Monday, November 23, 2009

“I don't want to go to jail because there are robbers and rapers and rapers who rape robbers.”

1983 brought Richard Lester back to a Superman movie, only this time he was involved from the very start. Boasting Richard Pryor in the cast, but completely without Gene Hackman, the movie was a definite departure from the previous films.

I hope you appreciate this.

So, Superman is doing his thing and all that, and Clark Kent goes home to visit Smallville where he reconnects with an old High School friend/crush Lana Lang, who’s got a kid now and a dead-end job and a drunken baby daddy that doesn’t help anything. Clark and her hit things off and they more or less start a relationship and he really wants to help her get out of Smallville. That’s the subplot. The main plot features an ex-con who is somehow a computer savant (at first it seems like a super power, but then not so much) who needs work, so he gets caught up in a scheming businessman’s evil scheme to, I don’t know. Corner some economic markets? Take over the world? Whatever. Some computery stuff happens and this guy ends up infecting Superman with some imperfect Kryptonite, which instead of killing him, turns him into a bigger dick than he’s already proven himself capable of.

Superman/Clark Kent: Christopher Reeve is still really charismatic and likable in the role, but a lot of it feels like paint the numbers stuff when he’s onscreen. The most interesting stuff that happens with him are the scenes with Clark and Lana Lang, and it was a nice nod to the Silver Age comic stuff that had a love triangle thing between Clark, Lois and Lana. Unfortunately, Superman isn’t really the focus of the movie all that much, and dear God does the movie suffer because of it. What’s worse, is that the movie really jumps the shark after Superman gets infected with the bad kryptonite. At first it turns him into an asshole, which is actually kind of hilarious if you’ve ever browsed the galleries over at and you’re already aware and/or amused by Superman being a dick to innocent bystanders. The real bad part happens when a kid appeals to Superman’s better nature, at which point he splits into two beings: Clark Kent and Douchebag Superman, who are equals in power and then they fight to the death because… Because… Because… Pardon my low Flemish, but WHAT THE FUCK?

Lois Lane: Margot Kidder is still an awesome Lois. For all ten seconds that she’s in the movie. The conceit is that “she’s going off on vacation.” Yeah. Sure. This was apparently studio politics at work.

Perry White: Jackie Cooper doesn’t get a whole lot to do in this movie, but at least he’s in it for a length of time.

Jimmy Olsen: Marc McLure finally gets some major screen time as we finally see him out in the field for real doing photo work and Superman saving him and stuff.

Lana Lang: Annette O’Toole (who would later play Ma Kent on Smallville, which…that’s just weird going from a character who wants to get in Clark’s pants to his mother figure) is actually the most interesting character in the movie. Vulnerable but competent, she’s trying to figure out a way out of her situation and guess what? She falls in love with Clark Kent, not Superman. Its actually a very, very interesting subplot.

Gus Gorman: Oh man. Now, Richard Pryor was a legitimately funny comedian, but this…this is not good. Some of his bits are amusing, but not nearly enough are, especially considering he’s got just as much screen time as Superman. He becomes a clownish henchman for the evil guys, going around getting items and such, but he’s also supposed to be some kind of hacker or computer whiz or. You know what, I don’t even have the heart to point out just how much this character doesn’t work in a Superman movie.

Ross Webster: Our Villain for the movie, an industrialist and philanthropist who wants to take over the world’s coffee and oil supply, because that’s a great villain for Superman to face. I can’t believe this is Robert Vaughn doing this. He was in the Magnificent Seven. He was Napoleon frickin’ Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Why is he being used as a low rent Lex Luthor clone without Hackman’s maniacal charm (Hackman apparently refused to come back after what happened to Donner). Ugh. He’s got a frumpy sister named Vera (Annie Ross) and a loopy “psychic nutritionist” Lorelei (Pamela Stephenson…that name’s familiar. Hey, wait, she was in History of the World Pt. 1) but they’re just there and ultimately, the villains just don’t work.

Well, it definitely looks lower budget. Richard Lester went full blown slapstick for the movie, and the opening credits go off on some sort of zany chain reaction accident sequence, which in itself isn’t exactly bad, but the important question is: Why’s it so prominent in a Superman movie? And that’s really the complaint with most of this stuff. Why is it going for a campy, zany feel when the first movie, which was neither campy nor zany, made a lot of bank and was well regarded by fans.

The pacing is terrible because instead of seeing Superman do various deeds of derring-do, instead we get one where Richard Pryor is narrating it to the villains, and narrating it in an irritating, campy, over-the top way that- Look, there’s an axiom of “show, don’t tell” when it comes to filmmaking and this movie is full of those kinds of failures. The bit is too long, not funny and just screams “we didn’t have the budget to actually film this scene.”

David Newman and Leslie Newman wrote the script (no Mario Puzo this time) and the story is, for the first half of the movie just a long, inoffensively boring piece of… cinema. I didn’t hate it at that point, I was just trying to stay awake (metaphorically). And then Evil Superman came out of nowhere and everything went to hell. Evil Supes is kind of a Bizarro Superman character, but not, just like the computer going rogue at the end was kind of like Braniac, but not. The ideas were floating around, but the execution for whatever reason was abysmal.

Ken Thorne and Giorgio Moroder worked on the score, but again, its all built on what John Williams wrote. The music remains decent.

I did not expect to hate this movie as much as I did. At first, the movie seemed simply dreadfully boring but numbly so. You’d have some Superman scenes, then see Richard Pryor bumbling around and so on. Then the movie gets stupid. Painfully stupid without any of that “so bad its hilarious” charm. Superman III fails as a Superman movie, and it fails as a comedy. Not recommended.

You know. For the kids.

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