Superman III (1983)
Since the overarching narrative that began in Superman ended in Superman II, it seemed like Superman III would begin with its own original story. A new era in theatrical Superman tales! Going in, all I knew about Superman III was the inclusion of Richard Pryor, but to what I extent I was not sure. Is Lex Luthor coming back? I certainly hope not, I can’t imagine stomaching another moment of Gene Hackman’s ridiculous performance. I will note that at the end of Superman II, the closing credits said, something to the effect of, “Superman will return in Superman III.” So clearly they had a plan, right?
Where do we even begin? There’s a lot of problems with this movie. The bad certainly outweighs the good in a way that I’m sure no one involved anticipated would happen. To start with, Margot Kidder is on screen for 5 minutes and has exactly 12 lines. “Why?” You might be asking. Apparently she had a fight with the producers when Richard Donner was fired from Superman II, which is an admirable thing, but as a result she was almost cut out entirely from the third film. Kidder helped make the first two movies interesting and while the natural progression of the story had Clark “moving on” from Lois (more on that later), it still would have been nice to see her behind the scenes in the movie.
That was the second thing I noticed about this movie, the first was how quickly the producers threw Richard Pryor’s character into the film and began setting up his “rise” as a patsy. I like Richard Pryor, and I was even somewhat interested in what his character was doing at first, but it quickly became tiresome as his intended comic relief seldom worked. In fact, there’s no need for Pryor to act as the comic relief in the film as it comes naturally in many of the scenes, even through the dopiness of the script.
There was one good idea in Superman III (emphasis on ONE). The relationship between Clark and Lana. After the butchering of the Lois/Clark relationship in the second film, here’s a clever way for the writers to salvage a love interest for our leading character and for the most part it works. Christopher’s natural chemistry clearly extends beyond just romantic interaction with Margot Kidder and works flawlessly with Annette O’Toole’s Lana Lang. This relationship works, even though as I mentioned earlier it is based on lies, and could have used with a brief reminder of their flirtatious beginnings in Superman: The Movie just to give it an extra pinch of romance.
Something that became very obvious after about 20 minutes of Superman III is the ridiculous pacing issues. For the most part it felt like there were two different movies on the screen that were being cut together. One of these movies was an interesting tale of Clark Kent starting a romance with Lana and the other was Richard Pryor and his new rich friends trying to manipulate the weather to raise the price of coffee beans (seriously). When those movies finally meet and become one movie it removes any interest in the plot, even how Superman will react to it all.
As I just mentioned, the villain’s main plan in the film (at first) was to manipulate the weather to raise the price of coffee. This is about as fitting for Superman’s abilities as Luthor’s “blow up the west coast” scam. There are elements in the plan that Superman can and does stop. He gets the weather back on track in Colombia and the coffee is fine once again. After that, why is this the story of a Superman movie? I know that the villains have further plans for their big computer, which brings up even more moronic instances in the movie, but Superman fixing the weather and flying away is boring for the audience. What got me excited in the movie was the brief moment where I thought “Whoa, are they setting up for BRANIAC in the final act? That might make this whole thing worth it.” They didn’t, and it wasn’t. Though I did hear that Brainiac was in a draft of the script at one point, which made me sad.
What really brings the movie to a halt is the idiotic result of the faux-kryptonite. They get the formula wrong and it turns Superman into bad Superman. How do we know this? Because he drinks! To make it even worse, Clark Kent splits himself out of evil Superman and they fight. This sequence would be cool if it wasn’t based on such dumb ideas. What’s even more astounding is that this was the villain’s plan to get rid of Superman, and yet they have other plans already in place after Superman cures himself. How could they know that Superman would do this? Even though their plan to get rid of him was faulty, they had faith in it. Sure this might seem like good forethought on the part of the villain, but they’re clearly not that smart so I’m going to chalk it up to awful writing (“We need a scene where Superman flies around missiles!).
Superman III is a good example of the laziest of storytelling in film. So much information is disseminated between characters because it’s convenient for them to know it all. We have to move the plot along somehow! Kryptonite is as common knowledge as walking and breathing in this film series as characters who can’t even keep a job as a fry cook happen to know all about it.
Here’s what really rustled my jimmies about Superman III. Clark pines to write an assignment about his Smallville High School reunion, but Clark never graduated high school. After Jonathan Kent died, Clark went off to Arctic to learn how to be Superman, and never came back. I’ll believe that all of his classmates remember who he is, but I’m not into this movie for a second until one of them says “Hey, you just left one day. What was up with that?” If Clark had been presented with that and found a way to slide out of it, I would have been a little happier.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject, when Clark was in Smallville I thought to myself, “Maybe we’ll get a scene where he goes to see his mom who he hasn’t been to visit in at least 15 years.” You can imagine my frustration when they wrote her out of the script with the throwaway line, “You came back for your mom’s funeral.” Brilliant. The writing in this movie amazed me, it should be taught in schools as how to not write movies.
The best possible way I can condense all of my thoughts about this movie into one sentence is this: Superman III is a one-way ticket to Stupid Town. What was once fun and entertaining has become dull, lifeless, and boring. If you’re the kind of person that tallies up your time in hours “you’ll never get back,” then this is certainly something you’ll want to avoid. Nothing in it is fun, interesting, or worthwhile.