Superman III (1983)

Superman III (1983)

If the world’s most powerful computer can control even Superman…no one on earth is safe.

After computer whiz Gus Gorman is caught embezzling company funds, ruthless businessman Ross Webster hires the petty criminal for his own scam. He builds Gorman a super computer and instructs him to hack into a weather satellite system to change the climate of Columbia, thus destroying the coffee crop so that he can corner the market. Superman intervenes but Webster has planned ahead and exposes the Man of Steel to a batch of red Kryptonite. This has the effect of splitting Superman into good and evil versions of himself. Can he control himself whilst stopping Webster and Gorman?


The fallout from Superman II was still fresh in the minds of everyone behind-the-scenes in this series. Richard Donner had been fired during production of Superman II (despite having shot over 80% of it during the filming of Superman), producer Tom Mankiewicz and composer John Williams had left the series, Richard Lester was hired and re-shot a lot of the film, adding an unnecessary comic side to the proceedings. Actors voiced their concerns about what was going on, notably Margot Kidder who had her role as Lois Lane almost removed from this one as punishment. Without Donner at the helm and Mankiewicz pulling his strings, the Superman series quickly descended into farce and this is the first entry which had no input from either of them. And boy does it show. Superman III is an outing so different to the original that it’s a shame to include them in the same franchise.

The opening sequence set during the credits is a ridiculous slapstick routine in which Superman accidentally sets off a chain reaction of disasters in a street. The sequence seems to be totally out of place with everything else in the series preceding it but it’s a dangerous sign of things to come. Even Leslie Nielsen wouldn’t be seen dead doing something like this in one of his spoof films! How one can take anything else in the film seriously after this sequence is beyond me. Nothing comes from this sequence either and it seems tacked in for no apparent reason only than the director can do it if he wants.

The film quickly goes from bad to worse with the introduction of Gus Gorman and the stringing along of the story is basically a weak device to string together a couple of set pieces, most of which are of the comic variety. Superman III is perhaps fondly remembered for one imaginative sequence and that’s about it. Can anyone else remember anything about it apart from the good Superman versus evil Superman fight in a junkyard? The scene is so out of place in this film because it’s actually excellent and it’s a real shame because its one of the highlights of the series. Superman battles himself from pillar to post inside the junkyard and the special effects are great with Christopher Reeve seemingly fighting himself in many shots. Reeve is particularly good playing his darker, sinister side and watching him booze it up and act misogynistic is a riot. Reeves can never be replaced as Superman as he had the right combination of looks, physique, charisma and general likeability that the character needed and he shows why he became the true star of this series. His ability as an actor was never really tested in this series but he gets to show off some of his skills here.

Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is given so little time on screen as a result of voicing her opinions over Donner’s departure (good for her though) and Superman is given a secondary love interest. It’s an insult to fans of the first two Superman films as the chemistry between Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder was excellent and their ‘will they/won’t they’ pairing made for some of the more entertaining moments from both films. Her replacement, Annette O’Toole as Lana Lang, lacks any sort of connection or spark with Christopher Reeves and the romantic sub plots are given scant time as a result.

Fortunately for Gene Hackman, he managed to get out of playing Lex Luthor again and so the writers simply create a Luthor-lite character with Robert Vaughan’s Ross Webster. Vaughan’s a decent actor but the role is terrible and the script doesn’t really have him do anything, well, evil enough to be considered a major threat. Casting Richard Pryor as Gus Gorman is one of the worst casting decisions ever. The man is hilarious in his stand-up comedy, less so in most of his big screen outings. Being saddled with a family friendly rating is like cutting off his limbs.. The man just isn’t funny in this as he’s not able to be himself. He’s saddled with a dodgy script which has him doing silly things like skiing off the side of buildings wearing cowboy hats. That’s not the comedy he is renowned for. Trying to buy him as some villainous computer genius is arguably up there with trying to believe Denise Richards is a nuclear physicist in The World is Not Enough. Unfortunately this character is given so much screen time, in fact just as much if not more than Superman himself.


Superman III marked the turning point for Superman on the big screen simply for the fact that it tries to be a comedy when the material just isn’t meant to be funny. Yes, the series could be light hearted when it needed to be but this one forgets where to draw the line. The junkyard fight scene aside, this one is the least memorable of the series and is a very bland outing for the Man of Steel.





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