Released: June 1983
Director: Richard Lester
Run Time: 125 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Christopher Reeve: Clark Kent/Superman
Richard Pryor: Gus Gorman
Jackie Cooper: Perry White
Annette O’Toole: Lana Lang
Mark McClure: Jimmy Olsen
Robert Vaughan: Ross Webster
Annie Ross: Vera
Pamela Stephenson: Lorelei
Margot Kidder: Lois Lane
Gavan O’Herlihy: Brad
I’ve a question for all of you: Do you remember seeing a movie when you were younger that you remember not liking at all and you refuse to see it again for 10,15, maybe 20 years? There have been a number of films like that for me. One of those movies is Superman III. Before I get into my review for the movie, let first state for the record how much of a fan that I am of Superman. Not just movies, but the comics and animated shows as well. The original Superman film with Christopher Reeve is highly regarded as one of the best, if not THE best, superhero movies of all time. It’s absolutely one of my absolute favorites, and I don’t get tired of watching it. The second film was almost as good. It was 3 and 4 that I had some serious issues with. Oh, I’ll be getting to Superman IV, make no mistake about it, but I want to revisit Superman III first. Having seen the film for the first time in over 20 years, I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. It was not a terrible movie. Was it as good as the first two? No. The bar was set way too high. But Superman III has charms of its own.
The film opens with Gus Gorman in an unemployment line trying to get his unemployment after several disastrous attempts at keeping jobs. Being denied, he finds a job dealing with computers at a large company run by a billionaire named Ross Webster. After discovering that he’s not getting all the money that he thinks he deserves(not too far from the truth for many of us), he decides to hack into the network and change some things around so he can make himself richer. This gets the attention of Mr. Webster who decides to employ Gus to hack into a weather satellite to attack a country in South America. Superman eventually intervenes, so Webster commissions Gus to create a supercomputer to destroy Superman. The story does get silly from time to time, but it also allows for some rather strong character development for characters like Superman, Lana and Gus. It’s really interesting to see certain here. Seeing Superman being affected by synthetic Kryptonite, has a really interesting affect on Superman. He goes from being forgetful to flat out mean, and it’s really cool to see Superman’s dark side take center stage, because we all know he has one. That’s probably the most memorable aspect of the film.
The acting in Superman III is rather strong, considering the goofy tone of the film. Most people seem to have a problem with Richard Pryor in the film. To be honest, I thought he did a great job with what he was given. His character wasn’t evil. Misguided, maybe but not evil. Annette O’Toole plays Lana Lang, Clark’s potential love interest in the film and she’s really something else. Robert Vaughan is clearly having the time of his life playing a villain. Unlike Lex Luthor, Vaughan’s Webster doesn’t surround himself with total nincompoops….well, just one anyway. He’s a fun one to watch. Jackie Cooper is reliable as always as Perry White. However, the show, like the last two, belongs to Christopher Reeve. The man has definitely refined his performance as the Man of Steel after two movies. I really like the fact that his portrayal of Clark Kent, this time around, takes the klutz part of the character out of the equation. Kent is a lot more confident this time around. But as Superman, Christopher Reeve has no rival. He’s just as amazing as Superman as he was in the original film. But the character does take a much darker turn in this one due to exposure to synthetic Kryponite, giving him a Jekyll and Hyde style of personality. It actually works. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane only appears in the film for a few minutes as nothing more than a cameo. You know what? That’s actually a good thing.
The action in the film is pretty much what you would expect from a Superman film of this era. A lot of the effects have been done practically, as CGI was literally in its infancy in 1983, so they kinda didn’t use that. The used a lot of miniatures and large sets, which lends more credibility to the goings-on. The whole scene in the junkyard was extraordinary with Clark Kent taking on the dark version of Superman. It was an emotionally charged fight, I thought and it was engaging. The final confrontation with the giant supercomputer at the end of the film is something to behold. While Webster and company have been doing their best to destroy Superman, the machine itself literally comes to life and tries to kill them all. It also features one of the scenes that kind of disturbed me as a kid. The part where the machine turns Vera into a cyborg was genuinely freaky. The final result? Not so much, but the actual transformation still sends chills down my spine. Like the previous films, Superman III is a lot of fun.
Where the film does falter is in its tone. There are a lot of moments where the film feels too much like a slapstick comedy. Don’t get wrong, Richard Pryor did what he could with what he had, but it’s a character that really shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Yeah, Superman II did get campy at time, at least the theatrical release, but Superman III takes camp to a whole different level, and it didn’t always work. In fact, it got in the way of the film more than once. They could have also cut out Lois Lane entirely, and the film would’ve been the same. Jackie Cooper isn’t given nearly as much to work with and is also sidelined. Jimmy Olsen makes some pretty stupid moves that gets him nearly killed at one point.
Is Superman III as bad as everyone says it is? Not remotely. After seeing the film for the first time in 20 years, I was surprised at how much I liked it. There’s a lot of interesting ideas and what they did with giving Superman a dark side was executed quite well. While certain parts of the film didn’t quite work, the rest of it fell pretty much in line with the first two, in my opinion.
My Final Recommendation: Don’t give somebody a synthetic form of Kryptonite. They may become a jerk in the process…..if they weren’t already. 8/10.