Friday, July 26, 2013

Movies That Suck/Franchises: The First Superman Film Series. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

File:Superman iv.jpgFor better or worse, this is the first Superman movie that I ever caught a glimpse of; beforehand, my only exposure to the Man of Steel had been those cartoons from the 1940's. This was the first time I had ever seen the character brought to life in live-action and while I don't have very sharp  memories of it because I was so young, I do remember enjoying what I did see. Of course, when you're a really young kid, everything is awesome to you. It was not too long after that when I began making regular visits to my local video rental store and beginning my habit of walking around and looking at the various VHS covers while my dad paid for whatever I was renting that week. A few years later when I was a bit older, I remember that I saw the covers for the VHS's of the Superman movies for the first time and, after having that first impression of, "That's Superman," when I got my first glimpse of Christopher Reeve, I began looking on the back of them to see if I could tell which was the one I saw when I was little. I knew that it was Superman IV when I looked on the back of that cover and saw the images of Superman standing in that revolving doorway with explosions occurring around him. After that, many years went by and I kind of forgot about it until I started getting into the Superman films when I was 19. As I always am when I first get into something, I was determined to see all of them but, at the same time, I was well aware of Superman IV's less than stellar reputation. While I had heard that Superman III wasn't all that good either, it was the fourth film that got the most flack, so much so that on Christopher Reeve's episode of Biography, they bypassed III and went straight to IV, talking about how badly it bombed and so on. I really couldn't believe it, to be honest. Granted, I hadn't seen the movie since I was barely out of kindergarten but I was thinking, "Could it really be that awful?" Having had that experience when you realize that something you loved as a child is actually terrible many times over by that point, I should have known better. But, I still decided to seek all of these movies out and see for myself which I thought were good and which were bad.

As fate would have it, by the summer of 2007, I had all of the Superman films in my position except for Superman IV. I don't know how that movie eluded me for so long (it was probably afraid about what would happen when I finally did see it) but, by the end of the year, I finally tracked it down and watched it for the first time in almost two decades. My first reaction upon seeing it was, "Actually, this isn't very good." And my opinion on it soured even more so with every viewing (which, trust me, hasn't been many) until finally, I watched it again for this review. When I first decided to do these Superman reviews, I wasn't exactly sure if this would be an entry of Movies That Suck or not but after seeing it again, I can safely that this movie is, indeed, a steaming pile of garbage. Superman III may not be a classic either but I can say that it's infinitely better than this. Almost nothing in this movie works. Not even Christopher Reeve could save this one and his performance is even lacking in spots. The cheapness really hurts it as well, the story is muddled beyond comprehension, and the film, overall, is just dull. Before we get started I really hope that you'll forgive me if I get some things wrong because, ultimately, the biggest problem with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is that it's instantly forgettable.

After learning that the Daily Planet has been taken over a tycoon who plans to make it as sleazy as the tabloids he owns, Clark Kent learns that tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union are increasing to the point where nuclear war may be imminent. After being conflicted about what to do when a schoolboy sends Superman a letter asking him to do something about it, he decides to rid the world of all nuclear weapons and immediately does so. In the midst of all this, Lex Luthor manages to escape from prison with the help of his nephew Lenny and devises a plant to create a being as powerful as Superman using a strand of the hero's hair that they stole from a museum in Metropolis. Luthor attaches the genetic matrix that he creates out of the hair to an American nuclear missile and when Superman throws said missile into the sun, he unknowingly aids in the creation of an evil being known as Nuclear Man. With the same powers as the Man of Steel as well as Luthor's contempt for human life, this creature could mean the end of Superman, leaving Luthor free to take control of the arms race.

Remember when I said that one problem with Superman III is that its story is a little cluttered? Well, Superman IV has that problem in spades. There are way too many subplots going on in this film, some of which are either not resolved in a satisfactory way or not at all (in fact, the very first one, Clark's reluctance to sell the now abandoned Kent farm to someone who would probably tear it down, is never touched on again). Superman having to deal with the threat of nuclear war that was prevalent around that time as well as a being that embodies that threat would have made for a good movie in and of itself but the screenwriters also had to shove in a bunch of other story threads like the Daily Planet being taken over and turned into a sleazy tabloid, Clark dealing with a woman who attempts to turn his attention away from Lois (again, it's a shame that Lana Lang isn't present to do so), a young kid asking for Superman's help in solving a national crisis, which makes him question what exactly his role is on Earth, and so on and so forth. Any one of those plots could have made for a good story but because they're all shoved in here, the final film feels disorganized and confused, like it's not sure what the story is it wants to tell. It's a shame too because it does feel like there were some good intentions behind making this film but they proved useless in the long run.

Sidney J. Furie
Although Superman III did make a profit, it was nowhere near as successful as the first two films. That, coupled with the overall negative critical reaction to the film as well as the out and out bomb that was 1984's Supergirl, prompted the Salkinds to make the decision that the films had run out of steam and in 1986, they sold the rights to Cannon Films. Almost immediately after they obtained the rights, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the two heads of Cannon, got a new film underway and not only managed to get Christopher Reeve and all of the core cast members of the other films back but were also able to hire a veteran director who had been making movies since the late 50's: Sidney J. Furie. Some of his credits include Wonderful Life, The Ipcress File, The Entity, and Iron Eagle, among many others. After Superman IV, Furie has gone on to direct Iron Eagle II, The Taking of Beverly Hills, Ladybugs, and continues to make movies to this day. In another words, with such an experienced director at the helm, you'd expect Superman IV to at least be decent. However, Cannon Films' enormous slate of films being produced at the time didn't allow for much in the way of a budget ($17 million which, when compared to Superman III's $30 million, is quite low for this type of film) and Furie was forced to cut corners left and right. The result, which we'll get into, is a very cheap and dire film that no director, not even Richard Donner or Richard Lester (both of whom were offered the director's chair for this one, I might add), could have saved.

After Superman III, which he didn't like due to how comedic it was, Christopher Reeve announced that his days as Superman were behind him. He almost turned down Golan & Globus when they came to him about reprising the role for a fourth film but they made Reeve an offer that would have been foolish for him to pass up: not only did they promise him that Superman IV would not be a farce like III (which they didn't entirely deliver on, I might add) but they also would allow him input on the story and produce any other project that he wanted to do. There was even a rumor of him actually directing Superman V if that film ever came to fruition. Reeve accepted the offer and did the film Street Smart, where he acted alongside Morgan Freeman, before moving on to Superman IV. However, once Reeve started doing the film, it became apparent to him that it would not live up to expectations due to its low budget and so, he simply decided to power on through and do the best that he could despite knowing that the film would be terrible.

