Superman III (1983, Richard Lester)

Superman3

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Industrialist Ross Webster wants to use an advanced computer system to take over the world’s oil supply – only Superman stands in his way…

Good guys: A third appearance from Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman. Clark’s been invited to his high-school reunion, so goes in order to write about it for the Daily Planet. We see Superman in action a few times, but after he’s exposed to some impure Kryptonite he starts to behave very oddly. He doesn’t seem bothered about a life-threatening accident, he flirts with people and gets drunk, and generally acts like a tit… Margot Kidder returns as Lois Lane, but only for two scenes at either end of the film. In between, the character is sent off on a two-week holiday – it’s rumoured that Kidder got less screen time as punishment for daring to criticise the producers.

Bad guys: In the Lex Luthor role this time round is icy businessman Ross Webber, played by Robert Vaughn. He’s a smooth, pragmatic villain who learns that employee Gus Gorman is ripping him off – so ropes him into his plan to ruin Colombia’s coffee crop. When Webster needs to get rid of Superman, he entrusts Gus with researching and replicating some Kryptonite. Webster also has two bickering sidekicks: uptight sister Vera (Annie Ross), who gets mistaken for his mother, and sexy ‘psychic nutritionist’ Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson), who appears to be ditzy but shows flashes of real intelligence. The latter flirts with Superman in order to manipulate him and genuinely likes him.

Other guys: The main guest star of the movie is Richard Pryor, who plays Gus Gorman. At the start of the film, down-and-out Gus excels on a computer-training course and soon gets a job working for Webster’s company. When he sees his first payslip, he spots an opportunity to steal all the fractions of cents that go unclaimed. Webster catches him and is so impressed that he press gangs Gus into using a satellite to create a tornado in Colombia. Gus later impersonates an army general so he can present Superman with a gift made from 99-per-cent Kryptonite, then convinces Webster to fund the construction of an all-powerful super-computer. More a misguided buffoon than a true villain, Gus is let off at the end – Superman even tries to arrange a new job for him. When Clark goes to his high-school reunion, he meets two old school pals: Lana Lang, played by Annette O’Toole, and Brad Wilson, played by Never Say Never Again’s Gavin O’Herlihy. Cutely enough, both characters were in the brief high-school scene of Superman: The Movie. Brad is a drunken brute, while Lana is a cute single mother who’s bored of her life in Smallville. Jackie Cooper and Mark McClure are also back as Perry White and Jimmy Olsen respectively.

Best bits:

* The domino effect of slapstick in the credits sequence as a guy perving at Pamela Stephenson sets off a chain reaction of chaos.

* The guy trapped in a car filling with water. When he see it, Clark changes into Superman in a photo booth – a kid tries to take the resulting strip of photos, so Superman rips off the two that show Clark.

* Clark intercepting a custard pie heading for Lorelei and instead swinging it round into a passer-by’s face.

* The knowing look Lois and Perry White share when Clark refers to himself as a Metropolis sophisticate.

* Oh, look: it’s Shane Rimmer again. And there’s Al Matthews from Aliens in the same scene.

* The chemical-plant disaster – Superman walks through fire to save Jimmy, then flies to a nearby lake, freezes its surface and carries the huge sheet of ice back to the fire.

* Clark’s high-school reunion. The Beatles’ cover of Roll Over Beethoven is playing as everyone dances (of course, director Richard Lester also made the first two Beatles films). Meanwhile, event organiser Lana distractedly gives the DJ a pile of plates then tries serving food on some LPs.

* Clark doing an energetic and nerdy twist dance *just* as the music switches to the ballad Earth Angel (which is by Marvin Berry & the Starlighters, right?).

* Gus gets his next pay slip: $85,789.90.

* Webster suggests they’ll never find the person who’s embezzling funds. “He’ll keep a low profile and he won’t do a thing to call attention to himself. Unless, of course, he is a complete and utter moron.” Cut to Gus driving up to the office in a brand-new sports car.

* At a picnic, Clark says he likes the pâté. Lana says she didn’t make any and points out that Clarke is eating dog food.

* The ENORMOUS cowboy hat Gus is wearing in the scene he tries to get Brad drunk.

* Oh, look: it’s Sandra Dickinson as the wife of a guy unhappy with her Bloomingdales bill (which, due to Gus’s interference, is now huge).

* Webster’s ski station on top of an inner-city skyscraper.

* Gus re-enacts Superman saving Colombia from the tornado.

* Gus falls off the building, plummets dozens of storeys down to the ground, and, er, somehow survives.

* Affected by the dodgy Kryptonite, Superman blows out the Olympic torch just for his own amusement.

* Gus’s schematic for his super-computer is scrawled on scraps of paper and fag packets.

* Oh, look: it’s Robert Beatty playing an oil-tanker captain who likes to play golf.

* Superman fucks Lorelei!

* Superman gets drunk!

* Superman vs Clark Kent: the two personas do battle in a scrapyard. Whether this is literally happening or is meant as a dramatisation of the character’s inner turmoil is left open to debate.

* Webster’s massive computer, which aesthetically speaking is oddly reminiscent of the Death Star.

* The computer traps Vera and turns her into a robot. Terrifying.

* Oh, look: it’s Larry Lamb playing a coal miner.

* Knowing Lana had to pawn her diamond ring, Superman squeezes a piece of coal and Clark gives her the resulting precious stone.

* Lois returns from her two-week holiday with a story about corruption in the Caribbean. “I knew I was on to something when that taxi driver kidnapped me…”

Review: This film has a really bad reputation in certain circles – some fans have even produced amateur re-edits to ‘improve’ it. However, this is one of those cases where I just don’t see what everyone’s on about. Maybe it’s because I first saw it at a young age, but I think Superman III is a tremendous popcorn movie. More irreverent than the first two, sure, but it’s pacy, light on its feet, smartly written with lots of witty dialogue, and is generally very enjoyable. For the opening quarter, two plots run alongside each other. But then Clark’s return to Smallville and Webster’s diabolical plan collide in smart ways. Richard Pryor is a lot of fun as Gus Gorman, as is Robert Vaughn as Webster. Clark’s romance with Lana is very sweet. But there’s also a fair bit of darkness. Seeing Superman affected by the tainted Kryptonite is unsettling, while Vera being encased in robotic wires and panels is just horrific – it ranks alongside Raiders of the Lost Ark’s melting faces and pretty much all of Return to Oz as one of the scariest things I ever saw as a child. On the downside, it’s a shame Lois Lane is essentially ignored, while director Richard Lester succumbs to easy, flippant gags too often. Comedy Italian stereotypes are bad enough, but the Commodore 64 graphics, sound effects and *on-screen score* when Webster is firing his missiles at Superman have not dated well, either conceptually or visually.

Eight combine harvesters out of 10.

Next time: Hang on, so Superman wasn’t the only person to survive the destruction of Krypton?

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