Classic Film Review: Superman III (1983)

Marvel vs. DC:

Superman III, 1983

Directed by: Richard Lester

Starring: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Annette O’Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Robert Vaughn, Margot Kidder


Superman III is the first Superman film not to feature Gene Hackman as the main villain; instead it is a confusing mess of who Superman’s main threat is supposed to be. Clark Kent/Superman (Christopher Reeve, Superman II) goes back to Smallville for a high school reunion and ends up saving the town from a potential chemical plant explosion. Meanwhile, Gus (Richard Pryor), a bumbling computer genius has been recruited by Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) to hack into a weather system and create natural disasters to stop Columbia’s export of coffee (similar to what Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman, Superman II) has tried. After Superman saves the day, Gus and Ross decide to scrap completely the idea of taking on Columbia’s coffee, and instead offer Superman a crystal, secretly made out of Kryptonite (similar to what Lex Luthor has tried) and this turns Superman evil. Ross and Gus then eventually create a huge super-computer and plan on taking down Superman, after Superman splits in two, good and evil, and fights himself. The film ends with another main villain who eventually takes over from Ross and Gus after another thing previously done in a Superman film happens.

I know that’s spoiled quite a bit of the film’s plot, but to fully explain the chaotic script it needs to be said. We jump from one plot disaster and main villain to another, without much logical progression; what happened to the Columbia coffee plans which were lengthily explained? What caused a villainous Superman to emerge? Where did that super-computer come from? It’s expected for us to just accept everything, but when I’m fully focused on the coffee business and their weather-machines, it’s crazy for the sheer amount of changes this film takes. The script doesn’t just fail with regards to how it fits everything in, it also fails, along with the direction, in its comedy. The whole opening sequence is a string of slapstick man-falls-over-leading-to-another-man-falling-over jokes. None of which are funny. The whole film has a campy feel to it, pushing it closer to Adam West’s Batman film than its predecessor.

And one more major error this film seems to take it to completely steer away from Superman/Clark Kent’s romantic pursuits of Lois Lane (Margot Kidder, Superman II). She announces early on she’s going away at the same time as Clark going to Smallville, which lazily writes her out of the film and, needing a romantic angle, they add in Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole), a high school friend who befriends Clark during their reunion. During this period she does everything that Lois did, including being friendly with Clark and loving Superman, but in the long run it completely ruins any believability we have in Clark’s romantic engagements in the near-future because he’s been obsessed with Lois for two films and now quickly turns his attention to another lady when she’s away. No longer is Clark presented as a nice mild-mannered man.

It’s not all terrible, as much as I’d love to bash it for everything (and it’d be rightfully deserved) as there are some really impressive special effects, especially the chemical plant fire, and Christopher Reeve’s performance, once again, is solid. He is even afforded to play a third character after Superman goes rogue, although they don’t take too much advantage of this as Superman doesn’t speak too much during this time. The fight scene between a dirty-clothed villainous Superman and a suited-up Clark Kent (they must have thought it’s be too confusing for us if they both wore similar superhero outfits) passes by with absolutely no words. There isn’t any threats, any bragging, it’s just evil-Superman attacking, good-Superman retaliating, repeat, repeat. So the major plus-point to give this film, that of its use of Christopher reeve, is still quite poorly used.

Why they felt the need to make a fourth instalment in the franchise after the mess that this film was is quite surprising, as the quality of the Superman films have diminished with each instalment. Superman III is hampered by poor direction (trying to add a campy feel to it), mostly poor acting (especially with regards to Richard Pryor as a main villain), terrible writing and an unnecessarily-added extra love interest, with only a few decent special effects and a solid performance by Christopher Reeve as ups.


Plot: * *         Acting: * *                 Writing: * *               Presentation: * * *

Overall Rating: * * ¼

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