ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Superman III’ (1983), Part Two
As we continue our in-depth look at super-hero movies, Chris Sims and David Uzumeri take on the Superman film franchise.
Chris Sims: Welcome back to our review of Superman III, with our special guest Matt Wilson! When we last left off, sinister businessman Ross Webster had just realized that he needed to kill Superman if he was ever going to get anywhere in the world of evil plots. Then Richard Pryor flew off the roof of an office building in skis, and that’s pretty much this movie in a nutshell.
Matt Wilson: Someone taped over my old taped-off-TV copy of the movie up to about this point when I was a kid, so I have seen the second half of this movie far more times than the first. These scenes are seared into my brain.
David Uzumeri: It all gets more insane from here, no question, but it still remains head and shoulders above the first two flicks.Chris: The problem with trying to kill Superman is that he’s, you know, Superman. But there’s an additional problem in that Ross and Vera Webster apparently don’t know about Kryptonite until Lorelei — in the first scene where she accidentally reveals that she’s not as ditzy as she pretends to be — reminds them that it exists. And honestly? Of all the weird stuff we’ve seen in this movie, the fact that the bad guys don’t know about Kryptonite is one of the few things that strikes me as completely unbelievable. But maybe the Daily Planet of the movies just doesn’t go around writing stories about Superman’s one weakness every week.
Matt: Gus also had to remind them of Superman’s origin. Maybe Webster just doesn’t read the papers much.
Chris: He has a lot on his mind.
David: The exposition fairy had to come to town on the script at some point, man. Although I’m not sure why they feel they have to remind people that Superman is from Krypton and is vulnerable to Kryptonite.
Matt: I can tell you three-year-old me appreciated the heads-up
Chris: Kryptonite is pretty rare, so rather than taking a trip to Addis Ababa to steal a meteorite like Lex Luthor did, Ross hits on the pretty genius idea of manufacturing synthetic Kryptonite himself. So of course, he has Gus hack back into the Vulcan — you know, that weather satellite? — which apparently also has long-range deep space scanning technology.
Matt: Gus gets the ingredients to Kryptonite INSTANTANEOUSLY. Those are some fast lasers, guys.
David: Except for a mystery ingredient! I also love how the computer screen indicates that Krypton was in the “Xeno Galaxy.”
Matt: I love how, at the top of the components list it says, “Kryptonite…An Intense Heat Fusion.” Add an exclamation point and you’ve got a Kirbyism.
Chris: So in order to fill in the mystery component of Kryptonite — and possibly to atone for Superman II‘s bizarre Marlboro product placement — Gus decides to add in cigarette tar.
Chris: And again: I love this.
Matt: Gus has a history of doing whatever crazy sh** pops into his head and it working out up to now. Why not continue?
Chris: The underlying message of “the stuff in cigarettes will turn you into an unfeeling monster and you’ll end up fighting yourself in a junkyard” is basically a thousand times better than anything those “Truth” ads ever came up with, even “Tobacco is Whacko (If You’re A Teen).”
David: I hate to skip ahead, but even better than the way Gus decides to throw tar in is the scene where he’s in a waiting room waiting for the fake Kryptonite, which is given to him as “that compound you ordered.” I love the idea of there being a service industry where you just give them a list of ingredients and they make a big ol’ rock of it in the lab.
Chris: Pryor’s freaked out “what the hell am I afraid for? I’m from Earth!” in that scene is really good too. Gus is clearly way out of his depth at this point.
David: Meanwhile, Lana’s son is an idiot.
Matt: He’s rocking a sharp bowtie, though.
Chris: Agreed on both counts. Back at the Daily Planet, Clark is putting the finishing touches on an article for a major Metropolitan newspaper that is basically about how he totally has a boner for Lana Lang, when Lana herself calls in a bit of a panic. Ricky has told all of his friends that Superman is going to show up at his birthday party the next week, and Lana wants Clark to see if he can get Superman to make good on his promise so that Ricky will be spared the humiliation of learning that lying is bad.
David: Lana pretty much lets Ricky get away with anything under the excuse of “well, he doesn’t have a dad.”
