Superman III (1983)
Superman III (1983)

Genre: Superhero Running Time: 2 hrs. 5 min.

Release Date: June 17th, 1983 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Richard Lester Actors: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Annette O’Toole, Robert Vaughn, Pamela Stephenson, Annie Ross, Margot Kidder, Gavan O’Herlihy, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure




ugust “Gus” Gorman (Richard Pryor) seeks his 36th week of payments for chronic unemployment. The city of Metropolis is generally generous to its residents, but Gus has officially become ineligible to collect money from taxpayer programs. He’s moderately infuriated, but after receiving a matchbook from a man in line, he’s inspired to seek out work as a computer programmer at a data processing center – the perfect job for a disgruntled idler, and one at which he has an uncanny knack. “I’m not a bum!”

Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve), the alter ego for Superman, must save a man from drowning in his own car on 3rd Avenue after a Rube Goldbergian, slapstick scenario demolishes a city block – instigated by the gait of the shapely blonde Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson), the plaything (or psychic nutritionist, who goes so far as to exercise in heels) of wealthy businessman and community leader Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn). Shortly thereafter, Kent heads back to Smallville for a high school class reunion (of 1965), as his former flame, fellow reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) – whose memory was previously wiped – leaves for a Bermuda vacation. Of course, nothing is ever ordinary for the mild-mannered newspaperman; even during the bus ride to his hometown, Superman is required to rescue klutzy photographer Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure) from a fire and save the Eastern seaboard from instant devastation by deadly acid stored in a chemical plant.

Once again, the filmmakers stick to levity over convincing awe; since it worked commercially and critically (for the most part) for the last two pictures, the creative department opts not to change the storytelling method or tone. But this could have been the opportunity to alter the course of this series – or, at least, to darken the mood. Instead, the comedy is even more dominant and the sincerity virtually absent; this franchise is practically a live-action cartoon at this point (or video game, as suggested during the conclusion).

Airy love crops up with Smallville resident Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole), replacing the dead-end, stale romance with Lois Lane (clearly Superman has a thing for the letter L); the hollow theme of bullying remains, shifted primarily from Kent to Lana’s young son; and the villain is now an actual comedian, cracking jokes, donning various costumes, and toying with a yo-yo as much as he commits butterfingered crimes. The preoccupation with humor continues to extend even to Clark, who accidentally eats dog food and must orchestrate ever weirder, partially obscured transformations into his bright red-and-blue garb. And, perhaps most unfitting of all is Ken Thorne’s new score, which is peppered with circusy ditties, sound effects, and musical cues.

The pacing is likewise impaired, unable to keep things engaging as the dry dialogue, blander character designs, and failed comic relief bog down the plot. It’s quite evident that writers David Newman and Leslie Newman have completely run out of ideas. There’s no congruity in the action sequences, no sense in the evil machinations of the antagonists, and no logicality in character motives or intelligence; events and behaviors are reduced to simplistic concepts (such as a super-computer of epic weapons capabilities – designed on napkins, cigarette packs, and other scrap paper) with no basis in reality (even though this is a superhero fantasy).

At least a hint of prescience creeps into the subplot of computer manipulation, anticipating the future state of societies at the mercy of all-encompassing, ultimately uncontrollable automation. “Never underestimate the power of computers!” But even that is approached with frivolity, epitomized when Superman goes on a temporary spree of anti-virtuousness, highlighted by a porn-like moment of bedding the seductive Lorelei. And the finale is an utter mess of undecipherable techno-weirdness (more at home in the likes of “TRON,” “Saturn 3,” or “The Black Hole”). “The lousy do-gooder ruined it!”

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10