Guilty Pleasures: Superman III
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's our Scott McKenzie in shorts and tights...
Let me begin by stating an irrefutable fact: Superman III does not exist. It does not exist because the events contained in the movie were removed from the screen canon of Superman with the release of 2006’s Superman Returns. Just as Highlander II was quickly removed from the memory of the general public with the release of subsequent sequels, the same was done for this movie and its partner in crime, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. Any attempts to resurrect this fossil are futile for the sole reason that Superman III sucks and I’m going to tell you why.
Exhibit A: The funniest man in the world (in 1983)
I’ll start at the beginning. Instead of flying through the depths of space with titles whizzing past the audience, we are introduced to the true intended star of Superman III: Richard Pryor (exhibit A). The Salkinds insisted on a comedy theme and roped in the biggest stand-up comedian of the time, but by doing so heaped far too much pressure on their new star, which did nothing for the emotional state of a man who was not well-known for his mental stability. They had already flexed their collective might by getting rid of Richard Donner from the first Superman sequel, and effectively cut Margot Kidder out of the second after she voiced her disgust at their actions.
Exhibit B: Superman or Charlie Chaplin?
Following the introduction of Gus Gorman, we’re then treated to a rehearsed slapstick sequence (exhibit B) instead of the impressive credits we expect, nay deserve, from a Superman movie. Throughout the movie, the comedy is pitched far too broad, often venturing into spoof territory. In one particular montage that is nothing more than a collection of badly-written skits, the red and green men on a crossing signal start to fight each other. Surely only Superman and anything or anyone else from Krypton are supposed to be the supernatural elements in the stories, not any old nonsense that suits the writers for the sake of a cheap laugh? I mean, there’s no way Gus Gorman could ski off the top of a building and land on the street below without a scratch, and when he does it makes a mockery of the peril Lois Lane finds herself in before she meets Superman in the first movie.
Of all the Superman movies, number three has aged the worst. The reason for this is its secondary theme: computers. Following his failed attempts to exist on state benefits, Gus Gorman somehow turns into a computer programming genius. The only problem with including computer technology in any movie is that it badly dates that movie. How could we believe that the Superman that returns to Earth after going looking for Krypton could have been gone for any less than twenty years if Superman III was to remain a credible inclusion in the series?
Exhibit C: Comb your hair, you naughty Superman!
My learned friend for the defence will no doubt dazzle you with tales of how Superman III is the movie with the darkest moments, that it was originally supposed to be called Superman vs. Superman. I’m willing to concede that the fight between Superman and his evil alter-ego is a refreshing twist, but in the same way that one spray of air freshener doesn’t hold back a pungent smell, one decent scene doesn’t stop Superman III stinking either. Even when he stops being a goody-goody, the filmmakers still milk it for cheap laughs, whether he’s stopping the leaning tower of Pisa from leaning or blowing out the Olympic torch, and the only way they could think of making Christopher Reeve look evil was to make his suit a bit darker and ruffle his hair (exhibit C).
I will leave the ladies and gentlemen of the jury with a clip that shows them how the opening credits of Superman III could, nay should, have looked (exhibit D) and allow them to dream of what could have been if only the producers had decided to make a movie half as good as the first two entries in the series.
Exhibit D: What could have been
I’m afraid that my colleague for the prosecution could not be more wrong. I’ll admit that Superman III is no classic by any means, but it is an adequate addition to the series and does not deserve to be excluded from the Superman canon. For starters, it is the first Superman movie that Christopher Reeve received top billing for and contains one of his strongest performances. In addition to playing the dual roles of Superman and Clark Kent, he is asked to play the third role of Evil Superman. Through his performance, we get to see his wide acting range that goes from slapstick comedy, sensitivity and heroism through to arrogance and self-doubt.
Exhibit E: Combine harvester rescue
Superman III also contains set-pieces so memorable that they cannot be removed from the minds of fans, no matter how much the prosecution pushes for a guilty verdict. Rescuing Ricky from certain death in the jaws of a combine harvester (exhibit E), being chased by missiles through the Grand Canyon, Gus Gorman embezzling half-cents and the junkyard fight are scenes that stick in the mind long after the credits have rolled. Lest we forget the moment where Vera Webster is caught in the supercomputer during the climactic scene and is turned into a half-human half-robot monster (exhibit F), which gave countless children nightmares throughout the 80s.
Exhibit F: Don’t worry, it’s only a movie
I’d like to reiterate the prosecution’s point about how the filmmakers made Superman look evil. Yes, he is dressed in a dark suit with ruffled hair, but is that any different from the techniques used to make Peter Parker look evil in Spider-Man 3? I would therefore ask that if the jury are willing to find this movie guilty, they must also do the same for Sam Raimi’s movie.
Judge: Sustained, although the prosecution makes a good point.
Superman III is also notable because we get to see Clark Kent of the present day spend time in his home town of Smallville. The relationship he shares with Lana Lang is at the core of the movie and works well, and Annette O’Toole was a logical addition to the cast of the Smallville TV series. Yes, Lex Luthor is missing but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even though Superman may be the greatest comic-book superhero, his selection of nemeses isn’t as wide as Batman or Spider-Man and it’s good to see him go up against someone else, even if it is Robert Vaughan and Mrs Billy Connolly.
I will leave the ladies and gentlemen of the jury with a clip that shows just how dark and compelling this movie is (exhibit G) and ask them to consider the following fact: at least it’s not as bad as Superman IV!
Judge: Sustained. The jury is instructed to disregard the defence’s last comment. Superman III is the only movie on trial here. Superman IV was already found guilty a long time ago and has no relevance on this trial.
Exhibit G: Superman vs the bottle
It is now over to the people of DVDActive: guilty or not guilty?
Editorial by Scott McKenzie
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