Matt: Imagine a Lana & Clark TV series full of plotlines like, “Ricky’s got a doctor’s appointment but says he’ll only go if Superman takes him!” “Ricky turned his ankle. Only Superman can get the Ace bandage we need!”
Chris: There is a genuinely great moment in this scene where Lana says “Superman is wonderful… but Clark… you’re the best.” It really does make her a counterpoint to Lois, who only loves Superman, as the girl who really loves Clark.
David: That scene is really what sets her apart, and, frankly, makes her a way more compelling love interest.
Matt: So of course like the whole town of Smallville shows up to greet Superman, and somebody just did not get enough cake.
Chris: Smallville has turned Ricky’s birthday into a big deal, complete with a band and some kind of awards ceremony, and this is where we get what might be the craziest scene of the entire movie: Gus and Vera show up, in costume as an Army general and his aide, and Gus launches into a speech about the necessity of the American plastics industry. Seriously, if you have not seen it, this is actually what happens.
David: It’s AMAZING. You can tell Pryor’s having a great time, likely just improvising this entire nutty thing. I love when he starts appealing to the public by bringing up church and the Super Bowl.
Matt: Everyone just buys that Gus is a general, including Superman. It’s pretty ridiculous, but I can buy that they’d be so trusting.
Chris: The reason for all this, of course, is so that Gus can get close enough to him to expose him to the Kryptonite, which he presents as an award. An award that looks just like the one thing that can kill Superman. Which Superman does not seem to acknowledge at all.
Matt: “It’s very nice,” Superman says, wondering where he’s seen rock this green before, remembering something about a map on a floor.
Chris: Here’s my question: Vera, Ross and Gus are all really surprised that the Kryptonite doesn’t kill Superman, so… what exactly were they hoping would happen? They were going to just straight up kill Superman, on a stage, in front of a crowd of people, in disguises that didn’t really hide their identities?
David: Well, surely Gus could just hack into a weather satellite to change everyone’s memories and make them forget the event.
Chris: It is not a great plan is what I’m getting at. But it doesn’t really matter, because Superman appears to be completely unaffected, leaving Gus — after a costume change — to call back to Ross to report his failure. And that’s where we get one of the best lines in the entire movie: “I ask you to kill Superman, and you’re telling me you couldn’t even do that one simple thing.”
Matt: Then he drops the mic (well, the phone). It’s Webster’s crowning moment.
David: Ross is a totally underrated character, honestly. Almost everything he says is hilarious since it’s so over-the-top cartoonishly villainous that nobody else takes it seriously, even if he totally is. Like when he gives Gus ish for asking for more money, telling him “if there’s one thing I hate, it’s GREED.”
Matt: And for HIM, that plan was pretty not bad. He’s not out there. It’d be hard to explain why his sister was there, though.
Chris: But back a Lana’s place, it turns out that maybe that Kryptonite wasn’t so ineffective. Lana gets a phone call about a truck crashing through the barrier on a bridge, and when she tells Superman so that he can go save the driver, he blows it off so that he can spend time hitting on her. It sounds goofy, but Reeve does this amazing transformation in this scene, and it’s so creepy.
David: Reeve does some of his best work as Superman in this movie simply by being what Superman isn’t. He really taps into that creepy, overbearing side of Superman — the one Lex Luthor always sees, really, the one who plays God with peoples’ lives.
Matt: He hits on Lana in her house like he’s in a bar. And though it was a cigarette ingredient that did it to him, it’s pretty clear bad-guy Supes here is Drunk Superman.
David: What’s great is that Lana has no idea who Superman is, too. She has no idea this is even him gone wrong. As far as she knows, he’s always a creepy groupie-addicted douchebag. And she is, rightly, scared s***less.
Chris: The dead silence in the background instead of the music, the fact that Lana’s so clearly nervous when Superman doesn’t seem to care about saving someone. Anyone who doesn’t think Richard Lester is a good director needs to watch this scene and see how he frames it: She’s sitting so still and straight, and Superman sits just a little too close and starts telling her how pretty she is, while ignoring that someone might be dying at this very moment. It is genuinely disturbing.
