Wednesday, June 5, 2013

SUPERMAN:The Retrospective-PartIII:SUPERMAN III (1983)

Superman III
Director: Richard Lester
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Annette O'Toole, Marc McClure, Robert Vaughn, Pamela Stephenson
Rated: PG

Never underestimate the power of computers
           ~Ross Webster

To start off, this shouldn't be called Superman III.  A more appropriate title would be Gus Gorman with tag line "You Will Believe A Computer Can Do Anything".  This is a Richard Pryor movie with special guest, Superman.  Pryor easily clocks in the most screen time and the plot really revolves around every move he makes.  He's not even the main villain or some sort of hero.  At best I can see, he's the bumbling henchman of the criminal mastermind.  So, if we ever wanted a movie told from that angle, here you have it.  It's a Superman movie, but Superman is pretty much shoehorned in and only swoops in to save the day.

From the outset, you can tell Richard Lester is predating Joel Schumacker's "full control and off the rails" by 14 years.  We start off with a full scale slapstick series of events in Metropolis, making West Side Story look like The Godfather in tone.  Gone are the cool space opening credits that ushered us into the first two films.  Nope, we get this.  A series of comedic destructions, one after another, all because of Lorelei strolling by.  A bank robbery happens, but does Superman catch the culprits?  Nope, he instead saves a man who has run over a fire hydrant and his car is full of water drowning him while people just sit and stare.  BREAK THE DAMN WINDOWS!  So yeah, this is how this thing we call a movie starts.
This movie has done zero research on computers and feels its audience doesn't know anything either.  The whole angle is incredibly laughable and silly.  And the fact that after a couple buttons pushed Richard Pryor is a mad hacking genius?  Please.  Did this even work back in 1983?  Yes, children could easily buy into this movie.  And that's where it falls most.  As a kids and nobody else film.  The movie just pretty much believes that computers are evil and he who figures them out first controls the world.  It's pretty ludicrous.  And this movie is full of this zaniness.  How this was all being approved of, I have no idea.

Also, the first two films' effects were revolutionary and setting new standards.  This one?  It backpedals about 90 steps and 10 years.  It looks incredibly cheap.  Superman's flying looks really bad in this.  Everything looks done for quick buck and just assuming people will go with it.  Its pretty sad. Superman III has some of the poorest blue screen work you'll see. This film should have taken it further, but its too concerned with getting yucks and trying to find a punchline in any film.
One random thing.  Why does the script have Jimmy Olsen go with Clark to Smallville only to have him taken out by an injury BEFORE THEY EVEN GET THERE!  What was the point?  Having Jimmy around could have benefited the viewer by having someone for Clark to console in and give a little more depth to his life in Smallville.  Instead, he acts very Lois Lane and tries to grab some photos of the random nuclear facility having a meltdown on the way.  Was this maybe their way of getting Lois out of the movie before the vacation device was used and later changing it to Jimmy Olsen?

Okay...I'm going to do this a little more 50/50.  I'm going to stop with the complaints here.  The list of dislikes regarding Superman III are well documented on the web and elsewhere.  I'm going to spin this into things I actually liked about the movie.  No, I'm not on the fence about Superman III, I don't like the movie, but I just wanted to do something a little more fair for it.
While the situation feels very much like on afterthought on behalf of the writers and producers, I really enjoy where they take Kal-El on this journey.  Getting him away from Metropolis and revisiting his roots.  I wish they hadn't killed off Martha Kent in an offhand line, because that might have been able to bring more weight to the situation.  While some fashions of how she's viewed as a "single mom needing a man" may be a bit dated, I really like Lana Lang.  I think Annette O'Toole is far more appealing and charming than that of Margot Kidder.  And unlike Kidder's Lois, you could get a better idea what Kal-El might see in her.  She also shares some good chemistry with Christopher Reeve.  Its a cool thing to see them turn the tables and have a woman who is interested in Clark Kent and not as vested in Superman.  Another plus, she's not just there to be used as a damsel in distress either.  Her story is about her finally busting out of  small town and exploring the world as she's always dreamed.  They never truly put her in harm's way, and the villains could care less about her. Clark is there to help her see that she can do it too, and no matter her situation, does not need to settle.  Now, I'm making this sound grand, but this stuff really is there, it just may be told a bit more clumsily.  And also the Clark/Lana scenes really don't feature a lot of Lester's groan-worthy over the top comedic antics.
And this film kind of actually gets Lex Luthor right, except, its not Lex Luthor.  Ross Webster is pretty much a faux-Lex.  As a matter of fact, his whole gang is pretty much here, Lorelei is a faux-Tessemacher and Gus is pretty much the faux-Otis.  I know its not Lex, but bear with me.  They get the maniacal wealthy businessman angle correct.  And its a relief he's not a real estate enthusiast.  From the office to the outfits, the schemes, the gadgetry, Ross Webster is more Lex Luthor than the Lex Luthor they had provided previous.  So what if Hackman hadn't come back?  Just recast him.  They even cast a similar style/looking actor to play Webster.  Is he as good as Hackman?  No.  But he's more than serviceable.

Evil Superman is a pretty big hoot.  Reeve once again commits to his role and makes for one hell of a creep as the darker side of Kal-El.  Weirdly enough his costume changes color and its more in tune with Superman Returns color scheme.  There's a insanely uncomfortable moment with Lana Lang that plays far more dangerous and off from this film's tone and feels so damn awkward.  However, looking back at this now, the Evil Superman stage of this film is quite hilarious.  There's a lot of funny lines and he does some things that are just wildly out of left field.  And then you get to see Clark Kent fight Superman to top it off.  Its probably the highlight of this movie.
While there are some of these saving graces, it is far from enough to even out this film.  For starters, its 125 minutes.  This thing is massively bloated and can be quite a bore to watching, especially when you are watching jokes fail over and over.  If this thing was crunched to 90-100 minutes, it may be a bit more watchable and forgivable.  Most of the time is spent trying to pull off a joke at every single turn.  It gets tiring.  And while this one doesn't have an ending that has you questioning Superman's powers, I have NO IDEA why he lets Gus go.  This guy was a part of the Webster's team.  THE key part of it.  I don't care if he had a change of heart in the last couple minutes, this man tried to kill you already in the film, Superman!  He's also behind all this hacking and destruction!  WTF does Superman not only single out him to save, but tries to get him a job?  So lame and infuriating.  Its fitting of this movie.
Okay, there's tons to talk about this movie, cuz it is pretty crazy.  I know some people have said they liked it as a kid, but this is one where you should watch now and slap yourself for enjoying it then.  And no, this movie is not Richard Pryor's fault.  He is just doing what they hired him to do.  Blame producers, blame Richard Lester.  This film is a steep drop from the previous two.  But will it be the worst one in the retrospective?  Will I be pining for something akin to Superman III by the end?

Find out when I return next time with:  SUPERGIRL

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