My time with Kal-El (Christopher Reeve) continues during my exploration of the Sci-Fi Chronicles book, and where nostalgia will forgive a lot of the things in Superman II, it can’t even pretend with Superman III; though, admittedly, there are a few sequences and story threads I like.
However, if director Richard Lester’s version of Superman II embraced its silliness, III goes beyond the pale, as you can tell right from the get go with its ridiculous opening credits. Add to that Richard Pryor, not a bad thing in itself, but putting him in a PG movie and asking him to be a restrained version of himself just doesn’t do the story any service at all, and of course, making his character, Gus Gorman an idiot savant with computers, back when the frontier was completely new, and viewers believed a computer could be programmed to do anything…
Moments that do work are the idea of a chemically created kyrptonite, that is just a little off, causing a schism in Superman’s personality, the junkyard showdown between Clark and his caped alter-ego, and a wonderful bit of romance featuring Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole).
Those moments however are completely overshadowed by the inanity that Lester and the Salkinds, as producers, wanted injected into the series. In the space of two films, we go from believing a man can fly to bad jokes, worse special effects, and a terrible plot barely fit for a Saturday morning cartoon.
Hackman’s Luthor is nowhere to be seen in this film, instead, Supes is menaced by Gorman who hoes to work for greedy Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn), his sister Vera (Annie Ross) and the smarter than she looks sex-kitten, Lorelei (Pamela Stephenson).
Even Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is only around briefly, for about a grand total of five minutes of screen time, as she is on her way to Bermuda, while Clark is off to Smallville to cover his high school reunion for The Daily Planet, and has a nice catch-up with Lana Lang, which ends up being a gentler, more captivating love story than the one presented between Superman and Lois.
Christopher Reeve still wonderfully embraces his dual roles as he portrays both Clark and Superman in ways that keep the viewer interested, even when the story is so horrible you want to turn the film off. It’s the moments between Clark, Supes, and Lana that make the film really worth watching, and they seem like a film removed from everything else that is going on in this movie. I also really like the darker version of Superman as the chemical kryptonite takes its effect on our hero.
It’s too bad that Warner Brothers let the Salkinds crash the series so quickly, and they really should have kept Donner in the director’s seat from the get-go. Instead the sequels go progressively worse, and there’s still a spin-off and one last outing for Reeve as Superman coming up…