Regardless of what comic lore has told us up until now, the easiest way to stop the Man Of Steel in his locomotive racing tracks isn’t radioactive pieces of his homeworld but an appearance in a lousy movie. Believe me, the presence of a cheesy script and horrible jokey tone has the ability to drop Superman quicker than a Kryptonite cock ring and in 1983 that’s pretty much what happened.
After finishing Superman II after the orginal director was unceremoniously shit-canned, Richard Lester was hired to reshoot and finish the superhero sequel which led to him scoring the gig for the last son of Krypton’s third go round. Lester was a director fond of broad jokey adventure movies, as seen in the relentlessly camp Musketeer movies of the 70’s – which featured Christopher Lee in a huge feathered hat and eye patch and Oliver Reed playing to type as a brawl-happy drunk – which, although fun in their own way, are as subtle as a flamethrower skin peel. Needless to say with the nuanced balance Richard Donner brought to the original a very distant memory, Lester unleashed long, drawn out Buster Keaton-esqe skits and full on comedy villains to the series plus the strangest adversary Superman had ever had to face… and that adversary was… Richard Pryor?
Gus Gorman is one of lifes schmoes with a lifetime of firings and get rich quick schemes under his belt, but when he gets a job as a computer processor he finds he has a savant style aptitude to tapping a keyboard for a living. In fact Gus is SO good, he scams the company he works for a ton of cash but while his computer skills are second to none, his ability to get away with the crime is severely limited. However, failing up seems to be yet another of his latent talents and he’s recruited by ruthless entrepreneur Ross Webster for his unlikely hacking skills to manipulate the world for his financial gain.
Meanwhile, Clark Kent (remember, this IS a Superman film) heads back to his hometown of Smallville for a class reunion and reconnects with old crush Lana Lang – and her terminally irritating son.
Back in the bizarrely Superman-less A – plot; Webster, his battleaxe sister and his busty “psychic nutritionist” continue to use Gus for financial gain but when Superman starts unwittingly thwarting their plans they hatch a plan to get him out of the picture with manufactured Kryptonite but instead manage to corrupt the big blue boy scout into a selfish greasy thug.
Can Superman fight to right the kink in his think in time to stop Webster and the hapless Gus or will their secret weapon, a murderous super-computer located in the base of the Grand Canyon?
If you read the preceding passages and thought ” hey, it sure sounds like there isn’t a lot of Superman in this Superman movie”, you’ve hit the nail square on the head. It’s a strange thing when your title character is a supporting character in his own movie but the filmmakers seemed to want to prioritize the comedy stylings of Richard Pryor over literally everything else. Pryor is one of the greatest and most raw stand up comedians in history and his film career included such gems as Stir Crazy and the script for Blazing Saddles but his performance here is desperate mugging of the highest order. Actually, EVERYONE seems to be frantically trying to show off their broadest comic chops in order to keep up with Pryor except Christopher Reeve who adds another string to his bow by portraying a marvelously dead beat Man Of Steel who spends his time blowing out Olympic torches and straightening the Leaning Tower Of Pizza like a colossal prick. In fact every other character from the orignal two movies are all reduced to supporting roles (Lois Lane fucks off on holiday to Bermuda within the first twenty minutes and doesn’t resurface until the very end) and the new arrivals, such as Robert Vaughn’s slimy Lex Luthor-lite CEO are a poor replacement and poor Annette O’ Toole as Lana Lang is all but forgotten by the second half of the movie.
As harsh as I’m being with this film, there are two moments that stand out as actual prime examples of A-1 Superman material. The first is an utterly redundant, yet genuinely impressive section where the hero struggles to put out a raging inferno in a chemical plant by freezing a whole river solid and dropping it on the huge fire (I guess after you reversed the rotation of the earth, casually destroying an entire lake’s eco-system is small potatoes…). The other is yet another example of Reeve’s genius in his signature role as both personas of Superman (his corrupt, unshaven, grimy side and his virtuous Clark Kent side) split and have a knock down, drag out fight in a scrap yard that should be completely ridiculous but ends up being the best scene in the movie purely down the Reeves selling the hell out of the thing and Lester thankfully choosing to not fling in random prat falls every 30 seconds.
The whole thing ends in an utterly weird confrontation with a self- aware, killer super-computer (a hugely impressive set) that’s only introduced in the closing 20 minutes that despite being the most advanced piece of technology of it’s kind, chooses to keep score of launching rockets at Superman like a video game – and the less said about it’s ability to transform people into lumbering cyborg creatures the better. But it’s a fitting accumulation of everything you’ve just been watching – i.e frequently stupid and frustratingly childish with rare flashes of genuine fun.
This third adventure of arguably comic’s greatest hero just isn’t that super, man.