In this post I am going to discuss the movie, Superman III (1983). For a good chunk of this post I will be talking about the film as I sit and watch it in real-time.
If you have never watched Superman III before, you may want to skip this post as it will make little sense to you and will be filled with spoilers. Of course, if you are more than familiar with Superman III then please stick with me.
Now before I begin, let me say that I am not a huge fan of Superman III. I think the film contains some truly strong moments, but it is largely a flawed piece as a whole – and I will talk about why I believe this in greater detail below.
I do want to note that I don’t hate this film, I just feel that it has the potential to be much better. Superman III should be as strong as Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980), but it is not.
25secs – Superman III opens with August ‘Gus’ Gorman, as played by Richard Pryor. This first scene is establishing his character and attempting to introduce comedy into the film. For me, this here is one of the biggest problems of Superman III, as the film places too much focus on this particular character.
2mins 30secs – And now the film moves into the opening credits and there is a significant change from the credit scenes of the first two movies. The rather dramatic openings of the previous films has been replaced by a slapstick sequence.
3mins – You know, despite the obvious change in tone from the previous entries, I don’t have a huge problem with this section of the film. The credits play out, there are some mild chuckles and Superman gets to perform a rescue. It works fine.
6mins – During this credit sequence, there is a scene involving a child and a photo booth. The child that appears in this scene is Aaron Smolinski – the actor who played toddler Clark Kent in Superman: The Movie.
11mins 30secs – And now for what I consider another misstep in Superman III – the lack of screen time given to Lois Lane. After only a few minutes on screen Lois has just announced she is going on holiday, therefore she won’t be in the remainder of the movie. Madness! After being a huge focus of the previous films she is now sidelined. And the reason for this? Well, it is due to the backstage problems surrounding Superman II.
When Superman: The Movie director, Richard Donner was fired from Superman II, many of the cast members voiced their disapproval over the situation. One of the cast members was Margot Kidder, who was very vocal over the decision to drop Donner. Shortly after she spoke publicly about the situation, her role in Superman III became very small.
15mins – Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen are on assignment in Smallville and while on route they come across a fire at a chemical plant. This whole sequence is great – I love it! Superman comes to the rescue to save the plant workers and the whole sequence is heroic and inspirational.
18mins – As well as being a good action sequence, the fire at the chemical plant also sets up a seemingly unimportant room, filled with unstable acid. This acid will become important during the finale.
20mins – Another great moment now as Superman freezes a lake, turning it into a huge block of ice. He then drops the ice over the chemical plant, causing it to melt and fall like rain over the fire. Brilliant stuff!
23mins – Back in Smallville, Clark attends his high school reunion. Here the movie reintroduces the characters Brad and Lana, who were last seen in Superman: The Movie. Annette O’Toole is now playing the role of Lana Lang. The actress would return to the Superman mythology between 2001 and 2011 to play the role of Clark’s mother, Martha Kent, on the popular show.
23mins 55secs – And speaking of Martha Kent, Lana has just mentioned that the Kent matriarch has passed away. This is a plot point that will be picked up in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987).
30mins – The villains of Superman III are introduced. The main villain being Ross Webster, as played by Robert Vaughn. Vaughn is fine here, but the part feels like a watered-down Lex Luthor, so I’m not sure what anyone was trying to achieve with this character.
40mins – Forty minutes into Superman III and Richard Pryor has already received a considerable amount of screen time – way more than any other character. The reason he is so prominent in this film is because Pryor publicly stated how much he liked Superman II, so the film’s producers cast him for Superman III and gave him a big role. I do wonder what the film could have been like if he had never passed comment on Superman II.
49mins – Gus sets in motion a plan to control a satellite and as a result, a series of tech ‘mishaps’ follow… *sigh*…including some malfunctioning traffic light signals. These scenes are supposed to be hilarious, but they actually tedious. Scenes like this are reducing the quality of this film.
55mins – This movie continues to make mistakes – now it is abbreviating rescue scenes with Superman. Instead of showing the scenes in full, Richard Pryor is providing narration. More screen time for Pryor, and less for Superman.
1hr 2mins – An hour into the movie and an actual threat to Superman has been introduced, in the form of synthetic Kryptonite. This synthetic variety looks similar to the regular kind of Kryptonite, but it is not as deadly.
1hr 5mins 30secs – Gus hands Superman the synthetic Kryptonite, and the Man of Steel shows no visible signs of weakness or discomfort.
1hr 6mins – I don’t mind the idea of the synthetic Kryptonite – I think it works well enough for establishing the scenes that follow – but it is a shame that the decision was made to colour this Kryptonite, green. This could have been a great opportunity to introduce different coloured Kryptonite into the Superman movie series. Perhaps red Kryptonite?
1hr 8mins 30secs – The synthetic Kryptonite is starting to take effect on an emotional level. Superman has become apathetic.
