After the tremendous success of the first two Superman movies, it came as no surprise that the summer of 1983 saw the release of Superman III. And after the opening credit sequence, it was clearly established that the tone of this movie would be dramatically different from what we had seen in the first two adventures.
Richard Lester was back as director and his comedic influences were now in full force, for better or worse. Instead of a grand opening credit sequence with the now familiar theme as arranged by Jonathan Williams, we get a comedy of errors all started by the roaming eye of pedestrian in downtown Metropolis. Granted, it is somewhat funny but seemed out of place. However, considering that we were introduced to Richard Pryor’s character of down-on-his-luck Gus Gorman right before that, it truly set the tone for a more lighthearted adventure.
Our story centers on Gus Gorman who, after being told he could no longer collect unemployment checks, discovers he has a talent for computer programming. After he is disappointed by his first paycheck, he decides to put those computer skills to work for his benefit and embezzles money from his new employer. Enter CEO Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), who puts Gus to work in a scheme to rule the world through financial manipulation. Part of Webster’s “gang” includes his sister Vera (Annie Ross, Throw Momma from the Train) and Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson, Bloodbath at the House of Death). Webster forces Gus into creating a fake version of Kryptonite, which is imperfect and, after a failed attempt at weakening Superman, is thought to have no effect on him. Ultimately, Webster plots to control the world’s oil supply, which leads to Gus building a super computer.
Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) has returned to Smallville for a story on his high school reunion. Once there, a romance begins to develop between Clark and his childhood sweetheart that never was, Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole). Lana’s son Ricky also befriends Superman until Superman begins acting strangely. It turns out the fake Kryptonite did affect Superman, causing him to begin angry and destructive. After a series of incidents, he splits into two people, an evil Superman and a nice Clark Kent. The battle between the two is odd but the most action we’d see in this movie besides some random super heroic acts (several of which we see the lines carrying Christopher Reeve, something I didn’t notice in the first two movies).
After good wins out, the restored Superman goes about righting all his wrongs and facing the super computer. Another odd battle follows which sees Vera turned into a cyborg and Superman winning out using an acid from a chemical plant he saved earlier on in the movie. Gus gets a job at a coal mining company and Lana moves to Metropolis with a new job as Perry White’s (Jackie Cooper) new secretary. And yes, Margot Kidder is back as Lois Lane in what really is a glorified cameo role with less than five minutes of screen time. Kidder had been very vocal against the Salkinds over their treatment of director Richard Donner during the production of Superman II, which would explain her small role. Gene Hackman allegedly refused to return as Lex Luthor for the same reason. Personally, I’ve never been able to take Robert Vaughn seriously in any role he’s played and his character of Ross Webster comes across as a pale version of Luthor.
Superman III had far too much humor for my tastes, especially considering how serious the first two movies were overall. I’ve also never been that fond of Richard Pryor and his portrayal of Gus Gorman just seemed out of place in the universe they had created. I did enjoy the battle between Superman and Clark, for which Christopher Reeve did receive a lot of recognition. I did enjoy Superman III more than I should, mostly due to nostalgic memories of my youth.
Reportedly, one original idea had the villains Brainiac and Mr. Mxyzptlk headlining the movie, which I would have loved to see. The plot also had Superman meeting his cousin Supergirl, who eventually saw her own movie spin-off in November of 1984. For whatever reason, Warner Brothers didn’t like the idea and moved forward with what we eventually saw on screen.
Superman III is readily available on multiple DVD sets as well as Blu-ray. To date, only the theatrical version has been made available for home viewing. TV versions added an extra 16 minutes of forgettable footage as well as changing the opening credits to resemble the first two movies and eliminating the comedic penguin opening.
Superman III turned out being far less successful than the first two films. A lot less enjoyable than the first two but definitely better than the mess we were to be dealt with 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which I’ll take a look at tomorrow.