Matt: The hair and makeup people do a great job of making Reeve look just slightly off here too. His transformation into Dark Superman is quite gradual.
David: These scenes — hell, this plotline — really make this movie more than the screwball comedy it is so far. I think Lester really convincingly pulls off both sides of this flick, and Reeve is just… I mean, he did some great work in I and II, but here he has to play a THIRD character, and he does it with aplomb. You really can’t say enough good things about Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman. He’s perfect.
Chris: There’s that great moment here, too, where Lana reminds him about the bridge and the real Superman breaks through, and Reeve pulls off this shock and embarrassment at what he’s done. Then he finally goes to where the truck is, and for the first time ever, Superman’s too late.
Matt: Then he goes and straightens the Leaning Tower of Pisa. When I was a kid, I just did not realize why the guy was so mad. “He fixed it, didn’t he? That building was going to fall over!”
Chris: The scene with the Leaning Tower kind of pulls the movie back on the path of screwball comedy, but I do really like that after Superman’s first failure, he immediately goes and finds something to “fix.” It’s not Superman being a dick, it’s Superman being desperate, whether it’s to prove he’s still Superman or to make people love him again. He’s just all confused because of the… Synthetic K? Kryp-tar-nite? What are we calling that stuff?
David: It’s like the crack rock of kryptonite.
Chris: It’s basically the Black Kryptonite that Morrison used in All Star Superman to turn Superman into a jerk. There are a lot of connections between that story and these movies that I hadn’t noticed before we started watching them again.
Matt: And it makes sense that it’d be black. It’s got tar in it!
David: There really are — the entirety of All Star #2 is really a weird inversion of the Fortress of Solitude date in Superman II.
Chris: The Time magazine that Vera’s reading in the next scene even has the picture of Superman with a question mark instead of the S that Morrison and Quitely use for the Unknown Superman. And it’s while she’s reading that article that Webster & Co. realize that it was their Kryptonite that caused the change.
Matt: It makes you wonder if this scene is kind of out of sequence. Would the UN really be that mad about him messing with the Leaning Tower?
David: Can I just bring up that I really like Lorelei? She’s so much more interesting than Tessmacher, and I just love the idea that the lovestruck bunny act is a total put-on.
Chris: She’s a really great character. And I think it’s equally hilarious that she’s played by Pamela Stephenson, a beautiful actress and comedienne who is also a clinical psychologist.
Matt: Her quickly hiding Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason under a pillow is wonderful business.
David: That scene is FANTASTIC. And I mean, it’s also pretty obvious that Lorelei is absolutely the brains of the entire operation. She’s pretty much running the show just by making offhand statements that guide everybody else in the right direction. This is practically her plan.
Chris: I’m really surprised that, to my knowledge, Lorelei Ambrosia and Gus Gorman never made it into the comics. Maybe I’m wrong on that, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them.
Matt: Neither have Ross and Vera Webster.
Chris: I understand Ross not showing up, because he’s basically post-Crisis Lex Luthor. And I realize that there are a lot of people who don’t like Superman III, but hell, we got a comic about Chloe Sullivan. Either way, I really love Ross and Vera’s cynical explanation that in turning Superman “evil, malicious, selfish,” they’ve made him “a normal person.” It’s such a great inversion of Superman’s old “be good to each other and every man can be a Superman” line.
Matt: I wonder if Lorelei reading Kant is just a throwaway joke or an actually really smart joke. That’s the guy who came up with the Categorical Imperative, after all. The idea that people have a duty to do certain things that are intrinsically good. That’s right, I’m talkin’ philosophy up in this Superman III review.
Chris: While Lorelei is merely questioning, Superman has flat-out rejected Kant and has moved into Total Dick mode, blowing out the Olympic Flame and otherwise making a nuisance of himself. Webster, on the other hand, has moved from cornering the coffee market to holding the world’s oil supply hostage.
David: I love how he does this by just telling all the ships to sit in the Atlantic Ocean and do nothing, like they’re never going to have to resupply or anything.