As much as she hated the film, Janet Moslin of the New York Times did note in her review that, "Christopher Reeve is still giving this character his all." (That's the only review that they could put on the back of the DVD and even then, it was only one of the few positive sections of an otherwise negative write-up.) I would agree with that... for the most part. Throughout a good chunk of the movie, Reeve does give the character the same honesty and goodness that he had instilled in him in the previous films. He still looks really good in the suit, projects a feeling of strength and purity, and is still lovably clumsy as Clark Kent. That said, though, there are moments in this film where you can detect disinterest on Reeve's part, where you can see that he's just going through the motions and that his heart isn't really in it. In fact, I would say that throughout the film, even in the sections where he is indeed giving it his all, there's an undercurrent of his knowing that this isn't working. It's hard to explain outright but if you see the film, I think you'll understand what I mean. Besides the low quality of the film, I think another reason why Reeve feels indifferent in parts is simply because he had already done everything he could do with the character. He had done Superman's introduction, his eventual desire for personal happiness which he simply can't reach as Earth's protector, and Clark reconnecting with his childhood as well as the emergence of Superman's dark side. What else could Reeve do with him? I think it's safe to say that he had reached the same point that George Reeves had after playing Superman on television for so many years. In fact, I would even go farther and say that not only is Reeve retreading the same well-worn ground but he's actually forced to regress a little bit, seeing as how Clark's clumsiness is back in full swing after it was pared down in the previous film. While it is nice to see Reeve as the character again, it's still painfully clear that the ship had sailed by this point.

Besides the performance, there are other things about Superman in this film that have always felt off to me. One that always bugs me is the suit. While the design is indeed the same as the suit in the previous film, the colors, especially the blue, look very faded. It's not the same deep blue from the other films that I always loved, and as for its color during the blue screen shots, forget it: the suit looks so turquoise there that it might as well just be green. Another thing about Superman that definitely gives you pause is when he starts displaying powers that he never used before, be it in the comics or in the films. Apparently Superman has telekinetic powers that come in the form of light blue eye-beams, which he uses to repair the Great Wall of China after Nuclear Man damages it. Moreover, he uses this ability again to lower some people whom Nuclear Man has sent flying up into the air safely to the ground. This power is so inexplicable that it makes you wonder why he's never used it before. Granted, General Zod did have a similar power but Superman himself never used it in either version of that film, which is odd since they were supposed to have the same powers. However, let's not get into that debate. And finally, during the painfully unfunny sequence where he keeps switching back and forth between the two identities, all unbeknownst to Lois and Lacy, there's a moment where Superman apparently uses these powers to make the doorbell ring to distract Lois so he can come back in as Clark. Supes can do a lot of amazing things but still, these powers feel out of place even for him. (But then again, Superman has often made his normal clothes as Clark disappear to reveal the super-suit in these films, so I guess it's all relative.)

If you want an example of somebody who's really going through the motions, though, you need look no further than Gene Hackman's return as Lex Luthor in this film. Hackman freely admits that he only did this movie for the money as well as because the Salkinds weren't involved. All I can say about him is that his performance here is a huge comedown from his entertaining portrayal in the first film and even in Superman II, where he was nothing more than a comedic foil for General Zod. He has none of the energy or wit that he originally instilled in the character and simply puts on a front which you can easily see right through to realize that he's bored with the whole thing. It also doesn't help that Hackman has noticeably aged in the ten years since he first played Luthor for Richard Donner and his appearance as well as his voice don't help him much either. And like Christopher Reeve, Hackman has nothing new to do with Luthor. He's still the same arrogant egomaniac who considers himself the greatest criminal mind of the 20th century and is still obsessed with destroying Superman and taking over. The only difference here is that he lacks the little hints of psychopathy that Hackman was able to sprinkle throughout his first performance which, combined with the actor's lack of enthusiasm, makes for a very bland and uninteresting villain. Hackman may have been a key ingredient of the first film's success but his indifference towards the role by this point made getting him back for this movie superfluous to say the least. And plus, the hairpieces he wears throughout this movie suck big time!

Margot Kidder appears as Lois Lane for the fourth and final time, having a much larger presence here than in Superman III... but that's not saying much since she's not given a lot to do. Like everyone else, she can't really do anything with the character of Lois that she hasn't already done except what was implied at the end of the last film: that she would become rather jealous of Clark having another woman in his life. While that is played with a little bit here with the character of Lacy, it ultimately goes nowhere and Lois' actions make it unclear whether she's jealous of Lacy or wants to help her impress Clark. And, again, it really makes you wish that they had brought back Lana Lang to indeed fulfill what was hinted at towards the end of Superman III but, alas, that never happened. In any case, even though she can't do much new with Lois here, Kidder is still pretty good at doing what Lois always did: being head over heels for Superman, acting as a supporter for Clark when it comes to things that he's naive about, and, as usual, having a feisty personality and being quite good-looking. Indeed, Kidder still looked pretty good at this point, although, that said, you can begin to see age slightly creeping up on her. (I don't get why she's a brunette in this film either.) Unfortunately, as good as Kidder is, even she can't keep her performance from having the feeling of, "Been there, done that," and she's not involved in the actual story of the film at all. Moreover, there's a plothole about Lois here that is never explained, like how, after Clark reveals himself to be Superman to her, she tells him that she remembered  when he had revealed his true identity to her before, even after he had given her that amnesia kiss. We'll just ignore all the plotholes that in and of itself creates (like why she acted so horrified when he jumped off the building with her if she did indeed know the truth) and move on to how, even after Superman wipes her memory again here, she still seems to know who he is since she goes to Clark and pours her heart out to him about her feelings for Superman when it's rumored that he's been killed. I know she and Clark are close friends and all but why would she do that with him? And why so earnestly, for that matter? It makes no sense and is just one of the many problems with this movie.

