Superman III (1983) Review

Superman III (1983) Director: Richard Lester

“Computers rule the world today. And the fellow that can fool the computers, can rule the world himself.”

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Even from the opening credit roll, the third Superman movie promises to be a quirky outing. Today, Superman III is infamous among fans for introducing heavy elements of comedy –gags which really aren’t very funny—and despite a few engaging moments, this film is unfortunately a clunky and disappointing sequel. Director Richard Lester returned for this film, despite not being a fan of comic books or Superman, but he wanted to make a comedy film with Richard Pryor. From the beginning of the film, we are greeted with quirky street scenes –a blind man wandering into traffic, flammable explosive penguins, a stumbling mime, a passer-by accidentally pied in the face, a bank robbery which leads to a car crash, a fire hydrant nearly drowns a driver, and so on. The wacky hijinks continues throughout the movie. The film’s central antagonist is legendary comedian Richard Pryor who plays Gus Gorman, a chronically unemployed ruffian who discovers a way to skim fractional payments off his employer using his computer. One minute he is bumbling his way through conversation with his boss, the next he is stomping around in a caricature of General Patton. He teams up with his megalomaniacal industrialist boss, Ross “Bubba” Webster (Robert Vaughn), as they try to get enrich themselves in an oil and coffee scheme.

Clark and Jimmy travel home to Smallville for a high school reunion, while Lois goes on vacation to Bermuda (she disappears for almost all of the rest of the movie). Clark pursues a romance with his old high school love interest, Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole) and her son. However, halfway through the movie Superman takes a dark turn. Gus manages to expose Superman to alternative kryptonite (the only different ingredient is tar from cigarettes). As a result, in a string of brutally uncomfortable scenes, Superman becomes a super predator and a super villain, aggressively seducing Lana Lang instead of saving victims of a nearby truck crash –and in another bizarre scene– Superman flies to Pisa to straighten the leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he blows out the eternal flame of the Olympic torch for no particular reason. He sports an unshaven face, assumes a gruff James Cagney accent, and sleeps with a floosy he meets atop the Statue of Liberty in exchange for causing a gasoline crisis (she is secretly working for Bubba). Now a villain, Superman gets drunk in a bar and starts flicking peanuts which break expensive bottles in the bar. He then battles himself in a junkyard in a case of good Clark Kent versus evil Superman. Is this a real battle or merely a metaphor for his inner struggle? Don’t ask too many questions with this movie. In the end, Clark prevails in ridiculous fashion –he strangles evil Superman to death and then corrects all the problems caused by his formerly evil self.   

One of the themes in Superman III is the dangerous rise of computers, a fitting commentary for the 1980s. Working with Bubba, Gus decides to construct a super computer which is operated from Bubba’s underground lair in Glen Canyon, Utah. And even when Gus attempts to stop the computer before it kills Superman, the computer takes on a life of its own, and it begins stealing the world’s power as well as absorbing Bubba’s sidekicks, converting them into cyborgs (I thought this was a surprisingly compelling scene in the film as it was reminiscent of classic horror tropes). At any rate, Superman manages to outsmart the computer by boiling cup of acid which begins to melting the computer. At the film’s end, Clark gives an engagement ring to Lana Lang, who is then hired by the Daily Planet. Meanwhile, Lois returns from vacation while clearly disguising her jealousy over the situation. Thus concludes a truly mediocre movie. Once it was finally over, I asked myself: what were they thinking with Superman III? Superman resolves a few minor crises, attends a high school reunion, and briefly transforms into a villain –and who in their right mind thought Richard Pryor playing a clumsy, low-brow, genius with a heart of gold was the right fit for a Superman movie? At least Christopher Reeve delivers another great performance in this shockingly bad movie.

1 thought on “Superman III (1983) Review

  1. All I will say is that Robert Vaughn’s villainous role and performance in Black Moon Rising a couple years later was a timely redemption.

    Thank you for your review.

    Liked by 2 people

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