Superman III (1983)

2 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When you cast a likable comedian like Richard Pryor in a movie, you better have good use of him. Write a good character for him and give him room to breathe more than what the script limits him to, so he’ll feel comfortable. If all that’s done, then there shouldn’t be a problem. And at first, there seems to be promise. There’s a funny opening scene in “Superman III” in which Pryor—playing a down-on-his-luck dishwasher named Gus—faces the unemployment line, and it seems like this could be something special.

Then came the Rube-Goldberg-esque chain of accidents that goes through the opening credits (or is it the opening credits going through the chain of accidents?), and Superman must finally come in to save the day. Look at the credit-sequence and look back at Pryor’s introduction—would you connect these to a Superman movie?

So it seems like “Superman III” is going more for comedy this time around, hence the appearance of Richard Pryor. There isn’t a real sense of human interest that we felt in the previous “Superman” movies. Actually, this could be described as what the first Superman movie could have been—the first Superman movie and its sequel “Superman II” had real charms by mixing this fantasy with reality and without becoming shallow and silly. That was saved for this third entry, apparently.

There’s not only more comedy, but also more action. There are more action sequences and special effects to be found here, and they’re not put to good use. They don’t seem all that exciting and just feel like they’re stretched out. The one exception is a scene midway through the film in which for reasons too complicated to explain, Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) ends up fighting his own alter-ego Superman. This is actually kind of interesting because it does show Clark Kent confronting his demons in this expressive way and it has us wondering what Superman would (or could) have been like without Clark Kent’s humanity. And speaking of human interest, there’s a new romance introduced here. Since Lois Lane is off on vacation and Clark has gone back to Smallville for his high school reunion, a romance develops between him and a former pal named Lana (Annette O’Toole). It’s sweet, but not as interesting as the previous film’s relationship with Superman and Lois.

The villains aren’t as interesting or as memorable as Lex Luthor and his minions. Here, Robert Vaughn plays a mad billionaire who wants to use satellites to control the Earth’s crops and become even richer. And in case you’re wondering, I did use that description from Roger Ebert’s review of the film. I needed help because I couldn’t remember a darn thing about Vaughn or his scheme.

But back to what I was saying about Richard Pryor. When you get past the opening scene aforementioned and see his character Gus more and more, you realize that he doesn’t create a character to care about. Maybe that’s because this role wasn’t meant for Pryor. Gus is trying to play a likable schmoe to play off the villains (his character is forced to help the Vaughn character with his new-found computer skills) and he just comes across as a man/actor/comedian searching for a laugh. I don’t know whether to place the blame on the writer, the director, or even going on an unfair note to blame Pryor, but Gus just isn’t funny, nor does Pryor make the best attempts. Maybe if he really was despicable and less innocuous, it could somehow make things better and more interesting for Pryor. The strange thing is, it seems like Pryor has as much time on screen as Superman, if not more time on screen.

“Superman III” is just a muddled mess of a movie, trying to jam many things into one movie and not making the best effort. And to think I got through this review in just one page.

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