I do like that they give Jackie Cooper a little more depth and respectability to add to his final appearance as Perry White. Throughout these films, we've seen Perry characterized as a hot-headed but loveable editor who's always on the hunt for a good story for his paper. Here, we learn that, despite that eagerness for stories, he does have integrity and is appalled when the rich owner of a number of sleazy tabloids buys the Daily Planet with the intention of turning it into one as well. It's a nice build on that line in the first film when he tells Lois that the story she's going for is a bunch of, "tabloid garbage," and that the Planet has an honorable tradition. Despite his position, Perry can do nothing to stop the paper from being purchased and turned into what he hates. It sickens him to the point that he refuses to work for this kind of paper and, to that end, manages to secure enough funds from the bank at the end of the film to buy back the Planet and turn it back into the respectable newspaper that it was. I really like this angle and it shows us what we've known all along: that despite his bluster and short fuse, Perry is a great, stand-up guy whom you'd be happy to work for despite how demanding he is. And while we're on the subject, Marc McClure does come back one last time as Jimmy Olsen but he does nothing substantial and, therefore, is not even really worth mentioning.

It's the only thing she's good for in this movie.
While there are plenty of new characters introduced here, they have very little to do and are also completely underdeveloped and forgettable. Lacy Warfield (Mariel Hemingway), the daughter of the tycoon who buys the Daily Planet and is put into the position of editor, is a poor substitute for both Lana Lang and Lois Lane, seeing as how she's given just as much attention as the latter, if not a little bit more. She starts out as unscrupulous and greedy as her father and right after meeting Clark, develops a crush on him and tries to seduce him (Clark, of course, isn't affected at all). Not only does Hemingway bring little, if anything, to the table with her acting but her performance is quite uneven. What starts out as an attempt to seduce Clark sporadically turns into genuine affection for him and she also develops scruples, even though absolutely nothing has happened to make her realize that Clark was right about the paper's responsibility to tell the truth. There's absolutely no arc with this character. She simply develops a heart because the plot needs her to. And after Superman saves her from Nuclear Man at the end of the film, she's never seen again. No goodbye, no, "I'm glad you've seen the error of your ways," nothing. Perry just buys the Planet back from her father and that's it, making you wonder what the whole point of her character was in the first place. (I don't think the movie would be affected at all if you took her out.) And her father, David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker), is even more shallow of a character. He's nothing more than a greedy asshole who only cares about making money and doesn't care if he has to publish a newspaper that's not only sleazy but prints lies and creates panic among the populace in order to do so. What an uninspired, nothing character that we've seen a million times before. Even his "comeuppance," if you can call it that, at the end of the film when Perry buys back the Daily Planet, is nothing to write home about. It doesn't feel like he's been punished at all for what he's done and it's likely that he'll continue to create sleazy tabloids without any regard for the effects of their content. Yeah, that'll show him.

Jeremy (Damian McLawhorn), the schoolboy who sends a letter to Superman asking him to do something about the impending crisis of possible nuclear war, is another character that has so little screentime that, like Jimmy Olsen, he's almost not even worth mentioning. His role simply amounts to writing the letter, apparently getting snubbed by Superman (though, the new tabloid-like Daily Planet really played that angle up and made it out to be worse than it really was), and then sporadically appears near the UN building which he walks to with Superman. And after Superman's big speech, he's never seen again. Well, his story accomplished a lot! In addition to the return of Lex Luthor, we also have a stand-in for Otis: Jon Cryer as Luthor's nephew, Lenny, who breaks him out of jail at the beginning of the film. The first time I saw this movie, I was bracing myself because I was sure that Lenny was going to be one of those insufferable comic relief characters that you just want to smack the living crap out of, particularly after I heard the voice that Cryer was using for this performance. However, Lenny does and says so little here that I can't say that I hate him. When he speaks, he does say some really bad lines like, "The Dude of Steel! Boy, are you gonna get it!" or, when Nuclear Man first appears at Luthor's hideout, "Yeah, you're just an experiment, freako!" (which was really stupid on his part) but that's very rare and therefore, I'm not raging about how annoying Lenny was. He's no Otis, though, that's for sure. I know there are some who don't like Otis but at least he was memorable and did some amusing stuff, unlike Lenny. And before we move on, I have to briefly mention Robert Beatty as the President, who appears in one part of the movie when he appears on TV to announce the crisis that's brewing. While there's nothing special about the performance, I have to wonder how old this guy was when he got elected because as it is, he looks very old and gaunt, like he's about to keel over right there. Does the DC universe have no age limit when it comes to the President of the United States? Or maybe I'm just ignorant. (Oddly enough, Beatty actually played President Reagan in the docu-drama, Breakthrough at Reykjavik, the same year and he was quite good from what I hear.)

Yeah, this guy came from Christopher Reeve's DNA.
Okay, let's get to Nuclear Man. First off, I have to comment that this was originally meant to be played by Christopher Reeve as well, which makes sense seeing as how Nuclear Man was spawned from Superman's DNA. If they had gone that route, then you could have thought of it as the series' interpretation of Bizarro. But, Cannon nixed that idea not only because the effects necessary to pull it off would have been too expensive for the financially strapped film but also because they felt that had already been done in Superman III and they didn't want to retread that idea (never mind the fact that they retreaded a lot of other stuff from the previous films, which I'll get to). So, instead of Christopher Reeve playing two characters, which I'm sure would have been great given his performance in the previous film, we get Mark Pillow, some blonde guy who had never appeared in a movie before and has not appeared in one once since. I'm not sure how they found him or why they thought he would be a good choice for this (they must not have had too much faith in him because they had Gene Hackman dub over his voice) but, in any case, they hired him and I'm sure he did what he could. The thing, though, is that Nuclear Man is not the most compelling villain. First, he looks ridiculous in that outfit and with that blonde mullet. Second, he has no personality to him at all except Lex Luthor's desire to destroy Superman (I don't remember getting any explanation as to why he thinks that way other than it's because Luthor created him). He also develops a sudden crush on Lacy that comes out of nowhere and makes no sense at all (it is explained in one of the many scenes that were never even filmed). Third, he doesn't do anything particularly memorable or bad-ass. His battle with Superman is severely underwhelming and all he does is cause some damage in various parts of the world that Superman fixes and he finally manages to get in a cheap shot by scratching Superman and giving him radiation sickness (which he cures himself of very easily). Fourth, his powers are nothing special. He seems to have the same abilities as Superman, including his inexplicable telekinetic abilities, but I think he also can fire energy blasts from his hands. (I think. This film is such a boring mess that it's hard to remember exact details.) And as I said, his long fingernails (which, no offense meant, look rather queer) can give Superman radiation poisoning through a simple scratch. Big whoop. And finally, he's powered by the sun and, as a result, his Achilles heel is, of all things, shade! If he steps out of direct sunlight, he loses his power and becomes catatonic. So if your area's weather mainly consists of clear sunny days, then you're in big trouble. Otherwise, you can just tip him over and you'd be good. Nuclear Man is purely and simply an uninspired, lame villain for an uninspired, lame comic book movie and nothing more.

