Here on Fishing in the Discount Bin, I'm currently working my way through the Superman franchise. Now we see the series starting to decline. It's Superman III. This is in my notes at January 16, 2016.
And now, on to Superman III. While not considered the worst, we were definitely on our way there.
With Superman II being such a success, and no more pesky Donner to worry about, the Salkinds knew that they could finally produce the Superman film that they always wanted...something kind of goofy and campy. And when legendary comedian Richard Pryor spoke of his love for the first film, everything fell into place to produce their epic Superman comedy.
Don't get me wrong, there's parts of a good Superman movie in there. In a way, it reminded me of the Land of the Lost movie from a few years ago. It could have been a really good sci-fi/adventure film, but with Will Ferrel in the lead, there were moments where we had to be Will Ferrel be Will Ferrel and it got too silly. Same with Superman III. Things kind of go out the window when Richard Pryor comes in to start being Richard Pryor.
So how does Richard Pryor fit into all this? Pryor plays Gus Gorman, a poor schlub who can't keep a job. In an attempt to boost his resume, he signs up for some night classes to learn how to use computers. But, he quickly proves himself to be some kind of computer programming savant, and gets himself a job as computer programmer. He catches the attention of the company CEO Ross Webster when he does a little hacking to give himself a raise, and soon Gus is being blackmailed by Webster and his gang to use his computer skills to grab the world by the financial balls.
But where is Superman in all this? Why, he's back home in Smallville. Clark Kent took a few weeks off to go home for his high school reunion, and got the Daily Planet to pay for it by pitching a story about small town America. There, he runs into his old high school sweetheart Lana Lang, and a spark is rekindled.
I gotta say right now, out of all the Superman films, we get some really good Clark Kent in this one. Just seeing him back home in Smallville, still shy and awkward around Lana, and slowly growing as a surrogate father to Lana's son Ricky, is just adorable. Why didn't Christopher Reeve do more romantic comedies? Seeing him here just shows he had great romantic leading man potential.
And enough good things can't be said about Annette O'Toole as Lana Lang. She is just seven kinds of adorable as the small town girl who, as middle age approaches, is finally starting to yearn for something more than what a small town has to offer. Yeah, she's a little scatterbrained, which can be really annoying if done incorrectly, but O'Toole plays it such a way that you can see Lana's internal logic as to how she got a little mixed up. (Of course, O'Toole returned to the Superman universe when the played Martha Kent on Smallville.)
A little side note: Lois Lane is reduced to just a cameo in this film. Margot Kidder has always said it was punishment for being on Team Donner during the whole Superman II conflicts, but the Salkinds maintain they just wanted to spice things up with a new love interest.
And of course, what makes this film famous is when Superman gets all dark and evil. Gorman and Webster decide to make their own kryptonite to take care of Superman, but the formula is flawed. And even though it's the familiar green, it affects Superman like the red kryptonite in the comics, turning him into a selfish jerk who just does whatever he wants. Things finally reach a head when Superman battles himself quite literally...his evil side taking on the form of Superman, and his good side taking on the form of Clark Kent, and they slug it out in a junkyard. It's always fun to see Superman go down a dark path, and seeing a Superman who's more interested in getting drunk and banging hot chicks is quite interesting to watch.
But then, Richard Pryor comes in to bring the comedy, and it feels just a bit out of place.
And the final battle...the final battle always scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. Gus eventually builds a supercomputer, and it gains sentience and does battle with Superman. To aid in the fight, the supercomputer abducts Ross's sister Vera and pulls her into an alcove. All these metal plates start covering her and these wires penetrate her and she is turned into the scariest fucking cyborg you've ever seen in the movies. The entire scene where she's assimilated...just gives me nightmares.
For some reason, Superman III has been on basic cable a lot lately, and as I always say on Facebook when it comes up, I just how Alberta is on display in Superman III. Smallville was played by the southern Alberta town of High River. Parts of downtown Calgary stood in for Metropolis. I love seeing the Calgary Tower on the Metropolis skyline...Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevators looming over Smallville...Superman even gets changed in one of those old school bright yellow AGT phone booths! I gotta do my "southern Alberta Superman tour."
Anyway. There's enough to love in Superman III, but it does seem rather silly when compared to the first two.