Superman III (1983)
Directed by Richard Lester
Written by David Newman, Leslie Newman
Produced by Pierre Spengler, Robert Simmonds, Alexander Salkind, Ilya Salkind
Starring Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Pamela Stephenson, Annie Ross, Annette O’Toole, Gavan O’Herlihy, Marc McClure, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder
Robert Donner’s ill-advised termination from the production of Superman II was followed by Richard Lester’s radical reshoots and redirection, which resulted in a fun but decidedly desipient campout. This second sequel is — in sequence and magnitude — much more of the same, an uninhibited farce that’s likely to keep viewers laughing…and wondering whether the Salkinds were partaking in Richard Pryor’s copious cache of cocaine. A lovably, hitherto unemployably doltish autistic savant (Pryor) finds his forte after years of penniless hardship as a programmer for a multinational conglomerate where he scarcely subsists on a stingy salary. To supplement his income, he resorts to the salami technique, thieving hundreds of thousands of unpaid half-cents until his conspicuous consumption almost immediately signals this fraud to the company’s tyrannical tycoon (Vaughn), who exploits his genius for computation and programming to commit perverse, profitable plots, all of which are foiled by The Man of Steel. The halfwitted hacker’s then tasked with the synthesis of Kryptonite to solve his employer’s heroic problem, but by substituting tar for an unknown element in the radioactive compound, he accidentally produces an inferior imitation that depraves Superman into a boozy, churlish, cyprian prankster. Two points are readily evident from Lester’s steadfastly silly style: his fondness for skillfully staged, lowbrow humor, and absolutely none of the veneration for his source material that Donner, Puzo and the Newmans exhibited before him. This is a mean fantasy, though a fine comedy, replete with fun visual gags (as throughout a disastrously slapstick exordium) and risible delivery and improvisation from its leads; unsurprisingly, wacky Pryor and wry Vaughn are hilarious in this capacity. Reeve’s as affably bland as ever (and convincingly vicious as the iconic protagonist’s vile variant), slickly pattering with Cooper, McClure, O’Herlihy, and gawkily cute O’Toole as once and present crush Lana Lang in lieu of Lois Lane, here restricted to not five minutes onscreen after Margot Kidder insubordinately protested Donner’s dismission. Production values are mixed: good costuming and several splendidly sumptuous sets can’t compensate for schlocky special effects (most notably and inexplicably those front-projected), or excessive B-roll and recycled footage, much of which was shot for the first two films; Geoffrey Unsworth’s picturesque establishing shots are clearly, contiguously contradistinct from Robert Paynter’s intentionally lusterless footage. After a remuneratory yet disappointing theatrical run, III was omnipresent on telecasts and especially cablecasts through the remaining ’80s; nary a late Xer hasn’t seen the purgation whereby our polluted superhero somehow sunders into sinful Superman (Reeve) and upright Clark Kent (Reeve) to trade blows in a junkyard. It makes as little sense as most else before and after, but for whoever’s willing to leave logic behind, Lester’s expensive, nearly surreal antics might just tickle anyone willing to interpret them as a parody of the Silver and Bronze Eras.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Office Space.
Superman III (1983)