Superman III (1983) Directed by Richard Lester. With Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Annette O Toole, Pamela Stephenson, Annie Ross, Margot Kidder and Jackie Cooper.
I often wish I could see Superman III through the same six year-old eyes I had back in 1983. Unfortunately, the intervening thirty-years have not been kind to Richard Lester’s calamitous second sequel.
What is most disappointing, is the way the film jettisons the tone set by Richard Donner’s inspired original, in favour of slapstick humour and an increasingly irritating central performance from Richard Pryor playing a hapless computer genius. How and why the decision was made to relegate Christopher Reeve’s iconic turn as Superman to almost second billing is beyond comprehension. Whatever the reasoning, it makes for muddled mess of a film that feels like a slap in the face, after the delight the series had brought thus far.
British director Lester continues where he left off from Superman II, only this time his ill-disciplined use of comedy is’nt counter-balanced by the influence of Richard Donner and boy, does it show. Where once we had the epic, outer space intro with John Williams’s masterful score – we now have a ‘Carry On Superman‘ routine, involving all manner of random calamity occurring across Metropolis.
The stronger moments all stem from Christopher Reeve, who revels in the opportunity to play an evil Superman, which becomes the film’s highlight. His scrapyard battle with his alter-ego, Clark Kent, is an outstanding scene that belongs in a much deeper, better film. In truth, the film itself should have centred entirely around this fascinating idea.
Replacing Gene Hackman on bad guy duties, is Robert Vaughn’s. Margot Kidder also pops in to say hello as ‘Lois Lane’, but is replaced by Annette O’ Toole’s ‘Lana Lang’ who at least provides some innocent charm, but her screen chemistry with Reeve never comes close to that he shared with the feisty Kidder.
In all, there’s a lot wrong with Superman III. For long sections, it is utterly dull and sells itself short by sacrificing character and story for silly humour and cheap sight gags, as all that was built by Richard Donner is clumsily bulldozed. Not only was the film a miss with critics, it also saw a significant dip in box office takings. With a more intelligent approach, Superman III could have been the completion of a great trilogy. As it stands, it was the beginning of the end of an era for one America’s most iconic film and comic book characters. 2.5/5