Matt: And this is the point where Gus starts to buckle.
Chris: Gus demands that Webster compensate him for his part in the plan by building a supercomputer to the exact specifications that he has drawn out on a bunch of receipts and cigarette wrappers:
Chris: And again, even if you accept that Gus is a computer hacking prodigy, the fact that he can just sketch up what essentially turns out to be Brainiac does push the boundaries of what you’re willing to believe. I can see why it would be a breaking point. It is a computer that can do, and I quote, “anything.”
Matt: Though it’s great that when Webster asks what the computer can do, the first thing Gus notes is its self-defense systems. Isn’t that what you want in a computer? I just got my iMac upgraded that has some great shielding.
Chris: I think if you asked around, most people would be way into self-targeting laser cannons that ran off a USB port.
David: I hear this is how Norton AntiVirus got started.
Matt: Gus’ objections here are more than just about money though. When he asks “How are people going to get their oil?” he seemed to really be concerned.
David: Yeah, but I don’t get how Gus hasn’t realized how out-and-out evil Webster is at this point. I mean, he’s still willing to build him an omnipotent supercomputer.
Chris: Yeah, Gus has some really weird moments, and his arc’s not entirely clear. Like, you’d think the tipping point would’ve been when Webster told him “hey, take this rock and go murder Superman.” The point that he decides to come around seems pretty arbitrary, although to be fair, the movie does establish that Gus is a weird dude.
David: Yeah, he goes from being totally down with killing Superman to later being shocked that Webster wants to kill Superman.
Chris: Gus hacks into all the oil tankers and directs them to the middle of the Atlantic, but one ship — the British Reliance — doesn’t go for it. Despite the fact that it is crewed by dudes willing to wear tiny white shorts on the orders of their superiors, they are not willing to just go wait for further orders. So to get around that, Webster sends Lorelei up to the top of the Statue of Liberty so that she can sit there being all sexy until Superman shows up. This… this seems like a long shot, but it is exactly happens.
Matt: Superman goes up there specifically to tell her he won’t save her.
David: How did she even get up there? Did she do a sweet 360 ski kickflip off the top of the Webster building to land there?
Chris: Lorelei also chooses to affect a Southern accent for the duration of this scene, and apparently, that does it for Evil Superman. She tells him to go punch a hole in an oil tanker, and he does.
Matt: Superman is really mad at that boat.
Chris: Thus, Webster’s control of oil in America is secure, and gas has been hiked up to unimaginable prices that, here in 2012, we would probably murder people for.
Matt: The fight at that gas station is awkward as hell. It looks like a real fight two normal dudes would have.
Chris: We actually do get a bit of a turning point for Gus Gorman, though, when he hears someone talk about how someone’s getting rich off of all of this and the person who suffers is the little guy. Which… maybe it just didn’t occur to him before?
Matt: It is true that his initial scheme involved ripping off a huge company he figured wouldn’t feel it. I guess the rest of his motivation was just fear of Webster.
David: To be fair, Gus is already established as having very little common sense, as well as not really planning long-term. He gets an idea and he does it without really thinking through all of the ramifications.
Chris: While Webb’s people are building the Supercomputer in the Grand Canyon (?!), Lana is growing increasingly frustrated with life in Smallville and Brad Wilson’s drunken pick-up lines. So she decides to move to Metropolis.
David: Okay, let me just shout this out: She does this by calling the Smallville Airport. The Smallville Airport. The. Smallville. Airport.
Matt: It’s a regional airport with half a runway.
Chris: Pa Kent International has a commuter flight to Metropolis every day at 3.
David: I bet the Smallville Airport is usually actually just Superman flying people in a gondola.
Matt: Upon Lana’s arrival, we get the most GIFed moment of this movie:
Chris: Superman in the bar is an amazing scene. The very idea of it is weird and off-putting to a kid to begin with, but the way it plays out, with Superman shattering the bottles with peanuts and then glaring at himself in the mirror? It’s so good.
Matt: Two things: This is a distinct contrast to him drinking champagne and it being no big deal in the last movie. And he’s drinking shots of Johnnie Walker Red. He really is a bad guy! He’s not sipping his scotch, even cheap scotch!