When people talk about how much Superman IV sucks, they typically go straight for its cheapness and how laughable the effects look. While that certainly is a major problem and, believe me, we'll get into that presently, there are many other flaws present as well. Besides the aforementioned myriad of subplots and how uninspired the acting is, the topics in the film are presented and discussed in such a simple and nonsensical way that it makes you wonder if the script was written by a third grader. Let's start with the film's main focus: the threat of nuclear war. Now, I'm well aware that the threat of the U.S. and the Soviet Union blowing each other up was very prevalent around that time and, therefore, it was a given that there would eventually be a Superman movie dealing with it. Rocky, Rambo, Godzilla, and Patrick Swayze had already taken on the subject of the Cold War, so why not the Man of Steel? Too bad the film's politics are completely screwed up. Now, I will freely admit that I'm a complete moron when it comes to this topic. I flunked politics and American government all throughout school (both high school and college) simply because I don't get it and I'm also just not interested in it. Therefore, I'm hardly the type of person who can criticize a movie for not being too smart about it. But even I just shake my head at the scene in the UN when Superman announces that he's going to rid the world of all nuclear weapons and not only do none of the representatives from the various countries attempt to debate with him on this but he gets a standing ovation. Okay, as ignorant as I am about this subject, I'm sure that it's much more complicated than that. I don't think all the countries of the world would just fire their nuclear missiles up into space so Superman could dispose of them. Heck, if they were all that willing to get rid of them, wouldn't they have already done that? And furthermore, if everyone agrees with Superman that nuclear weapons are evil and the cause of all wars, then why in the hell would they have ever developed them to begin with? In addition, once Superman disposes of all the nuclear weapons, everyone acts as if world peace has finally been attained. Even Lex Luthor, when he meets with a group of arms dealers with his plan to create Nuclear Man, acts as if everything is all hunky-dory in the world now and he promises them that he can get it back to the way it was before. Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't there other types of warfare besides nuclear? Moreover, now that the US and Russia don't have to worry about annihilating the planet, wouldn't they proceed to engage in conventional warfare, with typical weapons and so forth? Do you see the problem yet? These screenwriters (and I'm hoping that this tripe wasn't in Christopher Reeve's original story either) did not do their homework and felt that nuclear weapons were the cause of all the world's international tensions when it's much more complex than that. Going with that logic, you have to wonder why Superman tells Luthor at the end of the film that the world is once again on the brink, "...with good fighting evil." How could that be? Since all of the nuclear weapons are gone, shouldn't there still be world peace? Durr! And I realize that Superman's speech at the end of the film is taken from a speech that President Eisenhower gave but his summation that there will be peace one day when everyone wants it so badly is really dumb as well. You mean people didn't want it back then? And I guess, following that logic, that all of the stuff with Iraq and Afghanistan happened simply because we still didn't want peace hard enough.

Now let's talk about the lead-up to Superman's decision to get rid off all the nuclear weapons. Being conflicted about what to do, Supes goes to the Fortress of Solitude where he confers with the spirits of the Kryptonian Elders and, when he tells them that, even though he's forbidden to interfere with human history (like that's stopped him before), he must save the Earth since it's on the verge of being destroyed like Krypton, one elder says that he can flee to another world where war has long since been abandoned and the other says, "If you teach the Earth to put its fate in any one man, even yourself, you're teaching them to be betrayed." Well, if that's their attitude, then what was the point of sending him to Earth in the first place? Wasn't that Jor-El's reason for doing so, to save humanity by leading them to be a great, peaceful people? I know Jor-El isn't present here but why would he have allowed the fortress to be built with these spirits or holograms, whatever you want to call them, that would tell Superman to abandon the Earth and go somewhere else where war isn't an issue? Wouldn't that negate everything that he himself taught his son while he was traveling to Earth as well as when he came of age to fulfill his purpose? I agree with the one statement that he shouldn't teach them to rely on just one person to fix everything since that could lead to trouble and goes against Jor-El's telling him to allow his leadership to inspire others (not that matters, given what he does afterward) but I still don't like the idea of them telling him, "Forget about the Earth and go somewhere else." While it is good writing, storytelling, and food for thought to force Superman to think about what exactly the right thing to do is, when it's done poorly, it's abysmal. (Plus, that one elder repeating, "Betrayed!" over and over again in that melodramatic voice is hard to take seriously.)

I love the look on Supes' face and how he's like, "Yeah, this is really
As bad as the politics and such are in this movie, the science is just... aah! This stuff is what makes you question the age of the writers. First off, what does Superman do with all of the world's nuclear weapons? He throws them into the sun! Yeah, that was smart. You wanted to save the Earth from blowing itself up and yet, you risked blowing up the sun with all of the world's nuclear weapons. Not only could that have vaporized the Earth but that could have easily wiped out the entire Solar System as well! Speaking of the sun, when Luthor is describing to the arms dealers his plan to create Nuclear Man, he describes the sun as being nothing more than a large nuclear reactor. Like the politics angle, I'm certain there's a lot more to it than that and plus, that makes the idea of all the world's nuclear weapons being thrown into it feel even more disastrous. Let's also not forget the part at the end when Superman moves the whole damn moon to create an eclipse to de-power Nuclear Man! Ignoring the fact that it would be impossible to do that, even for him, can you imagine all the chaos with tidal waves and such that he had to have caused by doing that? And afterward, he drops the weakened Nuclear Man into a nuclear reactor, which not only kills him but increases the reactor's energy output. Wouldn't that have actually made Nuclear Man even more powerful? It's the same thought that I have in Godzilla movies whenever they talk about using nuclear weapons against him. Do they not know that that would probably make him stronger? But in this case, it seems like it did the opposite and actually killed Nuclear Man. I could argue how flawed that logic is until the cows come home but what's the point of doing so with a movie that thinks normal people can breathe in outer space? You could forgive the movie for getting facts about politics and nuclear weapons since those issues are quite complicated. But then, you have the scene where Nuclear Man takes Lacy up into space and not only can she breathe just fine but her body doesn't explode from the change in pressure! I am not letting that one by. When I first saw this movie, I almost lost it. That is elementary school science right there! How do you get that wrong?! Were they even trying?! I know it's a comic book movie but that is the definition of retarded. So, from the complex issues of international tensions and nuclear weapons to the simplest science that the man on the street would know, Superman IV is an idiotic movie on all counts.

