Superman III (1983)
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Countdown to “Man of Steel”!

For the third installment of the “Superman” movie series, Clark Kent is now Dean Martin and Richard Pryor is Jerry Lewis. Pandering to the comedy crowds, the Salkinds cast Richard Pryor as the villain of the film, Gus Gorman. I don’t know why they couldn’t have cast a bad boy or big action star of the seventies and made him the villain, but what’s done is done. Richard Pryor plays Richard Pryor as Gus Gorman, an out of work computer programmer who becomes the unwitting nemesis to Superman.

Meanwhile, with Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman refusing to come back after Richard Donner was unceremoniously booted from production, they’re replaced. For Lex Luthor, we’re given the bland Robert Vaughn as Ross Webster, while Margot Kidder makes a brief appearance as Lois Lane. She is on screen for five minutes and helps Clark establish the set up for him to go back to Smallville for a high school reunion. This time replacing Lois Lane is Clark’s old flame Lana Lang. She is played by the infinitely more attractive Annette O’Toole who is perfect as the small town girl next door Clark couldn’t get over for years. Oh yes, and in between Pryor mugging for the camera, and director Richard Lester doling out flat physical comedy for the audience, Superman is thrown in to the mix somewhere. But he’s merely an after thought, and a supporting player in his own film.

Superman, for the most part, is reduced to being a goofball and lunkhead, which is something he is most definitely not supposed to be. In one scene he freezes an entire lake and carries it to a factory fire to put it out (you destroyed a whole ecosystem to put out a fire?), and when he comes in contact with Red Kryptonite he basically has to fight himself. Evil Superman is a student of the “Star Trek” school meaning you can tell he’s evil since he has facial hair. His costume is also much darker. Ooga Booga! “Superman III” is Pryor’s film, as he is allowed to be as outrageous and off the wall as he wants, while Robert Vaughn is merely a more reserved Lex Luthor, when all is said and done. He wants to kill Superman, and the out of work Gus Gorman is willing to take part as long as he’s able to make money. Director Lester almost seems to have no confidence in Christopher Reeve, which is a shame since Reeve is still fantastic as the Man of Steel.

The interesting segments of the third film are Superman’s adventures in Smallville, and how he re-connects with Lana Lang. I wish the film would have avoided all the filler and pandering, and just set its sights on the roots of Superman, and focus on him dealing with a situation in Smallville that would be smaller in scope, but explore how Superman was conceived from such noble and interesting small town people. O’Toole is gorgeous and plays well as the antithesis to Lois, providing much more humility and grace, with a doe eyed innocence that’s almost hard to ignore. “Superman III” really feels like it shoehorned Pryor in at the last minute, and it’s a shame Superman has to play second fiddle to the actor, when I wanted to see more of the man of steel, when all was said and done. As a third outing, it’s a complete misfire that attempts to pander to audiences rather than build an interesting premise out of its limited resources.

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