David: Everyone’s just standing around practically making fun of him. Superman’s sunk so low that he isn’t even acting so crazy that he’s feared, he’s just a laughingstock. And to be fair, there’s a big difference between a nice glass of champagne and chain-shooting Walker Red. Hell, why’s he even measuring out shots? He should just drink straight from the bottle.
Matt: It’s surprising the other customers stayed in the bar. I’d have let out of there pretty quick when Superman showed up.
Chris: The part where he’s looking at himself in the mirror is a nice touch, too. I really think it’s this movie’s version of Bizarro, but instead of Superman’s opposite being wacky and mixed-up, this movie presents the opposite of Superman as being both pitiful and terrifying.
Matt: You might say this movie’s view of drinking is more immature than II’s, but I’d say it fits right in with the view of squeaky clean Superman.
David: I dunno, I think portraying sitting alone in a bar drinking shots of whiskey is something NOBODY glamorizes. Er, cut the “portraying.”
Chris: Like I said, it’s a pretty effective anti-smoking, anti-drinking PSA for kids. If Evil Superman got suck in an old refrigerator at some point, 80s cartoons would’ve been rendered entirely irrelevant. I also really like that the colors on his costume have literally gotten darker as he’s transformed. Especially since the darker version is pretty much the exact color scheme that we’ll be seeing in Man of Steel when that hits theaters.
Matt: It’s close to the color scheme from Returns, too.
Chris: They told us that Returns just skipped over Superman III and IV, but I prefer to think of it as the movie that would’ve happened if Superman never got over being a douchebag in this one.
Chris: When Superman leaves the bar, he runs into Ricky and Lana and, despite the fact that he was willing to come to the kid’s birthday party, he completely ignores them. But even while people are standing around saying stuff like “nobody’s ever going to trust that creep again,” Ricky doesn’t lose his faith. He’s standing in for all the kids in the audience, and as much as “Superman, You’re just in a slump! You’ll be great again!” is corny, it’s pretty effective.
Matt: And Superman hears it all the way to the junkyard where he lands.
David: And thus, Superman engages in what’s apparently Lara Lor-Van’s home hangover remedy: splitting himself into two and beating himself to death.
Matt: This began young Matt Wilson’s fascination with junkyard machinery.
Chris: I really like that you’re never really sure if this is something that’s literally happening as a side-effect of the Black Kryptonite or whether it’s all in Superman’s mind as he works through it internally. It’s this weird bit of pure symbolism brought to life, and the visual of Superman trying to murder Clark Kent is great.
David: Lester wisely clears out the junkyard to make it as ambiguous as possible, as well.
Matt: If I worked somewhere with big pools of acid just sitting around, I’d hustle out of there at the first sign of trouble, too.
David: This entire scene is amazing, by the way, because it’s just utterly brutal. I kept expecting Clark to have to embrace the dark side or something for the fight to end, but no, he just straight up strangles Dark Superman to death.
Chris: The fact that Superman starts yelling about how Kent gets on his nerves and how he’s a chicken is really solid, too. There are a lot of deep, psychological issues being worked out in this junkyard brawl.
Matt: Dark Superman becomes just like, this barking dog. The part where he’s telling Kent, “Come on, come on!” reminds me of the Joker insisting Batman hit him with the Batpod.
David: And there are just no punches pulled. Superman throws Clark in a f***ing trash compactor!
Chris: I also unironically love that when Clark finally destroys his dark side, he rips his shirt open and his costume is back to its brighter colors. That’s fantastic. The music swells and everything, it’s just great.
Matt: Reeve sells every minute of it, too.
David: It’s a LONG sequence, too. It might be the longest fight in the series so far, or at least it felt like it — and it was never boring.
Chris: Now that he’s back to normal (or back to super, as the case may be), Superman heads out to set things right. First up, the oil spill he created when he punched out that tanker, which he does by blowing all the oil back into it and then using heat vision to weld it shut. I am not sure that is a great idea, but it works.