One cardinal sin of bad movies that Superman IV commits many times over is reminding you of better movies that you could be watching at the moment. This film rehashes many aspects and scenes of the previous films, particularly the first two and not only is it lazy writing but it makes me wish that I was watching those movies instead. First, we get the green crystal that Superman later uses to cure himself of Nuclear Man's infliction of radiation sickness, which is identical to the way Clark got his powers back in the theatrical version of Superman II. However, you have to wonder what this crystal is since, although it resembles it (and he also found it in the husk of the space-pod he arrived in),  it's obviously not the one that built the Fortress of Solitude, and why he's never used it before.  Speaking of Superman II, his mother Lara is once again the parent who gives him advice and tells him to think hard about what he's going to do before he does it. You don't see a manifestation of Lara here but you do hear her (it is Susannah York's voice, incidentally), although I'm not sure if it's meant to be a recording or her actual spirit. The most blatant callback to one of the previous films is the recreation of the flying scene from the first film that occurs when Lois comes to take Clark to a press conference and instead, he inexplicably leaps off the building with her and reveals that he's Superman. Remember how magical and romantic that sequence was in the original? Yeah, that's not how this feels at all. Not only are the effects bad but the scene is so similar that it feels more appropriate to call it an out and out rip-off. And, like I said, the wonderful feeling the scene in the first film gave you is not here at all. It just feels soulless and empty, like the act of plagiarism it is. And yes, after they get back, Superman once again wipes Lois' memory again with that kiss from Superman II. I'm worried if he keeps doing that, the woman's not going to have many brain cells left. We also have Lex Luthor putting on a disguise in order to put his ultimate plan in motion, just like in the first Superman. Also just like in that film, Luthor gets Superman's attention by creating a signal that only he can sense (in this case, a video signal) and lures him to his hideout by threatening to kill innocent people. And I for one can't help but think of the ending to that first film when Superman flies Luthor back to prison here. You could also say that the way Supes defeats Nuclear Man is akin to how he ultimately defeated General Zod in the second film: he discovered that simply fighting him wasn't going to work and he decided to use a more crafty approach to bring him down. While it's true that finally defeating Nuclear Man took more effort than it did with Zod, the idea is still the same. While it's okay to subtly make references to past films in a series, it's generally a bad idea to do so many to the point where it makes you wish you were watching those movies instead. Plus, doing so in a movie as poor as this makes it even worse.

When Superman IV was first put into production, Cannon intended to give it a healthy budget of $36 million, which would have been a few million dollars more than what Superman III cost. But, with so many other projects in the works as well as a slew of financial problems that they were having at the time, the budget was whittled down to a pathetic $17 million, which is not an effective budget for this kind of film at all (a similar situation had occurred two years prior with King Kong Lives over at DEG) and the result is a film that looks and feels as cheap as it was. The very look of the film itself gives away just how low budget it is. I don't know what kind of film stock cinematographer Ernest Day was forced to shoot with but it doesn't have that lush, bright feel that the previous films had; instead, it looks like a bargain bin version of those films. This is another thing that's hard to explain but you'll know what I mean if you've seen the movie. As for the production design by John Graysmark, it's fair for the most part. The brief bit at the Kent farm at the beginning, the look of Metropolis, the Superman museum, and the apartments of Lois and Clark all serve their purpose nicely. The interior of the Daily Planet looks okay but it's obvious that it's not the same set that was used in the previous films and that can be hard to get used to. The Fortress of Solitude doesn't look that bad, both in terms of the outside and the inside, but you can tell that it's a cheaper version of the amazing set that John Barry designed in the first film. The prison-yard where we first see Lex Luthor and where he's returned to at the end of the movie by Superman is nothing special, just a white, rocky pit (it's so white that could at first mistake it for snow) but that's a lot better to me than his hideout. That place just looks lame to me. Nothing about it is original. Not the design, not the layout, not the wardrobe that his female servants wear, nothing.  (And what was up with that one random woman who was wearing a Renaissance-style dress?) I don't find it as cool as his underground lair in the first film and, if you think about it, Luthor probably shouldn't have made his hideout in one of the top floors of a big building in the middle of the city anyway. By this point, everybody should know that he's escaped from prison and, therefore, it might not have been a good idea to hold up there as well as have meetings with arms dealers there.

There are two locations in particular where the film's low budget really hurts their credibility. One is the scene where Superman walks to the United Nations building with Jeremy and a bunch of other people. If you know anything about New York, then you'd realize that location looks nothing like it and it certainly doesn't look like it leads to the UN either. The filmmakers realized this and begged Cannon to allow them to actually go to New York and shoot in front of the real UN building but they refused and were forced to shoot at Milton Keynes park in England, which doesn't fit the bill. I may have never been to New York but I've seen enough of it to know what it looks like and that wasn't it. The building they walked to looks nothing like the UN either but, instead, like some auditorium, which is what it was apparently. But, as bad as that is, nothing compares to the surface of the moon where Superman and Nuclear Man continue their battle. That is pathetic. Remember that moonscape set that you briefly see in the Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever? That looks more realistic than this, and that really was meant to be just a set in the context of the film!. Not only is it clearly inside of a darkened studio but if you look closely in some shots, you can see the curtains in the background that are meant to be the blackness of space move! It also doesn't help that we already had a sequence on the moon in Superman II that looked infinitely more realistic than this. At least there, they had the money to put stars and the sun into the background. All they could manage here was a brief shot of the sun coming over the horizon.

But what everybody talks about are the effects and there's a good reason for that. As I said in my review of the other movies, I do feel that those effects are a bit dated by today's standards but were undoubtedly groundbreaking for the times and also, they weren't so dated that I couldn't still enjoy those movies overall. The effects in this movie are a completely different story. As much as I understand and sympathize with the plight of the filmmakers during the production, that doesn't negate just how bad these effects are and the impact that they have on watching the film. The action scenes, especially the battles between Superman and Nuclear Man, become tedious and awkward instead of fun and exciting and it's impossible to pay attention to the story or the gravity of what's happening because of how noticeably bad the effects are. I know I've said many times before how I enjoy a lot of bad films but the point I'm trying to make here is that when your film is a bad entry in a franchise that's usually known for being of high quality and the technical aspects are so consistently poor that they're distracting you from the movie itself, you're in big trouble. That's why Superman IV is a prime example of a movie that's so bad that it's unbearable instead of being fun. The shoddy effects get tiresome after a while and become boring, making it impossible to enjoy what should be an exciting comic book movie.

