SUPERMAN IIIWarner Bros. Pictures
1983
PG

“You know a wise man once said, I think it was Attila the Hun, ‘It is not enough that I succeed, everyone else must fail.'”

With Lex Luthor still in jail, and Lois Lane off on a story, Clark Kent finds time to head back to his hometown of Smallville for a High School reunion, where he reconnects with recently-divorced (and still hot) Lana Lang. Meanwhile, a computer genius working a menial tech job stumbles upon Superman’s weakness, and with the backing of his megalomaniac millionaire boss, comes up with a way to synthesize Kryptonite. Only thing is, the not-so-natural rock doesn’t kill him, it just turns Supes bad. We know this because he stops shaving and washing his super suit (one can only assume that he also stopped showering), everything short of growing a gotee. Now he’s going around doing evil stuff, like straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa, blowing out the Olympic Torch, drinking, kicking puppies, and returning his video rentals without rewinding them first, until his personalities literally split, leading to a showdown between the “strong” Bad Supes and the “weak” Good Clark Kent. Will he become good again? Will anyone watching this movie care? Ooooh, the suspense is underwhelming…

This third installment of the Superman movies carries a stigma with me. See, it came out the summer of 1983. A few weeks after watching this in a theater in Aberdeen, Washington, my parents got a divorce. Not a very good memory association, there.

Being nine at the time of this release, I was still captivated by the movie. I mean, it was Superman for crying out loud. There were a few things that disconcerted me (“Mommy, why is Superman flicking beer nuts at the booze?”), but overall my love for the character remained. Watching Superman III now, I can understand why this wasn’t as loved as the first two movies.

I believe the first mistake made on the parts of the producers (the Salkinds again, this being the last Superman movie they were ever involved in) was to stick to the idea they wanted for the second movie. Namely, make it campy. I would suspect that they, along with Richard Lester, who was at the director’s helm for the entire thing instead of part of it like last time, didn’t have the same grasp of the character of Superman, or respect, like original director Richard Donner did. As a result, key actors that were key parts of the success of the first two movies were nonexistent here: Gene Hackman, who flat out refused to be part of this movie due to the Salkinds’ involvement, and Margot Kidder, who’s screen time was cut almost completely (save for a few minutes at the beginning and end of the film) due to her criticism of the producers. So, basically we’re starting off on the wrong foot by not including Superman’s greatest enemy and greatest love interest.

To fill those voids, we have perhaps the most underwhelming and lackluster “evil” guy ever thought up- namely, Robert Vaughn as capitalist baddie Ross Webster- for the antagonist, and Annette O’Toole as Clark’s childhood sweetheart Lana Lang (O’Toole, as you might know, went on to play young and whiny Clark Kent’s mother in the television show Smallville…which, when you think about the fact that she was once Clark Kent’s love interest…well, it’s just best that you don’t). Actually, to tell you the truth, having Lana Lang in for romantic tension instead of Kidder was a breath of fresh air.

Then there’s Richard Pryor. Many claim that his inclusion in this movie was a bad choice, but I disagree. While the usual rule of thumb is that by including a comedian as a villain is a sign of a franchise jumping the shark (Batman Forever being a good example), Pryor’s character was really that of a regular schlub going down the wrong path by trying to make a better life for himself, and then finding himself in the middle of a moralistic quandary. Sure, as an actor he falls into the “Ricard Pryor, playing Richard Pryor as a computer genius henchman” category, but who really watched this expecting anything more than that? Especially if you’ve seen anything else he’s starred in. No, Richard Pryor’s involvement wasn’t the straw that broke this camel’s back.

Mind you, there are some pretty inspired moments in this movie. The very concept of Superman going rogue, then having him duke it out with himself was very cool. But in the end, really, the lack of beloved supporting characters returning, the uninspired antagonist, the confusing plot points and the heavy-handed camp and needless slapstick really bogs the rewatch value down. Good movie, but not great…

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