Matt: Computers and oil just work differently in this reality. Deal with it.
Chris: Superman then tries to track down Lorelei, only to find a video left by Vera inviting him to come and fight them at their Grand Canyon lair where they’ve built their supercomputer.
Chris: And again, this seems like a truly awful idea. Don’t just tell Superman where you are!
Matt: Why build an invincible supercomputer if you can’t show it off, Chris?
Chris: Superman flies out to the Grand Canyon, where Webster has rigged up the supercomputer to serve as an arcade game, complete with joysticks. The only difference is that he’s actually launching real missiles at Superman. But, you know, he’s Superman, so it’s not quite as effective as he’d like.
David: Well, they have to use the defense program videogame they developed. They didn’t install all of those missiles for nothing.
Matt: I’d like to point out the special effects shot with the balloons that was in there just so Richard Pryor could say the line, “I just don’t believe a man can fly.”
Chris: Yeah, that’s definitely a groaner.
Matt: I find it loveably corny.
Chris: Eventually, Superman makes it to the cave, and there’s a great bit where Lorelei still thinks she’s got him wrapped around her little finger, and Superman’s response is “I’m sorry, but that wasn’t me. That guy’s gone.”
David: The look on her face is fantastic, too. And you can tell that, like most women in this series, Lorelei actually does like Superman. I mean, she was cheering for him during the ridiculous arcade game sequence.
Matt: If that game had been in any arcade anywhere, I would have been there.
David: I’d also like to point out, by the way, that the statistics output on Webster’s screen includes variables such as “Max Danger.”
Chris: There’s another great bit where Gus says “listen, man,” and Lorelei cuts him off with “That’s his last name. He likes to be called Superman.” While they’re bantering, though, the supercomputer is figuring out Superman’s weakness. Which turns out to be… a plastic bubble?
Matt: Lester must have been a big fan of The Prisoner.
David: I’d also like to point out that the bubble supposedly works by depriving Superman of oxygen. The guy who can fly in space.
Matt: We’ve established the Websters don’t know all that much about Superman.
Chris: Superman heat visions his way out of that, but by that time the supercomputer has formed a Kryptonite ray, and this time the formula’s right. They start blasting, and there’s this great moment where Gus turns to Webster and quietly says “you’re hurting him,” as though Webster just hasn’t realized that this is a bad thing he’s doing. His character might be inconsistent, but when it works, it works very well. When Webster tells him that he’s going to go down in history as the man who killed Superman, Gus freaks out and sabotages the machine himself. But by that time, the computer has somehow gained sentience (?!) and begins to draw power from elsewhere. Ladies and gentlemen: Movie Brainiac.
Matt: It’s nice that Gus designed a machine that was supposed to shut down if someone lost one screw.
David: I guess it was a screw carrying a charge, which also makes me wonder how Gus got it out of the computer without electrifying himself.
Chris: Computers! Who knows how these mysterious machines work?
Matt: Lucky for the computer, there are power lines all over it can tie into to feed itself and keep killing Superman.
Chris: When he gets the chance, Superman bugs out, apparently leaving Gus, Lorelei and the Websters to fend for themselves. When they try to make their escape, however, Vera is grabbed by mechanical tendrils and turned into a cyborg in a scene that I’ve heard scared the hell out of a bunch of kids.
David: It freaked me right the hell out, man. I guess this was, in a weird way, my first exposure to body horror.
Matt: Seriously: Of all the things I saw in movies as a kid, this scene traumatized and fascinated me the most. I made a mix CD for people one time that was full of computer/robot songs and it was called “Music for that Robot Lady from Superman III.”
David: I think I had to close my eyes at this part when I watched it.
Chris: But! Just when you thought Superman had copped out, it turns out that he was actually flying back to that chemical plant in Smallville to grab that stuff from the very first action scene. Because he’s keeping it at a normal temperature, Movie Brainiac doesn’t detect anything dangerous, until it starts blasting Superman with electricity and heating it up. The chemical heats up, turns corrosive and eats through the computer’s core systems, bringing down the entire enterprise in one big explosion.
