Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review #13

Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review
#13: Superman III

At the credits of “Superman II” there was talk about yet another sequel to the Superman series. If anyone hoped that number three would be better than the Academy-award winning first movie or the action-and-cheese-filled second movie, they would be sadly mistaken.

“Superman III” was released by Warner Brothers in 1983, and it would be the last Superman movie produced by Alexander and Ilya Salikind, although they would later produce the spinoff “Supergirl” and the 1988 TV series “Superboy”. Richard Lester, who assimilated the work of Richard Donner in the previous movie, directs this feature by himself. It stars Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Annette O’Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephensen, Robert Vaughn, and with brief appearances by Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, and Margot Kidder.

The movie starts with a sad sack named Gus Gorman (Pryor), who discovers he has a knack for computers and computer programming. When he discovers a way to get one-half of a penny off every financial transaction, it makes him filthy rich, and it catches the eye of his company’s boss, Ross Webster (Vaughn). Webster realizes that Gorman’s skills at computer hacking and programming could make him the richest and most powerful man in the world.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Reeve) decides to attend his high school reunion in Smallville. It helps to have Lois Lane (Kidder) out on a foreign assignment as well. On the way to Smallville, he extinguishes a chemical fire, discovering that one of the experimental chemicals would destroy the whole East Coast if it heats from liquid to gaseous form. (Yes it will be important later on.) Superman saves the day by freezing a whole lake and then dropping the ice over the plant. Jimmy Olson (McClure) is injured during the event and thus he’s relegated to the storyline bench.

At Smallville, Clark becomes reacquainted with his high school crush, Lana Lang (O’Toole), who by this time was divorced with a young son. Brad, who tormented Clark in the first movie, is now Lana’s loser ex trying to humiliate Clark and win back Lana’s heart again.

Webster sends Gorman to hack into the government’s “weather satellite” to create storms to destroy Columbia’s coffee crop. Gorman does it, but then tells Webster that for every disaster he created, Superman managed to thwart, including turning a tornado upside-down (don’t ask how). Webster tells Gorman that he has to come up with a way to neutralize Superman, and the only way possible is Kryptonite. Gorman researches what makes up Kryptonite and discovers that part of it is “unknown”. Since his pack of cigarettes has the same percentage of tar as the “unknown” element, Gorman uses it to fill in the blanks. Gorman then dons a phony military uniform and joins Webster’s ugly sister Vera (Ross) and convenient arm-candy Lorelei (Stephensen) and the three of them hand Superman the green crystal, which seems to have no apparent effect on Superman, but there is a change in him afterwards.

Gradually Superman becomes Super-jerk as he commits random acts of mischief. Realizing that Gorman has actually succeeded, Webster gives him the green-light to construct his “ultimate computer” as he sends Lorelei to seduce the corrupted hero to get him to sabotage the world’s oil supply.

The fully-corrupted Superman is now reduced to being a drunken loser, smashing bottles with peanuts and melting mirrors with his heat vision. When Lana is talked by her son into seeing him, the drunken Superman flies away, although visibly shaken by what he has become. He crashes into a junkyard, where he splits into two people… the corrupted jerk with a cape, and the innocent and naïve Clark Kent. Only one of them can win out.

Sadly, this movie is a super-disappointment. For starters, it focuses heavily on Richard Pryor’s comedic skills rather than on any kind of actual storyline. Let’s have Gorman show up in the middle of corn country just so he can hack into a secret government weather satellite which can actually CHANGE THE WEATHER! Let’s have Gorman pretend to be a general so he can hand Superman a paperweight that looks just like kryptonite! Let’s have Gorman slide off an artificial ski slope and off the side of a building so he can be rescued by Superman!

The cheese factor is pretty high as well. Turning a tornado upside-down in and of itself will do that. And then there’s the “super-split” trick and blowing oil out of the ocean and INTO a tanker, and then welding the hull closed without igniting the oil. Then we have the whole “MX” missile scene which literally turns the biggest action scene of the movie into a computer game. No, really, it does; with cheesy coin-op arcade music to boot.

Annette O’Toole’s portrayal of Lana actually makes her more approachable than Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane ever was. She comes off almost as sweet and innocent as Clark pretends to be, even after being divorced from loser Brad. She also manages to conveniently forget that Clark was the “weird-o” water-boy in high school that could outrace a speeding locomotive but doesn’t explain how. It should also be noted that O’Toole would later go on to play Clark’s adopted mother in the TV series “Smallville” where she also reunites with Kidder in one episode.

Then we have Robert Vaughn as the token bad guy of the movie. Once again we have a rich guy that isn’t evil per-se, just amoral and greedy. And also someone who apparently needs to keep himself socially isolated. Big multi-national, multi-conglomerate empire and he only hangs around with his ugly sister and arm-candy. Why does that sound so familiar?

Christopher Reeve again tries to play Superman and Clark Kent as straightforward as possible, but it doesn’t help that the storyline isn’t there. Just like “Superman II” was really about the three Kryptonian criminals, so too is this movie really all about Richard Pryor playing Gus Gorman.

In short, guys, Warner Brothers should have stopped while they were ahead. Unfortunately, they would end up going to the well two more times after this one.

Capes: The corruption subplot is a nice twist but the lack of an actual bad guy brings this movie down to three capes out of five.
Cheese: Extra-sharp cheddar (4) brought to you by an evil computer designed by an everyman buffoon.
Books: Only two books out of a possible five. This isn’t really a movie as it is a comedic vehicle for Richard Pryor.

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