1hr 9mins 30secs – Due to the effects of the Kryptonite, Superman is late to a rescue. From here on out, the movie gets much better.
1hr 10mins 30secs – It is now becoming clear that Superman is becoming gravely effected by the Kryptonite. It is making him evil. This plot development is where the movie excels, as it gives actor Christopher Reeve the opportunity to play a different side to Superman.
1hr 19mins – To reflect just change in personality, Superman’s costume is now darker in colour. He also has some stubble.
1hr 21mins – With Superman embracing his dark side, Superman III starts to really crank up a gear. It’s a shame this material wasn’t introduced earlier in the film, but hey ho, it’s good to see it now.
1hr 22mins 30secs – With Superman preoccupied, Ross, Gus and Co. start to build a super computer. This part of the story seems to come out of nowhere, but I’m fine to let it slide.
1hr 24mins – Superman is sat in a bar. He is clearly very depressed and/or drunk and is genuinely quite scary. This is the closest the Superman movie series comes to introducing a Bizarro-like character and it works very, very well.
1hr 26mins – Psychologically disturbed, Superman heads to a nearby junkyard to left off some steam. This is where Superman III hits its peak with easily the best sequence in the movie, as Superman splits into two people…
1hr 26mins 45secs – …Evil Superman and good Clark Kent.
1hr 28mins – The junkyard battle is the one scene from Superman III that everyone remembers and it is with good reason – it is so damn good! Having Evil Superman fight Clark Kent allows for Christopher Reeve to really go to town on these roles, demonstrating a clear distinction between the characters he is playing.
1hr 31mins – The junkyard scene was shot in the UK. In fact, a great deal of the four Christopher Reeve Superman movies were shot in the UK.
1hr 33mins – It would appear as if the evil Superman has defeated Clark Kent, but…
1hr 33mins 25secs – …Superman triumphs! Having defeated his inner demons, the Man of Steel is back to being a hero again and this means he needs to clean up some of the mess he caused.
1hr 39mins – Into the big finale now – Superman vs. a super computer. As mentioned above, this part of the plot seems to come out of nowhere, but it is still pretty entertaining stuff. Personally, I would have preferred the whole film to have focused on the evil Superman, but hey, this movie was made during the 1980s, when computers were distrusted.
1hr 47mins – The super computer has become sentient. Once again, this is a story beat that seems to happen ‘just because it says so in the script’.
1hr 49mins – Scary robot alert! Webster’s sister has just been transformed into a creepy robot. Has the sentient computer initiated the first steps in a grand scheme to turn humanity into cyber warriors?! Or are the writers simply throwing anything at the screen, in the hope that something sticks? You decide!
1hr 51mins – The volatile acid from earlier in the film is reintroduced as a way to destroy the computer. It is a little bit convenient, but I don’t mind this plot device as it was set up near the beginning.
1hr 55mins – Despite his involvement in turning Superman evil, as well as all the other bad things that have happened in the movie, Gus Gorman is let off the hook, because he tried to save Superman.
1hr 59mins – Lois reappears as I enter the final minutes of the movie. She is here to cap off her story and to throw metaphorical daggers at Lana. This rivalry could have been developed for the fourth Superman movie, but sadly Lana does not return to this particular series.
2hr 1mins – And as Superman III draws to a close, Superman takes to the skies. Some of the last two hours has been great, while some has been a little disappointing.
Let’s deal with the good stuff first. The chemical plant, every single moment with evil Superman, the junkyard scene, and the battle with the super computer is all good – some of it is cinematic gold. OK, so I did have a few issues with some of the ideas during the final battle with the computer, but on the whole I was fine with the finale.
But here’s my take on what I have seen with these sequences. For me, this film would have benefited greatly from a rewrite, whereby all of the above was kept and extended, and everything else was removed.
Had the evil Superman storyline been introduced from the start, and maybe as a response to the events of Superman II (where Superman de-powered himself) then it could have made for a much stronger film. Hmm… maybe the film could have gone down the route of having Clark, Superman and evil Superman in a few scenes too? After all, the film is called Superman III. Either way, this is where the film should have put its focus.
But, as mentioned earlier, the biggest problem with this film really is the constant inclusion of Richard Pryor. I made this clear when I pressed play, but it needs to be reiterated: Richard Pryor swamps this movie and he is in it far too much.
Superman III should be about Superman. The first two films were about the title character and this movie should have followed suit; but instead, Superman comes across as a glorified guest star and it is a huge shame. To me, the decision to sideline Superman is a very odd creative choice and one I simply don’t understand.
Superman III has its moments and the junkyard scene remains one of the best sequences in a Superman movie, but director Richard Lester, along with the producers, made some bizarre choices and it stops this film from reaching the heights of its predecessors.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this post on Superman III. For more related posts, check out one of the recommended reads below.
- Six best Batman and Superman movies
- What Batman movies feature Superman?
- Isn’t it about time Superman: The Animated Series is released on Blu-ray?