David: Yo, I’m seriously impressed that they actually properly set up the resolution to this conflict. Chekhov’s gun was properly placed on the mantelpiece. The resolutions to the first two Superman movies come straight out of thin air, so to see this movie actually try to not have Superman pull a deus ex machina out of his ass is really nice.
Matt: And those lingering shots of the chemical at the beginning weren’t for nothing!
David: Superman III: being praised for doing the bare minimum in narrative construction.
Chris: It really is a solid payoff, though. They don’t just rely on Superman’s powers to solve the problem, and they don’t just dish out a bunch of new ones either. Like the best stories, Superman has to think his way through it. And his solution is actually pretty smart, and is based off of something he learns within the movie itself.
Matt: I mean, if Richard Pryor can smash parts of this thing with an axe, you’d think Superman could knock it around pretty good. But I’m willing to let it go. Cocaine was a hell of a drug.
David: I do love how he pretty much immediately forgives Gus, though.
Chris: Also, I don’t care if it’s the corniest thing in the world, but the part where Superman and Gus shake and Richard Pryor goes “Thank you, brother” is f***ing awesome.
Matt: And Vera gets better from her body being digitized. On the one hand: How would that happen. On the other: IMAGINE HER PTSD.
Chris: Hey, she tried to kill Superman, and even worse, was complicit in keeping people from getting their coffee in the morning. PTSD is too good for her!
David: Do we even see if Lorelei is okay?
Matt: Gus asks what’ll happen to them all, and Superman says they’re going to jail.
David: I’m utterly lost as to why Superman lets Gus off the hook completely here, too. Like, not even a talking-to. Gus was totally down for all of this until the very last minute.
Chris: Superman flies Gus over to a coal mine, where he recommends him for a job doing Computer Stuff for them. But, Gus being Gus, he decides that working in a coal mine (going down, down, down) is for suckers. Oh, Gus!
Matt: He also stole thousands of dollars, like, first thing.
David: Let’s not forget that Superman also creates a perfectly cut diamond by crushing a piece of coal.
Matt: He hasn’t really learned all his lessons. Superman tries to get him a job, and Gus is like, “You know what? Nah.” Also, Superman goes to a lot of industrial locations in this movie.
Chris: Clark giving Lana that massive diamond (“from Superman”) to replace the ring she had to pawn is a really sweet moment. And the way that he deals with Brad is like the opposite of going back and beating up the bully in Superman II. He just totally lets Brad beat himself up.
Matt: Also: Brad comes to them, not the other way around.
Chris: Finally, we get back to the Daily Planet, where Lois has used her three-week vacation to write a story that’s “going to blow the lid off corruption in the Caribbean,” which is a pretty note-perfect Lois moment. Especially the bit where she casually mentions “I knew I was on the right track when that taxi driver kidnapped me.” There was a complete Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane story going on while Superman was turning evil, fighting Brainiac and getting his crush on.
David: What’s amazing about the whole thing with Lana is that somehow, for some reason, all the problems he had dating Lois suddenly don’t exist anymore. I mean, this may have something to do with the fact that that was a f***ing stupid idea in the first place.
Chris: Superman III‘s greatest contribution to the franchise is that it stops having Clark go whining to Ghost Dad whenever he has a question about g-g-g-g-g-girls.
Matt: He just uses his diamond-making abilities to make Lois super jelly.
David: And then the new jingo computer overheats and sparks everywhere. Hahahaha! COMPUTERS!
Chris: Thus, Lana now works at the Daily Planet, Lois is back in the picture, and a whole new dynamic is set up that… uh… never really goes anywhere. Whoops.
Matt: We end on the weird note of Superman fixing the Leaning Tower (by making it lean again) and that souvenir guy gets super mad. I didn’t understand this as a kid and am not sure I do now.
Chris: He just got his shipment of non-leaning tower souvenirs!
David: He just replaced all the sourvenirs with Straight Tower of Pisa. Re-leaning it is actually almost another dick move for Superman to pull.
Matt: Yeah, that’s the part I don’t get. I get the gag. Also, it’s the very last thing in the movie except for that heart-melting Superman grin as he flies in space.
