Saturday, June 8, 2013

Superman-a-thon Part 4: Superman III (1983)

[Author's Note - These links will become active as the blogs are written: Superman and the Mole Men (1951)Superman (1978)Superman II (1980) / Richard Donner Cut (2006), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), Superman Returns (2006)]
If this poster doesn't immediately tell
you why this film is weak...

After Richard Donner left the series, Superman's movies became a lot less focused and started trying to do too much with too little. Richard Lester had good story ideas, but they got jumbled up and buried under a lot of flaws.

None of the movies in this series demonstrate the dangers of a clustered plot like Superman III.

This movie has so many things going for it that I want SO BADLY to give it a good review and praise the ideas. Unfortunately, so many plotlines are fighting for attention that it's nearly impossible to get fully invested in anything and a lot of details get left out.

It's clear that this movie is going to be cluttered from the opening, as the iconic Superman opening gets replaced by a cheap crawl going across the bottom half of the screen. Meanwhile, some of the most absurd sequences of events go on, leading to Superman having to change in a photo booth and then cough*hilariously*cough having to get the pictures back from the kid whose photo time he jacked. Slapstick like this is peppered throughout and kills the mood of what could have been a serious film.

Something that many people consider to be an issue in this film is the fact that Margot Kidder's Lois Lane is taken out of the film in the first 15 minutes to go on vacation and she isn't seen again until the closing minutes. While I will say that this move was BEYOND petty, the directors actually did have a good character in place.

Annette O'Toole plays Lana Lang, Clark's friend/crush from his school days. They reconnect when Clark heads back to Smallville for a class reunion. Quite honestly, this is probably the most consistently well-executed part of the movie.

I really liked the emotion Clark and Lana showed in this movie and (blasphemous as it sounds) I actually thought she had better on-screen chemistry with Christopher Reeve than Kidder did. Kidder works well with the Superman persona, but O'Toole nails the work with Clark here.

I wish Kidder would have gotten some more time so that a love triangle could have been done as a side plot, but only if it replaced the awful side plot that bogged this movie down more than any other: the redemption story of Richard Pryor's character.

This character, unlike Pryor's comedy, was not funny for most of his time in the film (despite countless attempts at slapstick) and his moral dilemma crap takes up at least a third of this film.

I do feel for the character at times and like his heroic moment during the climax, but they hold too many scenes on him for WAY too long. The worst moments are his long-ass plan to get a security guard drunk so he can break into a government facility, and his final scene talking with some construction workers. I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR DIALOGUE! GO BACK TO SUPERMAN!

But yeah, his plot is the biggest drag of this movie. He gets hired by a corporate big wig (played with chronic overacting by Robert Vaughn) to bomb the ever-loving crap out of Colombia so that he can monopolize the coffee market, which may be the most absurdly high-risk, low-reward plot in history.

Superman, of course, stops the surprise nuke and Vaughn then has Pryor use his computer skills (which I forgot to mention he has in this movie) to fashion some homemade Kryptonite. Isn't all this a little extreme for a couple million more in coffee sales? You're rich enough to have a ski slope ON TOP OF YOUR PENTHOUSE and have a machine that can generate anything you type in the molecular code for. The money is NOT THAT BIG A DEAL!

Anyway, the Kryptonite goes wrong and instead functions like Red Kryptonite (which, for those who know Silver Age Superman, makes the Man of Steel act evil). This happens shortly after his high school reunion, where Clark reconnected with the newly-single Lana and her son.

Probably a bad sign if this photo is in your review.
What proceeds to happen is a forerunner of Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3, only this time it wasn't stupid. These sequences are some of the best parts of this movie, as Superman just causes random chaos because he can. He resets the Leaning Tower of Pisa and pranks a lot of people. Admittedly, a story where Superman is evil should have delved a lot more into how dangerous an evil Superman can get, but this was pretty good.

This gets paid off when evil Superman splinters off from good Superman and the two fight. This was okay, but it could have been so much better. I have no idea if their powers are limited or not while they're fighting for control, and it's not answered by this sequence because sometimes their punches are fast while others look beyond weak.

Anyway, the good Superman wins, he confronts the villain and Richard Pryor finally turns to the side of righteousness. Clark makes amends with Lana and Lois returns to find Lana is now a secretary at the newspaper and has gotten far better love interest development than she has.

WHY didn't you explore this, Lester?
Looking back, this film had so many good ideas that could have made this a real elevation of the Superman movie universe. Lana coming in as an alternative to Lois, Clark coming to grips with his double life, and Superman's tenuous position of great power being tested are all great ideas.

But the thing is that those three plots alone are good enough for a movie and a villain like Braniac could work mostly behind the scenes until the final showdown, leaving the movie to focus on the good character storylines. Instead, this film chooses to give a henchman as much time, if not more, than the other arcs.

As such, this film feels too busy and nothing gets the development or payoff that it should. Only Richard Pryor's arc gets the build and payoff, but it's so uninteresting that it's a moot point.

This is not a very good film because of it and it really saddens me to say that. I say it gets 2 stars out of 4 and a 5.2 out of 10.

But do you want to know the saddest thing? This is somehow not the worst thing the Superman mythos has produced. That's coming next blog, as I talk about Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

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