After the success with Superman II it was clear that people enjoyed what Richard Lester brought to the franchise and it was determined that Lester would come back to the franchise with another installment. This time, however, the camp and humor are turned up with the inclusion of famed comedian, Richard Pryor.
Today’s Key Movie:
Christopher Reeve returns to the big screen in another installment of his most iconic role as Superman. This time, however, he faces a threat like no other, when a group of computer programmers are able to create a new form of Kryptonite that turns the blue boy-scout into a villain like no other. Filled with action, adventure and not a small amount of campy humor, this is Superman III.
Why this movie?
I vividly remember seeing this film in theaters and falling in love with the cool yet silly nature of it. To a young kid under 10 years old, this was everything I could want from a superhero film. Not only did it have the action adventure aspect of Superman, it also had a touch of humor that, to a kid my age, spoke to me like none of the previous entries.
Not long after the film released I got my hands on the official comic book adaptation and read it cover to cover over and over again. Interestingly, This was the first in the Reeve film series to not rely on a comic book villain as the lead adversary but at the same time it felt more like a comic book film at the time than the others.
You like it, but is it really a ‘good’ movie?
What is it about the third film in a franchise that makes filmmakers want to change the tone of a franchise? From Terminator 3, Alien 3, Rambo 3 and of course Batman Forever, every one of these films chose to divorce from the main franchises tone only to forever alter the trajectory of the films. Superman III was one of the first to make this dramatic move in tone almost setting the standard for film franchises to come. In many ways this film feels like it is part of an entirely different franchise taking it from a more serious tone to a film filled with humor and camp.
That being said, despite the added humor and silly nature, this remains one of my favorite films in the series outside of the original release. You can almost forgive the ridiculous humor and lighter tone as it manages to balance that with some of the best action scenes in any Superman film of that time period. The idea of an evil (or really compassionless) Superman isn’t new but boy oh boy did they pull it off on screen with some serious success.
Reeve once again does an incredible job with the script he is provided. He proves once again that he was made for the dual roles of Kent and Superman. There is simply not a moment on screen that he is a disappointment even in the scenes where he is forced to act outside of his characters nature. Somehow, he manages to bring a certain level of veritas to even the most ridiculous of scenes. I do love how the Evil Superman is presented in muted colors that are ironically mirrored later as Superman’s standard colors in Snyder’s Man of Steel. This muted, darker tone permeated our social conscience making us relate these somber colors to an uncaring and angry version of our hero. I have to wonder if Snyder realized this while designing his muted version of our hero some 30 years later.
Joining Reeve as his new love interest as Lana Lang, is Annette O’Toole. O’Toole has always been a favorite of mine and she also does a marvelous job as the single mom hoping for a better life outside of Smallville. Unlike Lois, she is far more interested in Clark than Superman as her high-school friend is the living embodiment of a kindness she is lacking in her life. It is through her, and her son’s, actions that makes Superman realize what has happened to him and ultimately forces the disenfranchised hero to fight against the darkness in himself.
The villain is this film is basically Lex Luthor but under the name of Ross Webster. Played by Robert Vaughn, Ross is a business man with truly diabolical plans using anyone and everyone to get his way. In many ways, Robert Vaughn is more Lex Luthor in the classic sense than Gene Hackman ever was, providing Superman with a foe that is much more on par with the modern comic interpretation of Luthor than any seen in feature films so far.
Teaming with his sister Vera, played by Annie Ross and Lorilei, played by Pamela Stephenson, they bring in Gus Gorman (Pryor) to create the Kryptonite that turns Superman into the uncaring villain he has to fight. Soon, however, they move into a more classic villain stance with the construction of an underground lair along with creating a supercomputer that ultimately becomes a proto-Braniac. This last part is responsible for one of the most horrific and frightening scenes in the franchise where Vera is turned into a cybernetic horror. It is a scene that haunted me for years to come yet kept me coming back for more.
In many ways, this film plays as an homage to the classic George Reeves tv series from the 50’s or even the Fleischer cartoons of the 40’s. From outrageously diabolical plans to even the classic underground lairs with killer robots, this film manages to play on just about every trope it can while remaining pretty true to it’s comic book source material. While it is not the more serious and introspective story we got with the first film, it may be the most accurate interpretation of a comic book world to date. I have to say, I would much rather watch films like this over the dark and dour entries that we are exposed to in the modern age.
OK, where do I get this movie?
You can get the complete Superman experience, even the ill fated Superman Returns in a very affordable boxed set here for about $10. This one is fun and, let’s be honest, you could certainly do much worse when it comes to Superhero films. Plus, this one is pretty safe for the whole family with only a few choice words thrown in.
Late To The Game 8/15/2019
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