Awfully Good: Superman III

Superman III (1983)

Director: Richard Lester
Stars: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn

Superman must defeat his two greatest foes… Richard Pryor and Richard Lester.

Who knew the Man of Steel’s real Kryptonite was comedy? SUPERMAN III is best remembered for being “the one with Richard Pryor,” and while there were definitely cheesy, lighthearted elements in the first two films, this is where the dumb humor really took over. From the opening credits—which is like a wacky Rube-Goldberg device made out of bad slapstick—to Pryor skiing off a skyscraper wearing a pink tablecloth, this is almost a handbook in how to slowly derail a franchise.

SUPERMAN III is the only movie that’s also its own porn parody.

The most noticeable thing about SUPERMAN III is just how much it pales in comparison to the previous movies in scale and scope. (And, for the record, I’m counting the Richard Donner Cut of SUPERMAN II.) How do you top the epic showdown between Superman and General Zod? Send Supes back to his high school reunion and give him an identity crisis, of course! The original intention was to see the third film include Brainiac and Supergirl; however, Warner Bros. decided it would be more exciting to see the title character battle his own inner demons instead. Thus, you get big action moments like Superman dropping a frozen lake on to a burning acid factory or saving a really stupid boy who fell asleep in front of a giant wheat harvester.

“I know. He just saw SUPERMAN RETURNS.”

Christopher Reeve is still fantastic as Superman/Clark Kent (any positive memorable moments from this film are due to his performance), but almost everything and everyone else fails him. Robert Vaughn is essentially Lex Luthor With Hair, lazily making up for an absent Gene Hackman as another corrupt business man foiled by the Man of Steel. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is also spitefully relegated to thankless cameo status after pissing off the producers and siding with Richard Donner on SUPERMAN II. She’s replaced wholesale by future “Smallville” Martha Kent, Annette O’Toole, as Lana Lang. Lana’s inclusion would be interesting if she was competition for Clark alongside Lois, but as it’s written she’s just Generic Love Interest #2 (with an annoying kid). And then there’s Richard Pryor. Pryor is one of my favorite comedians but it feels like the filmmakers were so surprised he actually agreed to do a SUPERMAN movie that they just gave him the whole thing. Unfortunately, the movie’s campy tendencies don’t fit his comic style and vice versa. Plus, his character is just one of the stupidest villains in superhero history: an unemployed loser who cant even hold down a fast food job, yet takes one computer class and is an instant hacker genius who pulls off a million dollar scheme his first day and is controlling the world’s weather within a week.

Question 1: How exactly does Superman get drunk? Isn’t his liver super too?

It’s sadly obvious that director Richard Lester just doesn’t understand comic book films, let alone the character of Superman. (Remember the S-shield boomerang and amnesia kiss from the first sequel?) In SUPERMAN III that’s no more apparent than pitting the Man of Steel against…computers. And this movie has the dumbest use of movie technology outside of Hugh Jackman in SWORDFISH. In order to hack in to his company’s system, Richard Pryor just types in “Override All Security” and it gives him complete access. He then gives the command “Put extra fractions in my paycheck” and gets an $83,000 bonus the next week. (He also tells the computer to make his hacking “irreversible,” which stops anyone from being able to fix it.) And I’ll ignore the fact that one computer seems to somehow control all the ATMs, credit cards, traffic lights and the VULCAN weather satellite.

Question 2: Where does Richard Pryor get this giant cowboy hat from?

Eventually, Pryor somehow uses his computer prowess to create a synthetic kryptonite—except he can’t identify all the alien ingredients and instead uses cigarette tar as filler. For some reason, instead of weakening Superman, the tar just turns him instantly evil. (Much like with Peter Parker’s emo hair in SPIDER-MAN 3, Supe’s costume instantaneously gets darker.) I’ll admit; it’s fun to see Reeve play Superman as a giant douchebag, becoming a horndog that just wants to drink instead of saving people. He straightens out the Leaning Tower of Pisa and ruins Italy’s tourism industry. He blows out the Olympic Torch right as it’s about to be lit. And eventually SUPERMAN III turns in to a hilarious softcore porn as the title character hooks up with Vaughn’s psychic nutritionist (corporate code for “giant-racked assistant”) and purposefully causes an oil spill just so he can bang her. This all culminates in an epic battle where his good and bad sides separate, leaving Clark Kent to fight Evil Superman FIGHT CLUB-style in a junkyard until he chokes “himself” to death. As dumb as this sounds (and it is pretty stupid), Reeve’s performance makes it the best part of the movie.

Question 3: Am I the only one aroused by this?

Unfortunately, after this the film goes back in to Stupid Mode until the end credits. All the bad guys take off in mini hot air balloons to their hideout in the Grand Canyon, where they’ve built the most advanced supercomputer in the world. They then use this high-tech machinery to play a video game version of real-time events (complete with Atari sound effects!) to try and kill Superman with missiles and virtual bubbles. Of course, since this movie is clearly an allegorical warning against the dangers of technology, the computer becomes self-aware and sucks in Robert Vaughn’s sister and turns her in to a hilarious-looking cyborg. Superman then flies across the country to get the acid from the beginning of the movie and destroy the computer. And then, in one of the more bizarre endings I can remember, the Last Son of Krypton flies off with Richard Pryor (leaving the rest of the bad guys gravely injured in the Grand Canyon), drops him off at a West Virginia coal mine and gives him a personal job reference even though he tried to destroy the world the entire movie.

The softcore porn portion of the movie is chock full of great lines, especially Superman’s cold dismissal of the girl he just slept with.

1) Watch Superman get drunk and belligerent, become a bad 80s video game, and fight a hilarious cyborg.

2) This Superman vs. Superman fight is probably the best part of the movie.

Even mild mannered Clark Kent can appreciate Pamela Stephenson’s cleavage.

Rip off OFFICE SPACE! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • The movie doesn’t understand how technology works
  • Superman is a dick to someone
  • Superman comes off as a rapist
  • Superman is clearly wearing makeup
  • Superman eats dog food
  • There’s a reference to KFC or fried chicken

Double shot if:

  • Superman takes a shot!

Stay tuned next week for SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE!

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