. Superman I seemed in retrospect glossier, shinier, livelier. The change may not be due just to Lester's dark, uneasy fragmented view of human existence, but also to an inevitable evolution of the screen Superman. In his first incarnation, he was superior in strength to everyone he encountered on earth. In Superman II he is pitted against superfiends from his own planet, and the contest hangs in the balance almost to the end.
Andrew Sarris, "Surprise! Two Super Films" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1981), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXVI, No. 24, June 10-16, 1981, p. 51.∗