BlokeBusting The Essentials #96: Superman III
#96 Superman III
The First Intentionally “Funny” Superman
First and foremost, I apologise for the slight delay in this review. Life events (including a rather annoying change of flight plans) got in the way. However, we’re here now to discuss Superman 3, the one that tried new things and couldn’t quiiiiite stick the landing. Does that mean it was a bad film? Let’s delve right into that, shall we?
This film was my second ever Superman film. Full transparency, to date I have seen (though not in this order) 1-3, Returns and Man Of Steel. I’ve seen Justice League too, but let’s leave that alone for now. This film was one of the two that stuck with me after watching it and it did so due to one scene, which I will get to later. However, I recall enjoying it enough when I was younger that it kept my interest. On this rewatch, I found that many of the old-school cliches are there (mostly limitations of the time, but some were just what you did back then in these types of films), the villains were kinda lesser copies of Luthor and the like and they managed to water down Richard Pryor. Does this make it a film that held up well? No. However…
I would argue that you shouldn’t worry about that. Yes, there’s cliches but those cliches are only there because this film was one of those that laid the foundations that became the cliches. The villains were effectively Luthor 1.5 (plus some eye candy, because reasons), but that actually lets them have fun because you know exactly what they are. There’s no need for any real development, there’s no attempt at fleshing them out. There’s only “I’m clearly evil and want to rule the world” followed by “Curses! It’s Superman!” followed by “I’ve beaten him!” until finally “Oh, no I didn’t.”. Everything else is just the filmmakers trying something new, injecting humour and different scenarios into a well-used machine. I actually admire them for that. And there’s not much else you can take from the world that is presented other than it being a real product of the time. We don’t see much of the world, only Metropolis (or a few buildings in it), a couple of disaster sites, a scrapyard and the people. You’ve got a hero, many, MANY bystanders, some villains and a “love interest”. So, to get a better grip on how this film fared, let’s look at the characters themselves.
This version of Superman is what you’d expect. He’s nice he’s clean cut and he’s got random powers (I don’t care how hard you blow, you cannot get every single drop of oil back into a tanker. And furthermore, how the hell did it not explode when he sealed it?). But here’s where the filmmakers decided to take a risk. They made Superman selfish, grumpy, brooding. Basically, they turned him human for a while. And it actually works well. Really well. They use a slight colour shift in his suit to help with this too (unless my copy was just messed up) by having his suit be a few shades darker blue while under the influence of the MacGuffin, fake Kryptonite, until he ends up defeating himself. The final showdown with himself was a little boring, but I think that’s more to do with my having seen it before than anything else. So yeah, all in all they did quite well here!
- Lois Lane / Lana Lang
I’ve lumped these two together because they’re basically the same character. A LL for Clark to pine for and a distraction for Superman. Lois vanishes for 98% of the film due to a trip to Barbados (holding up some swimwear that probably had many people wishing we could simply follow her instead of Clark for this film) that feels pretty random. But don’t worry, we have another fairly thin woman who’s Clark’s age and happens to be nearby. Despite them spending so much time together in the film, the problem with Lana is that she felt like exactly what she was: a stand-in for Lois. The end of the film basically has what should feel like a shoulder-shrug, look to camera from Clark as the two meet, but ends up feeling like “Oh, I guess that whole thing didn’t really matter” as there’s zero resolution and you can easily surmise that Lana will be nowhere to be seen in any future films (She isn’t). To be honest, I feel like this film didn’t need her.
- Ross + Vera Webster
As I said before, these guys are basically Luthor 1.5, just without the intellect. Imagine any bad guy who wants to make loads of money and doesn’t care who gets hurt. Well done, you’ve imagined these two. And as I said earlier, I don’t think that’s a bad thing for this film. There’s no time spent on character development, no time spent on backstory, no time wasted on trying to understand them. We see them enjoying a few bad news stories, we see them scheme to beat Superman and we see them almost win. There you go, Superman villain 101 achieved. However, that lets you do anything you want to them and we don’t care. The sister (the joke is that she’s mean and ugly, yay) gets turned into a cyborg by a super-computer. And we basically go “Huh. that sucks for her” and then just wonder what Superman was doing flying away at that time. Effectively you have the perfect foils and they perform their roles to a T. So not good, not bad, simply there.
- Lorelei Ambrosia
Ok, first things first. I had NO idea who played this person until I looked up the cast after the film. So, in case you don’t know, she was played by a comedian from New Zealand who was well known in England for Not The Nine O’Clock News and also for being married to Billy Connolly. So yeah, that surprised me! Secondly, this character is one of the first that I can recall actually being a well written female character in a superhero film. Well, about 90% well written. It kinda goes away at the VERY end of the film after she’s lifted by a random telekinetic ball thing, which I promise makes sense. But anyway, she’s actually smarter than the other two villains and does very well at hiding it. She uses her looks to get whatever she wants and fools everyone until the end. I really do think it’s a well made character that could have been a good call to come back in the sequel in some way. And who knows, she might have been an inspiration for other filmmakers down the line to include more nuanced female characters!
