Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Superman III

Directed by Richard Lester.
1983. Rated PG, 125 minutes.
Christopher Reeve
Richard Pryor
Robert Vaughn
Jackie Cooper
Marc McClure
Annie Ross
Pamela Stephenson
Robert Vaughn
Margot Kidder

Superman ignores a bank robber even though he is already in the vicinity and the guy engages in a shootout with a cop in broad daylight on the streets of Metropolis while strangely oblivious citizens casually go about their business. Our hero does save Miss Ambrosia (Stephenson), this movie’s version of Miss Teschmacher while a blind man triggers a seemingly unending string of “accidental” hijinks and shenanigans merely by stumbling around. This is all part of the bizarre opening scene of Superman III. It’s an exercise in slapstick more fitting of a Marx Brothers movie than America’s favorite boy scout.

Also right at the beginning, we meet Gus (Pryor). He’s really down on his luck. He’s been jobless for thirty-five weeks, thirty-six including this one, and is no longer eligible for unemployment benefits. In a light bulb moment, he decides to go to school to learn computer programming where he learns he has a gift for hacking. On the first job of his new career, he embezzles thousands of dollars through a scheme involving fractions of pennies. Many of you will know, this was famously re-used in the movie Office Space. Little does Gus know that his new boss, Ross Webster (Vaughn) is not only a billionaire, but an international criminal, and is on to him thanks to Gus showing up to work in a flashy sports car. Still, Webster admires Gus’ guts and puts the chap to use in his efforts to rule the world.

As far as Supes goes, his life takes some interesting turns. First, Lois Lane (Kidder), having forgotten everything that happens in Superman II, goes on a much needed vacation and disappears only to return for a few minutes at the end of the movie. Next, Clark goes home to Smallville and connects with Lana Lang (O’Toole). I've always wondered what’s with him and all the Ls. Lois Lane. Lana Lang. Lex Luthor. That one time with Linda Lovelace. No? Okay, I made that last one up, but you get the picture. Moving on. We also find out that 99.43% kryptonite doesn't kill Superman. It just makes him damn cranky.

Superman III is the most uneven watch of the franchise’s movies. While the first two both used silly comic relief from time to time, this installment gets downright vaudevillian. It’s like the filmmakers had the overwhelming fear that audiences wouldn't be able to cope with the movie’s darker scenes without a pratfall or two to break up the tension. Yes, there are darker scenes. They have to do with that not-quite-kryptonite I mentioned. The climax of this is perhaps the most iconic scene of the series, a physical battle between Superman and Clark Kent. The rest of the plot plays out better than its ever been given credit for. Webster, our stand-in for Lex Luthor has similar delusions of grandeur and uses Lex-like tactics to make his dreams a reality. This includes building Gus a super computer about the size of an office building. It gets a bit silly, okay very silly, but no more than Superman turning back the hands of time.

As for Gus, he’s probably the most polarizing character in the canon. It seems strange that the people behind a title as wholesome as Superman would even entertain the notion of casting Richard Pryor. Apparently, they saw him on a talk show gushing about how great he thought Superman II was and figured it was a great idea to write a role for him in the next sequel. Actually, he isn’t bad. Many of the funnier, and less idiotic moments are his. This excludes the predictable and not very funny skiing gag, but that’s the best looking stunt in the movie so I can let it slide.

Let’s continue speaking about how things look. Though we can occasionally still see the obvious, the special fx are greatly improved over the first two flicks in the franchise. Thankfully, this is most true with regards to our hero flying. It’s not perfect, but done better. Our suspension of disbelief isn't as tested whenever he takes off. The movie as a whole is helped by the fact that, as always, Christopher Reeve is the quintessential Superman. Like I said earlier, the ending gets really goofy, making it harder to swallow. Superman III is clearly a few notches below its predecessors in terms of quality. While I can’t tell you that this is some gem that you've all misunderstood, I don’t find it the desecration of Jor-El’s grave others have.

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