The cheapness of the film is evident right from the opening credits. Superman had those awesome blue credits that fire right at the screen and Superman II had that epic sequence with the credits flying through space interspersed with a recap of the events of the first movie, all while a great rendition of the John Williams theme plays. Here, we get an underwhelming sequence that takes place in a shot of the Earth from space, an S symbol that looks like a tomato in my opinion, and involves the credits flying into frame and then immediately going behind the planet. These lackluster credits that look like something you could create with Windows Movie Maker (I know it was the 1980's but that's what they look like), combined with a really bad version of the theme, do not get you pumped for the movie at all. Now, the question is whether I like these credits or the ones for Superman III better. I don't know. They're both pretty bad. On the one hand, you don't have any stupid slapstick going on behind the credits and you at least have some rendition of the Superman theme instead of that silly music Ken Thorne composed. So, at least this does feel like the opening sequence to a Superman movie, albeit a very poor one. On the other hand the actual credits for Superman III looked better in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, their placement was horrendous and they go by in a way that could cause you to miss the actual title but they do look more appropriate with their Star Wars-like way of crawling upwards. If those had been placed in a shot of space, they would have worked just fine to me. In conclusion, if I had my druthers, I think I'd do a hybrid where we have a shot of space as we do here but use the crawling credits and definitely get a better rendition of the theme than what's in this movie. But if I couldn't do that, I'd probably go with Superman IV but not by much, believe me.

After the opening credits, we get our first bit of Superman action where Supes saves a Russian space station that's sent spiraling out of control and a cosmonaut who was outside of the station and was knocked into space by the impact. While the model effects on the station itself are fair, our first look at Superman here as he flies towards the screen is indicative of what's to come. Not only is that shot terribly rotoscoped but it's used over and over again in this film, just with different background plates like the Metropolis skyline or a clear blue sky. It's one of the major examples of Cannon's cost-cutting methods. It's a shame that there are so many flying sequences in the film, for that matter, because they all look like crap, with terrible blue screen matting and so forth. The scene where Superman and Lois fly around the country? Crap. Supes getting rid of all the nuclear weapons by throwing them into the sun? Really bad. (This and the aforementioned scene with Lois are where his suit's colors are off.) The mid-air battles between him and Nuclear Man? Awkward when they should be exciting. The list just goes on. The only flying scene that looks good is the ending scene of Superman flying above the Earth and that's from the first film! Besides the matting problems, you can also make out the wires in many of the flying scenes as well. They're particularly noticeable in shots of Superman coming in for landing and even if you can't see them, you can still tell that he is in a flying harness like Peter Pan because of the larger red shorts that he wears over it. While this was the case in all the films, the bigger pair of shorts were concealed beforehand by various means, either through the use of camera angles, quick cutting, or just the cape. Here, there's no hiding it at all and it makes it look as if Christopher Reeve had gained weight!

I know I've stated several times already how the special effects ruin the battles between Superman and Nuclear Man but, again, these are meant to be the film's big action scenes, what it's been building up to and yet, you're more likely to find yourself groaning at how awful the effects are rather than being exhilarated by what's going on. In fact, I would go on to say that there are other, less technical reasons why these scenes don't work. One is that, the bad effects aside, there's no energy to these scenes at all. Instead of a big, epic battle like when Superman fought General Zod and his cronies, all he and Nuclear Man do is awkwardly grapple in mid-air with bad blue screen effects behind them, play tag as Supes chases Nuclear Man all over the world and repairs damage that he does, and it ends when Nuclear Man gets a cheap shot on Supes while he's fixing the damage that he's done to the Statue of Liberty (incidentally, look how messed up the perspective is on that shot of Supes carrying the statue through the city). Their second fight on the surface of the moon isn't much better. It feels sluggish and dull with all the bad wire effects used to make them fly across the moonscape at each other and the way he ultimately defeats Nuclear Man by moving the moon to cause an eclipse that will de-power him leaves a lot to be desired for and so does his dropping him into a nuclear reactor. However, I think the major reason why these scenes don't work, aside from the effects, is that there's no build-up to Nuclear Man or the damage that he can do. Due to the film's jumbled storyline, Nuclear Man is just one element in a cluttered mess instead of being the focus of the entire film. When he's created about forty minutes into the film, it doesn't have any impact because there's barely been any talk about Lex Luthor's plan to create him and so, when he and Superman start fighting, you just don't care. Yes, while he does manage to severely injure Superman, that's taken care of right away. If there had been a stretch of the movie where Superman was out of the picture and Metropolis was at the mercy of Luthor and his deadly creation, it would have been much more of an impact. In fact, if that was done, the point where Superman's cape is found and brought to the Daily Planet would have also been more powerful. But, the only real hint of any of this that we get is Luthor getting a bunch of money now that he's eliminated Superman. That doesn't cut it at all. So the lesson here is, bad special effects aside, you can't expect a villain and the damage that he does to have an impact if you don't build up what a threat he is.

All of this talking about how bad the effects are aside, there are some effects that are passable in my opinion. These mainly come in the form of animation that's used to bring Superman's powers to life, like his laser eye-beams, super-breath, and X-ray vision. They may look crude by today's standards but given what we have to put up with throughout most of the movie, they look like ILM by comparison! I also don't mind the animated bolts of electricity that you see when Superman stops the runaway subway train at the beginning of the movie or the orange ones that constantly spark off of Nuclear Man. Again, primitive, but I can't help but smile at them, mainly because they remind me of a time before 98% of special effects were all done digitally. The same goes for the actual birth of Nuclear Man. I've heard some rip on that effect but I think that's a very cool bit of animation where you see him start out as a glowing red fetus then quickly develop into a more full-grown size before finally morphing into the live action Mark Pillow. I like that effect because at least there I can say that it seemed like they were trying. There are some really good practical explosive effects that occur when Nuclear Man is trashing downtown Metropolis to force Superman to take him to Lacy, as well as during the little scuffle inside the Daily Planet building, and nothing beats some good old stop-motion animation, which you see when Superman uses those telekinetic powers to repair the Great Wall of China. That ability may be inexplicable but I always like seeing stop-motion (for the most part, anyway) and this film, despite how bad it is, is no exception. But, as much as I can say enjoy these sporadic effects, I ultimately feel that the majority of the technical work in Superman IV deserves all the jeers that it gets.

