Superman 3 (1983) Review – Superman goes Slapstick

Superman 3 is incredibly weird. It has some good stuff going for it, but it’s unfortunately so little and far between that it gets bogged down in actual nonsense.

It all starts with the opening, which establishes this film as a slapstick movie. I mean, the first guy Superman saves is drowning in his car because of something to do with a blind man losing his dog and some guy at a hotdog stand and- Look, a bunch of three-stooges shenanigans happens and then Superman has to save someone.

The problem isn’t comedy in this goofy movie. It’s the type of comedy. Superman 1 and 2 both had heaps of it, but it was all fitting with what was going on and mostly derived from Christopher Reeve’s depiction of Clark. Even the more silly comedy coming from Luthor and Ottis in those films came, not from whacky hijinks, but from their dynamic. In Superman 3, it’s full slapstick. And it makes it hard to believe some people are in as much danger as they are when slapstick stuff is in the movie.

Anyway, comedy rant aside, this movie is about a guy called Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) exploiting his ‘wrong place, wrong time’ expert computer hacker, Gus (Richard Pryor) to do a bunch of naughty capitalist things to make his corporation money. Eventually, he builds a giant supercomputer that can do literally anything.

You might be asking what Superman has to do with this… Not a lot. He spends most of the movie reuniting with his high school crush outside of Metropolis and, before he’s even aware of Webster’s evil plans, is given kryptonite to take him out of the picture. The kryptonite was made in a lab so doesn’t end up physically harming Superman, but instead alters his personality so he starts being an asshole. Kind of like the alien suit does to Peter Parker in Spiderman 3.

I also find it funny how the movie chooses to display what Superman being an asshole would look like; as a womanising alcoholic. When he’s not taking shots of whiskey and ruining a bar, he’s polluting Earth’s ocean with oil because a lady said she’d sleep with him if he did so. He does sleep with her, by the way.

It all comes together when Superman is made to realise he’s an asshole after some kid yells at him. He goes to a junkyard where he literally has to fight his alter-ego, the good-intentioned Clark Kent, in a battle to the death. This might sound like the stupidest conclusion ever, but I actually really enjoyed it. It’s the first time the movie does anything with the character that is interesting, almost suggesting that Clark Kent isn’t much without Superman and that Superman isn’t much either without Clark. Clark gets his ass handed to him and only wins after playing dead and getting in a surprise attack on Superman, and Superman is nothing but rage and overconfidence until he and Clark are one again. So yeah, in this otherwise dumb-fest there is still some, dare I say good, character writing that I enjoyed.

After this, Superman finally realises Webster has a big evil computer and goes to destroy it. In the series of scenes where this happens we get a lot of high-octane action wherein Superman dodges missiles, fights a cyborg and gets blasted by a kryptonite ray. It’s all very fun. And it was here that I appreciated Webster as a villain. He’s the same sort of one-note guy Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor was, but still has the same sort of charm. Is the character essentially Lex Luthor played by a different actor? Eh, sure. But I do like Robert Vaughn’s performance, especially alongside Richard Pryor. It’s in their scenes we get the kind of comedy the other movies had and the two work great together on screen.

The only other thing left to talk about is Clark going to his hometown for most the film to be with his high school crush. Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole) isn’t as good a character as Lois Lane, but still fills the love interest role quite well. I liked her character and so it’s a shame most the time spent with her doesn’t actually contribute anything to the story aside from the fact she has a son, and her son is the kid who tells Superman to stop being an asshole later in the film.

I guess this film has some neat action. Superman fights himself. Superman dodges missiles. Superman fights a computer. And about 25% of this film is on par with the first two, at least when we’re with Robert Vaughn and Richard Pryor. But everything else is very underwhelming and downright stupid. I even audibly said one time “okay, that is really stupid” (it was the scene where Superman nearly sinks an oil ship to get laid).

Would I recommend Superman 3? Eh, probably not. It’s nowhere near the quality of 1 or 2 even in the slightest. It feels like it knows why those movies worked but, for one reason or another, can’t recreate them.

Well, except for giving Superman a dumb thing to do with his powers. It recreates that quite well. In Superman 1 he reverses time. In Superman 2 he teleports, makes holograms of himself and erases Lois’ memory. In Superman 3, his solution to sealing the hull of an OIL TANKER is to use his HEAT VISION to weld it shut. In my head, I just imagine the boat exploding after Superman is out of range.

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