Superman III

Directed By: Richard Lester

Starring: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Annette O'Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Robert Vaughn, and Margot Kidder

We've come to the point in this Superman retro series where I have to deliver some harsh truths.  First and foremost, we haven't had a good Superman flick in over 30 years.  It saddens me to say that Superman II was the last great movie about our favorite Kryptonian donning red and blue tights.  Since then, we've been tortured with ill-conceived and underdeveloped attempts to bring the world's most famous superhero back to the big screen.  The first of these failures was the 1983 film Superman III, a half-assed third installment in the series.

Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) is not a contributing member of society by any stretch of the imagination.  He’s chronically unemployed and frequently laid off whenever he does manage to get a job.  At his latest employer, Gus decides to embezzle thousands of dollars by siphoning away all the "half-cents" the company never pays out.  When Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn), the CEO of this company, learns of Gus's fancy computer tricks, Webster decides that he needs a man with these talents.  He needs Gus.  Gus, a low-level employee, is called before Webster to answer for his actions and blackmailed to do his boss's bidding.  Along with Webster's sister Vera (Annie Ross) and his beautiful psychic Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson), Gus is going to help Webster realize his dreams of world domination.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) has somehow convinced Perry White (Jackie Cooper) to send him to Smallville to do a story on his high school reunion, while his co-worker Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) takes an exotic vacation.  When he gets to Smallville, the Daily Planet reporter is soon reunited with longtime friend Lana Lang (Annette O'Toole).  Things quickly heat up between the two, but are abruptly disrupted when Webster and Gus get to work trying to take over the world.  Being Superman does not always have its perks.

I know it was the 80s.  The world was still enamored with 8-track tapes, VHS cassettes, and the Atari, but there's just no excuse for Superman III.  Technology can do many, many things as time has told us.  However, it can't do everything.  It can't control the weather.  It can't defend against every possible threat.  It can't defeat the Man of Steel.  Clearly, director Richard Lester and his screenwriters overestimated the power of computers, and it cost them dearly in this flick.  Embracing this ill-conceived notion that computers can do everything is the film's downfall.  It's goofy and downright foolish.

To make matters worse, Lester fills Superman III with some of the most ridiculous nonsense I've ever seen in any superhero movie.  There are loads of unnecessary attempts at humor that add nothing to the film whatsoever.  Take all the slapstick, for example.  The silly gags are more akin to The Three Stooges than a Superman flick.  It's all too odd and doesn't fit with what's been established in the first two films. 

Also, there are some major gaps in the plot that aren't given their due.  The most potent example is that Lana Lang casually mentions that Martha Kent has died at some point between Superman: The Movie and Superman III.  What the hell?!  Lester cannot just kill off one of the most important characters in Superman's life and gloss over it as if nothing has happened.  With the death of the woman who raised him, Superman is completely alone in the world.  There is no one who knows his secret.  The idea that they could just gloss over the passing of this iconic character is just preposterous.

The strange thing about Superman III is that the Man of Steel is not the film's main attraction.  The great comedian Richard Pryor is.  I love Pryor.  He was one of the funniest men to have ever done standup comedy.  However, he has no business in this movie as Gus Gorman.  To water down Pryor’s typically raunchy brand of humor, Richard Lester fills the film with these silly attempts at comedy.  With Richard Pryor's often clownish performance, Lester sacrifices the core of a Superman movie for a big-name star, and it doesn't pay off.

For his part as Pryor's co-star, Christopher Reeve shows that he can still give us an excellent caricature of Clark Kent and can still offer plenty of witty, campy dialogue when with his Daily Planet colleagues portrayed by Margot Kidder and Jackie Cooper.  When he's not delivering the Kent we know and love, he's being forced to portray "Bad Superman".  This is a guy who antagonizes the people, drinks a whole lot of liquor (though Superman shouldn't really be able to get drunk), and does anything but fight for truth, justice, and the American way.  He's no longer in the nice guy business, and this doesn't work out too well for Reeve.  His performance as Bad Superman comes off in a very, very cheesy way.

Beyond our two main stars, we have the B team of villains.  With no Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, or Valerie Perrine, we're stuck with Robert Vaughn, Annie Ross, and Pamela Stephenson.  This trio essentially is a copycat of Lex Luthor and his incompetent associates.  Believe me when I say that their performances are just awful.  What's really unfortunate, however, is the lack of originality from the Salkinds and their creative team.  Instead of giving us a makeshift Lex Luthor, they should have tapped into the comic book mythology of Superman and brought some other villain to life.  They could have given us Darkseid, Bizarro, or Brainiac for all I care, but they didn't need to recycle a formula that's been used more effectively in prior Superman films.

Ultimately, Superman III is one big disappointment and one of the first bad comic book movies.  It's a Superman movie that's not really about the world's favorite Kryptonian.  With terrible direction and equally bad performances, I have no choice but to give Superman III a wasted rating.  Have some Kamikaze shots with this one.