Superman III (1983)

“Superman, you’re just in a slump — you’ll be great again!”

Superman III Poster

Synopsis:
A computer geek (Richard Pryor) working for a nefarious businessman (Robert Vaughn) gives Superman (Christopher Reeve) tar-laced-kryptonite, which turns him from a crime-fighting superhero into an evil prankster.

Genres:

Review:
Richard Lester returned to helm this third installment in the Superman series, widely acknowledged to be the weakest of the three. The first two films were thematically connected in many ways, but much has changed this time around. Lex Luthor was replaced by evil industrialist “Ross Webster” (Robert Vaughn), who’s appropriately menacing but not nearly as charismatic as Gene Hackman; meanwhile, as a result of open disagreements with the film’s producers, Margot Kidder (as Lois Lane) only appears in a few minutes of the film, so Superman falls for another “LL” woman — his old high school crush, Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole) — instead. O’Toole does a fine job portraying a small town single mother with a big time crush on Superman, but their burgeoning romance lacks the edgy dynamic that existed between Lane and Superman — and we never really believe Superman could give up Lane for good, anyway.

The central casting of Richard Pryor as a computer geek working in cahoots with Vaughn is often cited as one of the film’s main flaws; indeed, near the end of his review of Superman II, Peary himself argues that Superman III “was doomed the minute Richard Pryor was cast (or miscast) in a pivotal role”. But Pryor isn’t actually all that bad; the main problem is with the script itself. While it’s fun to see Superman grappling against his “evil nature” (the scene in which he malevolently rights the Leaning Tower of Pisa is particularly chuckle-worthy, and his climactic junkyard battle against himself is exciting), we never really feel any sense of urgency about the state of the world. In Superman, we worried plenty about California falling off the face of the continent, and in Superman II, the three evil villains from Krypton posed a very real threat to the state of humanity. Here, Vaughn’s plans to monopolize the world’s oil supplies simply don’t evoke the same sense of panic. While Superman III isn’t quite as bad as its reputation, it’s not must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent
    Superman III Christopher Reeve
  • Superman’s junkyard battle against himself
    Superman III Junkyard Battle
  • Annette O’Toole as Lana Lang
    Superman III O'Toole

Must See?
No, though most film fanatics will likely be curious to check it out.

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One Response to “Superman III (1983)”

  1. Not must-see.

    I had seen this once before. Personally, I’m not a fan of the series (not that I dislike it – just have no real feeling one way or the other) – but I think, as a sequel, ‘SIII’ does what the average sequel is intended to do. And, as such, it succeeds.

    I don’t have a problem with the script – or Pryor’s performance, or anything in particular, really. In fact, considering this is a Lester film (and his films can at times come across as inappropriately chaotic), this is a surprisingly disciplined (and innocuous-enough) piece of work.

    I just wouldn’t deem it ‘must-see’, except for fans of the series.

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