Matt: Christopher Reeve. I think that’s the main high point of all of these movies.
Chris: Reeve is just flat-out amazing once again. He’s able to sell every aspect of the character, from Clark to Superman to Dark Superman, and he does it in a way that seems effortless. He really does deserve all the praise he gets for these movies. But the whole cast is really solid, too. Robert Vaughn is always good as a villain, but Pamela Stephenson (whose name I believe I got wrong for the duration of our last column) is surprisingly great, and Pryor does a solid job, too.
Matt: Richard Pryor is often cited as what broke this movie, but I think he’s awesome. Gus Gorman isn’t consistently written, but Pryor really makes him work as an everyman character.
David: This movie was very, very funny. Legitimately funny, with great performances across the board and some legitimately great line deliveries.
Chris: There’s a consistency of tone in this movie that makes it work so much better than the last two. As good as parts of those movies are, the finished product seems so schizophrenic at times, both because of the dueling directors and because Donner wanted to make a movie about Space Jesus and Marlon Brando. Here, things have a much more unified vision.
Matt: The plotting is certainly tighter. People may not like the antics or the groaner lines or how far they have to stretch their disbelief, but the story holds together, at least reasonably well.
David: Yeah, this feels like one dude’s vision, and that makes a gigantic difference. The first two movies had two directors, multiple screenwriters, and god knows what else. I think Superman III also benefits from not self-consciously being part of a two-movie plan.
Chris: And the things that get set up have great payoffs. The chemical plant, Lana mentioning that she had to pawn her ring. Lana’s character in general is great, to the point where she’s a much better love interest here than in the comics.
Matt: Compare the goop, which does what people say it does from the get-go, to the power-removal machine, which basically did whatever the plot needed it to.
Matt: The zaniness does get a little too zany at times.
David: Yeah, but I think Lester wisely never undercuts drama with it.
Chris: I know you liked it, David, but the fight in the junkyard went on way too long for me.
Matt: It does go on for a while, but it’s not just two guys (or one guy, I guess) punching. There’s creative stuff going on with the tires, the magnet, the other machinery.
Chris: Yeah, but it does drag, and as much as I dig the symbolism, the idea of Clark Kent strangling Superman is a pretty weird resolution to that fight.
Matt: Back to the zaniness, the Pisa thing is just a bit too gaggy and Richard Pryor surviving falling off a building is a bit much.
David: The Pisa stuff was fine, I just think having it be the last shot of the movie other than Superman flying heroically in space was a little bit off.
Chris: I like the Pisa stuff, but this movie could’ve cut Richard Pryor skiing off a building and somehow not getting hurt at all without actually losing anything.
David: Uh, no. That scene is amazing. I will not allow for you to denigrate the Richard Pryor falling off the skyscraper scene.
Chris: My litmus test for this movie was “can I see this scene happening in a comic book by Otto Binder and Kurt Schaffenberger.” That scene was the only one that didn’t pass the test.
Matt: Yeah, I think even the fighting Walk/Don’t walk guys fit that bill.
Matt: This is the best Superman movie. Come at us, bros!
Chris: It’s like I said: I can see why people would like Superman or Superman II, even if I don’t, but I don’t understand how anyone could love Superman and not love this movie.
David: Unless you have a serious stick in your ass about Superman having to always be maudlin and melancholy — in other words, if you’re joyless — I can’t get it either. It seems way more self-evidently… well, together, than the first two.
Matt: If people want their movies to not be fun, that’s on them.
Chris: I think there are definitely parts that you could react to with “Oh well that’s just ridiculous,” but it holds together very well, and it shows exactly what’s great about the character. Superman’s power in this movie is that he does the right thing, and that he can inspire others to do the right thing too. It’s great.
Matt: Gus probably should have gone to jail, though.
Chris: So yeah, we loved Superman III. But we’ll see if our affection for the lesser-loved chapters of the Superman film franchise keeps up next week, when David and I take on 1984’s Supergirl, starring Helen Slater!
ComicsAlliance Reviews the Superman Films: