Eye For Film >> Movies >> Superman III (1983) Film Review
Reviewed by: Stephen Carty
The story behind the Superman motion pictures is almost as interesting as the movies themselves. While shooting the first two together, mounting financial pressure meant director Richard Donner - who made the character what it was - was asked to just concentrate on the original. Then, when it came time to release the second, despite having reportedly filmed 80 per cent of it, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind removed him (they'd had creative differences from the start) and peacekeeper Richard Lester took the chair...
Persuading the Daily Planet to send him back to Smallville for his High School reunion, Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) runs into his childhood sweetheart Lana Lang (Annette O'Toole). Meanwhile in Metropolis, rich megalomaniac Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) uses gifted computer programmer Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) to help him control the world's oil. Fearing the Man of Steel might get involved, the pair create synthetic Kryptonite which has unexpected side-effects.
With Lester having Superman III all to himself, the result is a lighter and more comedic affair. Right from the extended slapstick opening (no swooshing credits in space with shiver-inducing theme this time) it’s clear that this is going to be a different proposition to Dick Donner’s epic, mythology-definers. In fact, given that the Salkinds originally wanted the series to resemble the Kapow-filled Batman TV series, you can’t help but feel that this is the film they wanted to make all along.
And yet, while the script from David and Leslie Newman (who, interestingly, wrote the originals until Donner brought in pal Tom Makiewicz for heavy rewrites) is full of holes and frequently silly, it still offers some good material. Though Supes’ red kryptonite-caused bad-streak gives us some of the franchise’s darkest moments (getting to a crash late, drunk at a bar, a brilliant scrapyard dust-up), the highlight is undoubtedly his trip to Smallville. Whether re-connecting with old crush Lana Lang or getting the better of school bully Brad (a spot-on Gavan O’Herlihy), this plot arc has the heart missing elsewhere.
Shame, then, that this good work is undone by a zany tone. Sure, some of the ‘funny’ moments are amusing (our hero straightening the leaning tower of Pisa, for example), but too often they take precedence. While this isn’t particularly surprising given that Lester is known for comedies, even the tight-wearing lead felt it was too much; “[He] was always looking for a gag - sometimes to the point where the gags involving Richard Pryor went over the top. I mean, I didn't think that his going off the top of a building, on skis with a pink tablecloth around his shoulders, was particularly funny”.
As for the motormouth comedian, his inclusion is way off the mark. Indeed, given that his notable comic strengths are profane observations (which aren’t going to sit well with the most wholesome icon there is), it seems he was merely hired because he raved on The Tonight Show how he enjoyed Superman II. Still, Reeve is on the money again in the dual role (every suit-to-cape transformation is superbly done), selling every character note while excelling in the subtleties like extinguishing penguin toys or a firm post-rescue handshake.
Plus, with Gene Hackman refusing to return and Kidder playing a bit part as a result of both actors unhappiness with the way the Salkinds treated their beloved Donner, we also get some new faces. As their replacements, Robert Vaughn is a hammy enough nemesis (if, essentially a Lex Luthor fill-in) and the beautiful O’Toole (okay geeks, we know she plays Martha Kent in Smallville) is a perfect Lana Lang. Elsewhere, Annie Ross meets a creepy end as the grouchy villain’s sister and Pamela Stephenson puts the super in sexy.
It might have some memorable series moments, but Superman III is undoubtedly the weakest instalment so far and – in some ways – what many feared the first two would be. For the fanboys though, it’s still worth it for Chris Reeve’s ageless performance.Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2009