I read one review that said that, despite how bad the movie was overall, Sidney J. Furie was able to capture some of the feeling that Richard Donner tried to bring to the first film. I don't see that at all myself. I get what the guy means, that this movie isn't as overly goofy and slapsticky as the previous one was, but I don't feel even the slightest hint of that verisimilitude that Donner brought to the first film. A part of it may be because this film just looks so cheap and doesn't have the impeccable production values that Donner had to work with and another part of it could be because Donner had a better script as well and while I know that's an unfair comparison, I just can't get past it. Plus, while the film does try to be serious for the most part, there's still some over the top comedy present that I could totally see Richard Lester doing. While Luthor's escape from prison and the scene with Clark and Lacy at the gym with Clark having to deal with a dickish trainer are pretty silly and unnecessary (you could have easily cut that latter scene out), the sequence that I'm thinking of is the one where Lois and Lacy are expecting to meet both Clark and Superman at Lois' apartment for an interview with the Man of Steel and he keeps switching between both identities and using his powers to make excuses for why they never wind up in the room together. This whole thing feels like it's right out of a sitcom, and a really bad one for that matter. Not one part of it is amusing or enjoyable and it just goes on and on, far overstaying its welcome. Plus, we have some hi-larious slapstick with Clark getting "caught" on a luggage cart as well as him clumsily knocking some dishes over at one point up in the apartment. This stuff must have made Christopher Reeve groan because I heard that he enjoyed getting to make Clark less clumsy in the previous film and here, he's regressed horribly. It's simply not funny and makes an already intolerable movie all the more so.

Normally, I don't talk about deleted scenes but since there was over forty minutes of footage cut from Superman IV, I think I should mention at least a little bit of it. The deleted material that everybody talks about is the stuff involving a prototype Nuclear Man that Luthor creates before coming up with the one that appears in the final film. A reason that's often given for why this section of the film was deleted is because when the movie was shown before a test audience, they pointed out a bunch of bad special effects. As opposed to all of the great effects that are in the rest of the movie? I, however, would guess that if there's any real reason why that subplot was deleted, it was probably because they realized how stupid it was. The sight of that thing with spiky black hair and a dopey expression on his face acting like a big child makes me cringe, especially when he's first created and stumbles around Luthor's lair completely naked save for some object strapped to his waist that blocks his privates. I think if they had shot this in a more serious manner, had the first Nuclear Man be evil but not quite as aggressive as the final one, and filmed the scene in the script where he becomes attracted to Lacy, which would have explained the second Nuclear Man's inexplicable desire for her later on, it would have worked a lot better. Speaking of the second Nuclear Man, they took out some stuff that made him seem much more dangerous than he is in the final cut, including a sequence where he flies to Smallville and causes a tornado. Not only does the tornado destroy a farmhouse but it also sucks up a little girl whom Superman has to save. That shows a more lethal side to Nuclear Man than him simply blowing some holes in the Great Wall of China and starting a little lava flow in a volcano in Italy that threatens a small group of people. Speaking of which, they also deleted a scene near the end of the movie where Nuclear Man nearly causes World War III and Superman has to use Lacy to distract and stop him. Again, it's a sign that Nuclear Man isn't one to be messed with and that he's so unstable that his idea of "fun" is causing mass death and destruction. If they had been able to finish the special effects in these scenes (as good as this effects team could have possibly done, anyway), I think it would have added a little more meat to the film and would have given a sense that the sequence where he was causing damage across the globe was only a taste of how truly destructive he is. They also cut out a little more of Superman suffering from the radiation sickness that Nuclear Man inflicts upon him and, again, this would have shown just how dangerous a villain he is and how careful Superman needs to be when he confronts him again after healing himself. One final scene I definitely think they should have left in is early in the movie when Superman tells Jeremy why he can't do what he asked him to in his letter. If they had left that in, I think the Daily Planet's lying about how Superman told the kid to, "drop dead," would have had more of a punch, would have shown what a sleazy and disrespectful newspaper Warfield has made the Planet into, and, ultimately, it would have been more incentive for Superman to do what he eventually does and not make Jeremy feel so useless. Plus, the scene where he flies with Superman over the world and they notice how all the countries seem to merge into one could have been left in and, again, would have made the story a bit more effective. All in all, while I don't think these scenes would have made Superman IV a great movie, I think leaving some in and tweaking others would have made it a lot better than it was and, at the very least, the good intentions that went into the movie would not have gone completely to waste.

The opening credits would like you to think that John Williams did the score for this movie but, in fact, most of the composing was done by a friend and collaborator of his named Alexander Courage. Williams apparently did create three new themes for the characters of Lacy, Jeremy, and Nuclear Man but he must have been really distracted because they're absolutely unmemorable and I cannot even begin to tell you what they sounded like (to be fair, though, it seems as though the cutting down of the film pretty much destroyed Jeremy's theme). Courage also composed some new music of his own for the Russians and whenever nuclear missiles are discussed but, again, I don't remember at all. I can tell you that his rendition of the Superman theme sucks. Ken Thorne's version may not have been as good as the original by Williams but it still sounded heroic and appropriate. This sounds, like everything else in the movie, very cheap, like a high school band is playing it. The other cues from the previous scores that return here, like the love theme for Superman and Lois, sound okay but this version of the theme is pathetic. It's kind of appropriate, actually,  because this entire movie is a nickel and dime version of the greatness of the original films in the same way that this version of the theme is to John Williams' great composition.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is a prime example of what you get when you try to do a big spectacle film on a budget that's unfit for it. The story is cluttered and muddled, the actors seem to be going through the motions and don't come across as interested in the proceedings, the effects are absolute balls, and, worst of all, the film is a boring experience that's completely forgettable. This movie tanked so badly that it killed Superman's film career for nearly two decades and it really hurt Christopher Reeve's career as well. I think that's the biggest tragedy here, that this awful movie is the last time that we got to see Reeve as Superman. What a way for him to go out after he so perfectly played the character before and made him not only heroic but down-to-Earth and human as well. I'm sure that there are people out there who enjoy this film (although they're likely few and far between) and that's cool but for me, this is an embarrassing and pathetic movie that acts as a sad cap on Christopher Reeve's tenure of playing the Man of Steel, a tenure that began with him doing it so well that he became the live-action image of the character for millions and, no doubt, still is to this day.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Franchises: The First Superman Film Series. Superman III (1983)

