Superman III (1983)

Our review of the third Superman film in the Christopher Reeve/Pierre Spengler/Ilya Salkind era, and the first 100% directed by Richard Lester. Because the Salkind’s owed him a film. So he ruined Superman III to get back at them. Or the WB ruined it by insisting they toss out their first script and cast Richard Pryor instead. Whichever happened, the results will still drive you to drink. Just like Superman on synthetic kryptontie.


8 thoughts on “Superman III (1983)”

  1. If I may recommend the series I’d like to see you write more about, I’d love to see material based on the other two Hulk movies (to compliment your fine review of the original Hulk pilot). I’d really like to see you compare the two and where you think, if any place, they went wrong. I, myself, have a big huge set of problems with both but enjoyed them.

    Re: Superman 3, it’s the difference between what Tom Baker said was a “Children’s Show” and a “Childish” show. Comics are for kids and the kid in all of us. There’s nothing wrong with this and forgetting this is a bad thing. I also think you’re too hard on this movie.

    Yes, I’m defending Superman 3. Bear with me.

    As a child, I enjoyed the and didn’t question the logic of how a weather satellite could scan Krypton’s asteroid field or create weather. It’s a setting about a man who can fly and I don’t need talk about “tactile telekinsis” to wonder how Superman can lift a frozen lake over a chemical fire without it breaking into pieces.

    How did the Weather Sattelite do it? MAYBE WAYNE ENTERPRISES BUILT IT! That’s how and they can do anything. Likewise, Richard Pryor steals the show from the guy we’re supposed to like and I think the movie would have benefited if they’d taken Gus Gorman’s character and dumped him into an entirely different “Trading Places” style comedy. In fact, they did do that and created “Office Space.”

    It’s a mediocore movie made of a halfway decent (and those halfs are Annette O’Toole and Christopher Reeve) Superman movie and a great but unrelated office comedy plus some really cartoonish villains grafted together as some sort of Frankenstein’s monster but it entertained me.

    Also, there were TWO good things that came out of “Superman turns evil due to Cigarette Kryptonite.” The first, of course, is the fight between Dickish Superman and Clark Kent. The second is the fact Superman’s biggest desire isn’t to get drunk and nail the hot girl. It’s the part beforehand that Superman would just like to RELAX and kick back for a bit. The consequences being a bunch of people on a bridge die.

    I liked that.

    1. You’re in luck, Charles: I reviewed both theatrical Hulk movies when they came out. The results look a bit…rough…to my 2013 eyes, and they’re shot through with my own, cynical breed of naivete…especially the review of Ang Lee’s movie, because I wrote that in September, 2003, after it hit the $5 theater down the street from my old apartment but before I realized just how solipsistic, dumb, and backward-thinking the mainstream reaction (or even the Snarky Internet Critic’s reaction) would be. Half the bile in the Hulk ’77 review was born that Fall, as you can probably tell, and would definitely be able to tell if I converted the Hulk ’03 or Hulk ’08 reviews to video.

      Leaving aside the various Drs. Banner…I’m not sure I’d call this a “defense” of Superman III since we basically agree on the core points (i.e., that it’s a poor comedy ruins what might’ve been a decent Superman movie, possibly even better than the last two). Interesting you’d go for Trading Places, the 4th highest grossing film of 1983, which made $20 million more than Superman III on sixty percent of its budget, symptomatic of the way “mainstream” money would flow until Die Hard and the packed house of Summer, 1989, changed everything.

      I wasn’t even going to mention the whole “tactile telekinesis” thing, since even explaining the term to people who weren’t reading comics in the ’90s can become its own headache-inducing kerfuffle. We’ll see how much room there is in my as-yet-unwritten review of Superman 4, where I plan to bitch about Clark’s varying power-set and all the drama it destroys (outside of the comics, where his power-set has more-or-less stayed set since the mid-80s, Electric Blue & Red period notwithstanding).

      If I was “too hard” on this poor, defenseless, multi-million dollar studio tent pole, wait’ll you get a load of Superman 4. In the meantime, I never know what to say when someone comes to me with, “I loved this as a kid.” Great, but what can I do with that? I can only acknowledge it and answer with my own experience. So, as a child, (meaning a twelve-year-old overjoyed to see a second video store open in his home town, finally giving those crusty fucks down at ‘Gator Bait Video some honest competition), I despised nearly all of this and spent the whole time asking questions it failed to answer because it assumed I was as incurious and ageusiatic as my fellow sixth graders. It’d be nice if this took place in some corner of the DC Universe(s), where I can wave any piece of advanced tech away as property of Wayne, post-Crisis Luthor, or S.T.A.R. Labs, but it doesn’t. This isn’t Earth-2 or -425 or -221487, this is Earth-Salkind. And I’m not even sure it’s the same Earth-Salkind where the last two movies occurred. Like the “Earth-Schumacher” version of Bruce Wayne said to Edward Nigma, “It just raises too many questions.” I get plenty of entertainment out of asking them, but I doubt it’s the kind Superman III‘s creator’s intended me to derive.

      1. I’m going to probably end up defending Superman IV as well because, while the movie makes no god-damned sense on any geopolitical level, it satisfied what I was trying to convey about 3. I was entertained by all the godawful (on an artistic level) silliness as well as ham-fisted sentimentality of this movie. Yes, “Gus Gorman’s Office Space” would have been a much better movie and Superman 3: Superman vs. Not Lex Luthor (Morgan Edge?) would have been better but while it’s less than the sum of its parts–I enjoyed it and that’s more than I can say about a lot of films. Green Lantern was a much more technically better done film but I was bored during it and I was never bored or annoyed during either Superman III or IV films. Reeve is always good on screen and even at his LEAST brilliant/most toned down, Richard Pryor was funny to me.

        It’s not a turd to polish, so much as a really really horribly cut diamond to me.

        1. Morgan Edge! Thank you – I was trying to remember the name of Metropolis’ Number 2 evil corporate raider and my brain refused to give it up. Time to go back to those old John Byrne books, refresh the memory before Man of Steel.

  2. Good to see you back, David. One thing that has always struck me as odd about Superman 3 (aside from the many oddities that you mentioned). The part with Vera turning into a monster comes completely out of the blue. It scared the hell out of me when I was a kid and it completely goes against the tone of the film (just like Richard Pryor, and the man of steel getting his knob polished) as does the computer suddenly turning malevolent. Between this and Cameron’s film following a year later, you can see the anti-technology message that Hollywood was pushing in the early 80’s.

    It’s a shame that Robert Vaughn would descend even further. He eventually ended up doing films like Zombie 5 The Killing Birds and to plugging ambulance chasing law firms.

    1. You are far from alone. “Cyborg Vera scared the shit out of me as kid” is the most consistent comment about the film I’ve heard from all parts of the criticsphere. The next-most consistent thing being, “Braniac was supposed to be the villain of this film” which explains the Evil Computer. Because one Evil Computer is as good as another, right? And all computers have the potential to be HAL 9000, especially if you don’t know anything about computers.

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