- August “Gus” Gorman
Yep. They took Richard Pryor, a legendary blue comedian, and asked him to do comedy in a PG film. Anyone who’s seen him in stuff like See No Evil, Hear No Evil will know just how silly that is to ask. And yet, he managed to do well. Not great, as any real frustration rants were going to be dialed down to 2, but good enough. And really, it’s just fun to see someone actually act the most like a real person in the entire franchise. This guy just wants to make some money. He does, but ends up being blackmailed into this ridiculous scheme that he has to go along with. So he does, as best he can, until he realises what the ultimate goal is. He’s got the best arc of the entire film and I actually was rooting for him. So yeah, way to go Mr Pryor!
As you can tell, I did enjoy this film. It’s clunky in places, it’s loaded with what we now know as cliches but were actually fairly new and interesting at the time, and has a real need for more character depth. However, it’s still a fun Superman film. Oh yeah, one more thing…
The Cyborg Scene
This scene messed with my head as a kid. Bear in mind that I didn’t catch Doctor Who until the 2005 reboot, so Cybermen were a total unknown to me. For some reason, the act of total transformation into an external component of a computer was actually a little off-putting to me as a kid. And watching it back now, I still had a slight twinge as the sister’s voice gets cut off and the eyes opened. Now, the actual applying of the components are hockey as anything (imagine placing a fork on a thumb and a cheese grater on an arm, you’ve got the basic gist) and it’s totally undone by the end. But still, it’s actually a moment that was surprising to me as a kid and actually was VERY well done. Kudos to the filmmakers!
Ok, time for Mr Bubbawheat to give his two cents. Over to you, my very own Mr Webster!
When I first started this website the very first movies that I watched and reviewed were the first four Superman films starring Christopher Reeve. I think that it was the last time that I’ve seen this film. While the first two Superman films were pretty great, this was the first one that didn’t have any input from Richard Donner and was completely taken over by Richard Lester and his comedic touch. Due to the change in director, Gene Hackman refused to return and Margot Kidder was only in the film for about five minutes and was replaced with Annette O’Toole’s Lana Lang. Lester’s comedy starts straight from the opening scene with Richard Pryor in an unemployment office followed by a comedy of errors with a series of pratfalls and other physical comedy. Later on in the movie there were a couple potential action scenes where one was mostly replaced with Richard Pryor describing the series of events and another replaced with video game style graphics. Lex Luthor was also replaced with a Lex Luthor-esque villain played by Robert Vaughn. Everything in general felt cheaper than the first two films and Richard Pryor felt like he was basically the second lead.
As far as its importance within superhero cinema history, this was the start of the downfall of the Superman franchise. After the first two Superman films were successful grossing a combined $235M, this film dropped quite a bit down to only $60M. It was still considered a financial success at the time with its $30M budget, but still a big dropoff from the first two combined with very poor critical reception. But this film also has one significant element in it when Pryor doses Superman with a chunk of black tar Kryptonite and turns him evil. Or more technically, turns him into an all around jerk until he battles himself as Clark Kent in a big junkyard fight scene. Jerk Superman doesn’t really do anything evil, he just acts like a sleaze toward Lana Lang, straightens out the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and gets drunk flicking peanuts to break bottles in a bar. This was also the first movie where Christopher Reeve started having a more creative role in the Superman movies, something that would continue in the fourth movie where he would get a story by credit.
Alrighty. I’m back and it’s time for our 3 questions. And heeeeeeeere they are:
1) Would I recommend this film to others?
2) Does it deserve to be on this list?
3) How do I rank the films thus far?
And in numerical order, here we go:
1) Yes. Totally. This film, despite any flaws, has a defined place in the Superman canon and needs to be seen by anyone who desires to see a Superman film!
2) Yes. Again, there’s a lot of cliches that are found in this type of film. And the reason is that they originated around this time and from these films. So watch the original, get a sense for the time and see why they’re there. And if only for that, it does deserve a spot on the list.
3) Well, this took some thinking. As always, I try to focus more on the film’s importance, relevance and overall quality over my personal feelings. However, I feel like they’re fairly well aligned here. So, for all the reasons listed above, the updated rankings are as such:
1) Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
2) Batman: The Killing Joke
3) Superman 3
4) The Wild Wild World Of Batwoman
6) Batman & Robin
7) The Amazing Spider-Man
8) BvS: Dawn Of Justice
Wonder Woman (replacing The Death Of The Hulk)
Well folks, it’s time for us to vanish again into the ether until the next review. And I’m looking forward to it, since it’s the first MCU film to drop in our series and the first film that I’ve already reviewed on my podcast (Shameless plug: The BlokeBusters Podcast!). So, until that time, make sure to keep that tar out of your Kryptonite lumps. You never know what will happen…