When people think about the Superman movies, they typically don’t ever count the last two, and many aren’t even aware that there is even a fourth! There is good reason, though, to everyone’s disappointment and even purposeful forgetfulness in the final two films. Richard Donner had absolutely nothing to do with them, and his departure from the series created a monumental shift that would make the average movie-goer think it was a curse for the series as a whole. The new Richard (Lester) was stuck in the ways of the past for film, and continually made things way too campy…he’s also the reason why Superman II wasn’t a smashing success. He took over and decided to do reshoots of almost the whole movie. The guy wasn’t very nice. So by the time Superman III came out, people weren’t entirely sure how it would go because the second movie wasn’t all that bad, they just didn’t know that the good parts that were in it were all thanks to Donner himself. So let’s get on with the plot (if you can call it that) of Superman III.
Richard Pryor might as well have been playing himself in this film, as his character was pretty much just a comedian cracking jokes at everything he possibly could when the movie first started. At the same time, he is a bumbling moron that apparently just so happens to be a genius at the same time. He lands a computer programming job, and does something that was initially theoretically impossible. He claims he had no idea how he did it and it is clear that he simply pressed a couple of buttons. It is highly unlikely that a bumbling moron would be able to do what he did, let alone more than once. So he goes on to the main part of the plot that everyone remembers: He hacks his place of employment to send him an expenses paycheck that included only the amount of unused fraction of cents from other employees from their paystubs (before they are rounded down). This stunt of his gets him recognized by his boss, who is already a criminal mastermind (apparently), and hires him to work more on hacking. First on traffic control, and then he messed with boats all over the ocean in a plot that had something to do with oil. At this point I was completely confused.
Next, we have Clark going to his Smallville high school reunion. There, he meets up with Lana Lang, his old crush, and apparently the girl he is really still in love with, and saves a few lives as Superman. To keep Superman away from their evil oil plans, Pryor’s boss orders Pryor to kill off Superman, so he plans to do this by studying kryptonite particles in space, and finding the elements that are in kryptonite in order to reconstruct it. First of all, what? It’s already been proven that kryptonite (real kryptonite) is already on earth, why reconstruct it at all? Well anyways, he reconstructs the kryptonite all except for one element (I’m thinking probably the alien element that actually affects Superman). Since he cannot find it, he replaces it with tar. No, you can’t do that, I’m sorry.
Does this chemically altered version of Kryptonite affect Superman? It does indeed, and in a similar fashion to how red kryptonite would affect him in alternate versions. To overcome its hold, he had to have a mental breakdown and fight a clone version of himself. Although I like the splitting of the two Supermen, and the symbolic meaning of man vs self, it made no sense why the two physically split apart, now it could all be a mad schizophrenia delusion, but both were breaking things simultaneously in the same scene, so take that as you will. Finally, the movie all finalizes at a cave with a super-computer, and with some lady that turns into a robot…and…well….you get where this is headed.
This plot is all over the place! You don’t know which was is up, down, left, or right. Heck, you don’t even know who the main character is, because it surely does not feel like Superman holds that title. Whether it may or may not be true, it at least seemed as if Richard Pryor had more on screen time then Christopher Reeve, and there were two Christopher Reeves at one point. Now, I love Richard Pryor as much as the next comedy-lover, but he just does not fit into a Superman movie. He’s supposed to be a villain? Even if he accidentally fell into the life of crime, he just didn’t belong. I’m supposed to believe that he is a computer genius whose abilities are so powerful that he could make street walking signals literally animate and fight each other? I’m serious, that actually happened.
The fact that Gene Hackman didn’t return to his role as Lex Luthor is okay. Sometimes too much is too much, but his replacement is not a good choice, for many different reasons. First of all, it is clear that the role was written for Gene Hackman, the characters are nearly identical in every way. When I think back to Superman III, I actually thought the scenes I did remember were of Gene Hackman, but that’s not true. The characters were way too similar. Next, the character was unknown. Do you know how many characters there are in the D.C. Universe filled with well-known Superman enemies? Too many to list, so there was no reason why a third movie that was clearly crap couldn’t help things out by implementing a well-known D.C. Superman villain.
Next, we just have to talk about the clear and stupid mistakes the movie made that they could have easily, easily avoided.
- It was cool that they re-introduced Clark’s past with Lana and Smallville high, but where the heck was Martha? If she had died, why haven’t we heard of that before? Why in the world did they send Lois away for the entire movie? Just so Clark could fall in love with Lana?
- They needed to establish the fact that Lana was an old crush of Clarks, and that he had since received closure on that. Falling a bit too closely to Smallville territory here. Lois is supposed to be his true love, once he loves her, that’s it. Period.
- The first two movies still made it very important that part of Superman’s secret is his heritage. No one knows who he is or where he comes from. Richard Pryor suddenly knows absolutely everything as if he himself was Superman. As if he read the comics! He even did the ripping off the shirt thing, as if he knew Superman was Clark Kent, that was so dumb.
- It also makes no sense why the fake kryptonite even affects him. The alien part does, not tar! Get that through your head!
- If you are going to have a mansion-sized super-computer, don’t say it is 1,000 times more powerful than an average computer, and use it to kill Superman via a 8-bit video game with corny sound effects, just press the big red button (which they eventually do).
It’s not that the movie was completely bad, because it did have some good things. Superman is always a great character if they portray him right, and for the most part, I think they did for this movie. Most of it was just a train wreck, and I wish it wasn’t. The plot about the fraction of a cent thing was hilarious…when used in Office Space.
I just can’t wait to see Superman IV now…well that’s kind of true, because I barely remember it…we’ll see you then…