Superman III

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/17/05 20:15:34

"One of the most underrated movies of all time. Seriously."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

First, there was “Superman,” and it was good. The came “Superman II,” and the world kneeled before Zod. So a third movie was wisely ordered up, and it’s “Superman III” that many feel brought about the end of a good thing. I say no, that honor goes to “Superman IV: The Quest For Peace,” for “Superman III,” despite its total goofiness, is still a hit.

The story follows mild-mannered Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve, who else?) as he returns to Smallville for a high school reunion. He runs into Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole), and the opportunity for romance is about to present itself. Of course, some major bad guys have to stand in the way, so we get Robert Vaughn as a millionaire hiring computer whiz Richard Pryor to sabotage a weather satellite into working for his favor. Toss in a giant evil supercomputer and some fake Kryptonite, and you’re set for some sheer silly fun.

I admit, there’s a lot of stuff here that might come off as, well, stupid. The climactic battle with the supercomputer is complete nonsense, and that whole storyline doesn’t really click with the rest of the film. Richard Pryor’s appearance also put some folks off, with his comic relief being too ridiculous (as if an evil supercomputer is serious business).

But there are a few truly great Superman moments hiding here, moments that often get overlooked when discussing the high points of the franchise. For starters, we get a pointless yet very cool scene in which Supes puts out an industrial fire by freezing a lake. Then there’s the reunion scene, which has a surprising amount of heart; Reeve proves again why his take on Supes isn’t when he’s the hero, but how he plays uber-nerd Kent. (Another bit on the old Kent farm hits the point home.) And the opening bits featuring Pryor actually are funny stuff, with a sneaky scheme so cool it got a mention in “Office Space.”

The best segment of the film, however, is the accidental side effects of Pryor’s fake Kryptonite: it turns Supes evil. His evil deeds are corny stuff, such as blowing out the Olympic torch and straightening the Pisa tower (I’ll agree to the lameness of these scenes, yet I laugh anyway). But it still works. Because finally, the big guy’s split in two, with good Clark Kent facing off against evil Superman in a powerhouse of a fight, and man, what a great scene, with Reeve chewing every last bit of scenery he can find.

Perhaps the sneakiest moment in the entire “Superman” series comes at the beginning of “Superman III.” Unlike the other films, which use grand openings to announce themselves as “event” pictures, Supes III starts very small - in a Metropolis unemployment office. If you’re not paying attention, you might miss the mentions of the fictional city, forcing you to figure out which Richard Pryor movie this is. Only after a few minutes of light comedy do the opening credits begin. It’s a great change, and while it may lack the punch of that gigantic John Williams score, it sets the pace for what will be a different kind of Superman flick.

No, this is not the best Superman movie. (It’s not even the second; obviously, it’s the third best.) But for all its flaws, “Superman III” still entertains me with every viewing. Any chance to see Richard Pryor in an oversized cowboy hat or Clark Kent finally get to be the big man in Smallville is aces in my book. It’s a great addition to the legacy that is the Man of Steel.

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