Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent
Richard Pryor as Gus Gorman
Robert Vaughn Ross Webster
Annette O’Toole as Lana Lang
Pamela Stephenson as Lorelei Ambrosia
Annie Ross as Vera
Paul Kaethler as Ricky
Gavan O’Herlihy as Brad
I remember an episode of Married… With Children in which a TV director admits that Hollywood giants learn no more about movies and TV shows from making them than us consumers do from watching them. There may be some truth to that. Tinseltown seems full of out-of-touch, soulless technocrats who would have no ideas if they didn’t have cold focus group research. That’s probably the best explanation for this movie. Because while it’s not the worst sequel ever, it’s still not a movie I’d think of buying if I hadn’t gotten a good deal on a DVD set of all these movies.
Alexander and Ilya Salkind’s preference of a silly, comedic Superman is well-documented. That was their original vision. Director Richard Donner wanted to remain true to the comic book. Although in the documentary Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story Of Superman, Ilya states that Donner was fired for high budgets, not who won the script war, which would explain why the budget for this movie is significantly lower than those of its predecessors. With Donner away, the Salkinds were free to make the Superman movie they always wanted: a comedy. Margot Kidder didn’t like the change in strategy, so Lois Lane is reduced to a mostly meaningless character, the love interest role filled by Lana Lang instead. I don’t know if Gene Hackman felt the same, had a busy schedule, or wanted more money, but he also took a hike, leaving us kind of no Lex Luthor. What do I mean by “kind of?” Read on.
The story is that corporate executive Ross Webster wants to get monopolies on various products by using high tech whatevers to destroy his main competitors in various fields. Very similar to Lex Luthor’s plan to vacate some real estate land by destroying everything near the San Andreas Fault in the first movie. In fact, Webster seems like a watered-down Luthor, complete with humorous mannerisms that don’t quite match those of Gene Hackman. And by “quite,” I mean, “at all.” He’s got a bitch sister named Vera and a henchwoman named Lorelei who is incredibly smart but pretends to be a dumb blonde. Wow, isn’t that a clever joke?
Superman III was basically a star vehicle for Richard Pryor. He plays Gus Gorman, who was Jar Jar Binks before before Jar Jar became the gold standard for annoying comic relief. The problem is his over-the-top performance. Live TV comedians (the many Saturday Night Live stars who made crappy movies, for instance) have quite often had difficulty with the difference between the live TV and cinematic formats. Pryor proves to be no exception. He works hard, but his performance is just so exaggerated as to annoy, not make you laugh. Of course, it doesn’t help that he can be an idiot savant or a genius, depending on the script. But I’ll assume the moron Gus is the real one, since he’s the one that appears in the trailer.
Gus is a computer programmer who uses his skill at hacking to increase his paychecks and is hired for much more villainous work by Webster. With his skill in the new world of computers (remember, this is 1983), he is to build Webster’s machines. When Superman foils the first plan, Gus tries to make some Kryptonite. Lacking a specific ingredient, he uses cigarette tar as a replacement (“what the Hell, he ain’t gonna smoke it.”) Thus, the movie universe’s version of red Kryptonite is born. It always had totally random effects in the comics. Supposedly, Superman is turned evil. Instead, he’s just a selfish smoothie out of a rock concert who seems to care about nothing but getting girls. Eventually, Superman splits into two people: evil Superman and good Clark Kent. In one of the dumbest fight scenes ever filmed, Clark wins, then changes into his Superman costume and goes after the bad guys.
Even if you think of this movie as a slapstick comedy — and the way the first two movies went, this is incredibly generous — the jokes are both obvious and weak. There’s actually a scene with a mime’s act is ruined as though that’s clever humor. That’s the kind of joke you generally find only in awful comedies.
There are some good moments in this movie. Clark goes to a high school reunion in Smallville and rekindles a romance with Lana Lang, his teenage girlfriend. While Lana is an obvious stand-in for Lois, the reality is that this relationship isn’t done half-bad. You might notice that Lana is played by Annette O’Toole, who played Clark’s mother, Martha, on Smalville many years later. Also, there’s scenes like the one where Superman saves Lana’s son, Ricky, that showcase Superman performing everyday acts of heroism. That’s something we didn’t see all that much of in the first two films. But they’re quite important to the character.
Another good thing about this movie is that although less money was spent on Superman III than its precursors, the effects aren’t that much worse. Flying effects are still good, as are the lasers Webster and Gus use.
Superman III got roasted real good by critics. That bad filmakers had succeeded where so many others had failed (killing Superman) was a regular joke in the professional reviews. Not saying that’s not a funnier joke than anything in this movie, but I don’t know if I’d go that far. It’s not worth seeing, but I wouldn’t call it a disaster.
The Salkinds avoided directly continuing this series, bankrolling the box office venom that was Supergirl. They tried TV with the more successful Superboy. The subject of this review, however, was the last Superman movie that they produced.
Overall: 4 out of 10