Okay, since I have to get through all the Superman movies, I thought to myself, “Why make it so hard on myself? Shouldn’t I WANT to be entertained by these films?” So with a much more accepting, positive, upbeat attitude, here comes Superman III!
Netflix says, “In this second sequel, comedy is delivered with the same gusto that falling helicopters and nuclear warheads were in the first two Superman films. Bumbling computer programmer Richard Pryor harbors a streak of genius; taking advantage of that fact — and taking over the “heavy” lifting from Gene Hackman — is Robert Vaughn, who’ll do anything to destroy the Man of Steel (Christopher Reeve).”
Boy, I don’t think I can do a better job of describing it, but I can try! You see, Richard Pryor gets a computer programming job and discovers he has a talent for it that belies his oafish nature. Amusing! He figures out how to salami slice the payroll from the company and ends up attracting the attention of his boss, who wants to use him to hack into a weather-controlling satellite to destroy Colombia’s coffee crops so he can make a profit. And that’s not even getting into the Superman half of the story! There’s so much story in this movie, it’s almost like watching two movies: a Richard Pryor comedy and a Superman movie! What a value!
Superman’s plot involves him going home to Smallville for a class reunion and bumping into his old crush, Lana Lang. Lana’s come upon some hard times, and when Clark lends her a supportive shoulder to cry on, she starts to fall for him the same way he did for her. But he doesn’t have it easy; a former high school football star who’s become a bit of a loser as an adult also has designs on Lana and won’t take no for an answer. Such a great love triangle! I’m always of the mind that movies, especially action movies, always need a good romantic subplot or two and this movie delivers in spades, as it does in every aspect.
About halfway through the movie (which is a pitifully brief 124 minutes; why not longer?!) the plotlines begin to merge when Superman stops Wagner’s original plans. So he sets his mind on finding a way to destroy Superman before he can make obscene amounts of money using computers or something. (I’m not as smart as the writers, so that part confused me.) Wagner’s secretary, who is smoking hot, suggests that they use kryptonite. A classic plot device, I must say! But you can’t just stick your hand out and expect kryptonite to fall into it, so they use computers to try to deduce what kryptonite is made out of so they can synthesize it. They improvise when trying to replace an “unknown” element and end up creating a kryptonite that doesn’t kill Superman, but ends up affecting his behavior.
For all the parents that read this blog, I have to issue a warning. At this point in the movie, there are many things that may be objectionable for your child to see, so exercise caution: Superman III gets intense! First of all, there’s the fact that Superman becomes BAD. He puts off averting a disaster so he can put the moves on Lana, he straightens the Tower of Pisa and blows out the Olympic torch! He even allows the evil secretary to seduce him and he sleeps with her. (Who knows if he even used protection?) It was extremely upsetting to see Superman commit acts like these since he’s such an influential role model. Little kids might start to think it’s cool to blow out Olympic torches and drink liquor! This is probably the only thing preventing me from giving this movie a perfect score.
With Superman in the palms of their hands, the villains set out to build a computer. Is it an evil computer? They won’t say! It’s part of the dramatic tension! Superman reaches rock bottom and Lana’s bastard child tries so very hard to inspire him back to heroism, but instead Superman flies to a junk yard. There, the effects of the kryptonite overtake him and he actually splits in two! This is one of the most intense brawls in movie history, so I won’t spoil it with any specific details, suffice to say that the good Superman comes out on top. The villains are almost ready to set their plans into action, however, as soon as they finish going to the bottom of a desert canyon via balloon-chairs. (They’re so rich, they can do anything they want!) Superman finds them, but they use their advanced computer system to fire missiles at him through a video game. I thought this was a stroke of genius. Orson Scott Card probably saw this movie and ripped off the idea for Ender’s Game.
Once Superman gets to their cave hideout (why hide in a cave, you ask? Would you EXPECT to find them in a cave?!), they use their computer to encase him in a big plastic bubble that he can’t seem to break out of until he tries a bit harder. When that doesn’t work, they REALLY take out all the stops and fire a kryptonite laser beam at him! Seeing this makes Richard Pryor realize what he’s been caught up in and he removes a screw from the computer, which starts to disable it. Richard Wagner is FURIOUS and tries to get it back, but Pryor, that king of clowns, eats it! HA!
OK, this is where things REALLY start to get intense, so you might want to skip to the ending if you’re too young. The computer actually starts to go berserk and it absorbs Robert Wagner’s mother sister into itself and transforms her into an android death machine! Superman puts up a valiant fight, and the computer is so evil it takes all the electricity from everywhere to feed on it to gain enough power to defeat Superman. Superman’s much more clever than a computer, though, and makes it eat a container of acid so that it dies! The day saved, he lets Pryor off the hook because he ended up doing the right thing and he gives Lana a diamond he crushed himself!
I mean, if that doesn’t get you pumped to see Superman III, I don’t know what else I can say. The acting is phenomenal. Every performer here is at the top of his or her respective game. This is probably Richard Pryor’s finest role on the silver screen. His character is more than a bumbling oaf. He’s a bumbling oaf with a heart of gold that sometimes wears a novelty cowboy hat and makes lots of funny faces. Let me assure you: the faces are hysterical and worth the price of admission themselves! Christopher Reeves’ turn as an evil Superman here is also one of the creepiest, most disquieting portrayals I’ve ever had the pleasure honor of seeing. It would not surprise me in the least if the late Heath Ledger had used this performance as a reference for the Joker in order to recreate Reeves’ depraved insanity.
Aside from the disturbing corruption of Superman, the only real minus I can talk about for this movie would be the absence of Lois Lane. I’ve always been a big fan of Margot Kidder in the role of Lois Lane. She has all the natural beauty, poise and lilting tone that we would expect from The Daily Planet’s star reporter. I’m not sure what prevented her from participating fully in the movie (scheduling conflicts? not wanting to outshine the other stars?) but she was sorely missed. The few, brief minutes she receives on-screen are a lovely consolation gift, though. And, hey, her absence allows for a very intriguing romantic triangle to form. That’s Superman III for you: turning lemons into lemonade!
And really, the comedy in this movie is classic. In the opening credits alone there’s a Rube Goldberg-esque series of interlocking gags that result in Clark throwing a pie into someone’s face. Now THAT is classic. There’s even mimes! It’s like Superman III took the funniest parts from every comedy and incorporated them into itself, making it not only one of the best action movies of all time, but one of the funniest, too. And they don’t just use humor for humor’s sake. They even have a gag showing the “dumb” secretary reading philosophy, letting us know that she’s actually just playing dumb. Humor AND character development!
This movie is a thinker, too. With all the computers in this movie, it really makes you think about where computers were going at the time the movie was made and how they’ve affected our lives since. It’s a classic technophobic worry that computers will gobble up all our electricity and turn us into androids. Superman III was really ahead of its time in addressing these dystopian technological concerns. And this movie is almost like a precursor to the similarly-numbered Spider-Man 3. Both movies deal with humor and their heroes battling with their own dark sides. That makes them similar.
So am I recommending Superman III? You better believe I am! It’s such a fantastic gem of a superhero movie. It’s got it all and then some! I’d easily put it at the top of the pack with Elektra and Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Even The Dark Knight can’t hope to compete with this (though it’s obvious Nolan tried). Buy it, rent it, murder in cold blood just for the chance to witness even a portion of it… just do what you have to in order to experience Superman III.