File:Superman III poster.jpgThis was the last of the Superman movies that I saw in any aspect whatsoever. I had seen a little bit of Superman IV when I was a very young kid, the latter half of Superman II at some point during middle school, and I saw bits of the first film before I finally saw all of it when I was much older, but the 2006 DVD releases of all the films was the first time I saw Superman III at all. Thinking back, it was also the one I had the least sense of personally when I went into it. I knew the first two films were very beloved and that Superman IV was widely regarded as a horrible misfire but, while I had heard people describe Superman III as being the point where the series started to fall apart, I generally didn't hear much talk about. They only briefly mentioned it in the documentary Look Up In The Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman and they didn't talk about it at all on the episode of Biography about Christopher Reeve so going into it, the only impression I had was that it was considered to be bad. People just said, "It's bad," and that would be all she wrote. In any case, when I finally saw Superman III, my initial impression was, "Well, it's definitely a step down from the first two." The problems with the film were apparent from the get-go: too much comedy and the presence of Richard Pryor. Neither of those belong in a Superman movie. That said, though, I don't despise it as much as most do. While it certainly does have a lot of flaws and I can't, in good conscience, call it a good movie, I do think it has some redeeming aspects and it certainly doesn't bore me. If you've read my reviews, you'd know that the latter aspect is what can make or break a film for me, that I often don't care how bad or incompetently made a film is so long as I'm entertained. Superman III is undeniably a very flawed film but there are things here that I do genuinely enjoy, which is why this isn't an installment of Movies That Suck.

Gus Gorman is a bumbling ne'er-do-well who can't hold down a job to save his life. He decides to take a job as a computer programmer at Webster Industries and discovers that he has a real knack for it. To that end, he uses his skills to embezzle a large sum of money from the company but when the CEO, Ross Webster, discovers this, he's actually impressed with Gorman's skill and decides to use it as a means to help him take over the world financially. Meanwhile, Clark Kent heads back to Smallville for his high school reunion and meets up with Lana Lang, an old school friend of his. While the two of them catch up, Webster employs Gorman's computer knowledge to help him gain a monopoly on the world's supply of coffee and oil. When Superman thwarts the former part of his plan, Webster orders Gorman to use his computer knowledge to create a chunk of Kryptonite. However, when his computer is unable to scan one element that makes up Kryptonite, Gorman replaces it with cigarette tar instead and as a result, instead of killing him, the makeshift Kryptonite causes Superman's personality to shift dramatically. He becomes selfish, mean, and destructive, causing random acts of extreme vandalism across the globe. With the Man of Steel no longer a threat, Webster embarks on his plan to take control of the world's oil supply and in exchange for his services, agrees to build Gorman a massive supercomputer that can do anything it's told to. With his dark side growing stronger each day, Superman must wage an inner battle in order to rid himself of his demons and save the world's economy from the megalomaniac.

Superman III suffers from the same issue that a lot of sequels tend to fall prey to: an overcomplicated plot. Any of the storylines present here (Clark Kent meeting back up with a friend of his from high school, Superman dealing with a CEO who's obsessed with controlling the world's finances, an advanced supercomputer that becomes self-aware, or his own inner demons) could have worked in their own separate films. Unfortunately, the screenwriters found it necessary to cram them all into one movie and while this film doesn't feel as crowded as others like it do (such as RoboCop 2 or Spider-Man 3), it's still a bit much. That said, it seems as though the movie that we got is nothing compared to what the original plan was: it was supposed to involve the characters of Brainiac (I guess the supercomputer at the end of the film is the stand-in for him), Mxyzplik, and Supergirl (who would be the focus of her own film produced by the Salkinds the following year). Even crazier was the supposed idea that Brainiac was meant to have found Supergirl much like how the Kents discovered baby Kal-El and over time, had actually fallen in love with his adopted daughter. But, when Supergirl didn't return Brainiac's feelings and fell for Superman instead, this would have prompted Brainiac to try to destroy the Man of Steel. I don't know about you but that sounds like one wild film and, while I doubt it would have been any better than this, I would have actually liked to have seen how that would have panned out if Warner Bros. hadn't rejected it.

As I said back in my review of the theatrical cut of Superman II, Richard Lester is a guy whose motivations don't make any sense to me. At the time the first film was being made, he was actually suing the Salkinds for royalties he felt he didn't get from the two Three Musketeers films he directed for them and yet, not only did he agree to step in and complete Superman II when the Salkinds canned Richard Donner but he agreed to direct the entirety of this film as well. Again, why would you work a second time with some people who you think cheated you out of a hefty sum of money the first time? In any case, with no material shot by another director to sift through here, Lester was completely free when shooting Superman III and basically decided to make it less of a superhero movie and more of a goofy slapstick comedy which, as I've said in previous reviews, was apparently what the Salkinds wanted these movies to be anyway. By the way, let me say something about Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler: those guys are so full of shit. It's been well documented that the reason why Gene Hackman isn't in this film and Margot Kidder is only at the beginning and end was due to their anger towards the Salkinds for how badly they treated Richard Donner on the first film and yet, in the audio commentary on the DVD for this film, Ilya Salkind says that the part of Lois Lane was whittled down to explore a new love interest for Clark Kent and that Hackman couldn't be in this film due to other film commitments. What a load of baloney. Some may say that everyone has their own side of the story and while that may be so, from everything that I've heard about the Salkinds, I still don't think that they sound like people I would trust. They seem very shady to me. But, that's beside the point. In any case, Richard Lester only directed three more films after Superman III: a comedy called Finders Keepers the following year, another Three Musketeers film, The Return of the Three Musketeers, in 1989, and finally, Get Back, a 1991 concert film that he did for his friend Paul McCartney. After that, he basically retired from filmmaking.

Superman III may be a step down from the previous two films but the good thing is that Christopher Reeve is not only still on form in the title role but, surprisingly, also gets to add some new dimensions to the character. (By the way, isn't it sad that this is the entry where he finally gets top-billing in the opening credits?) As Clark Kent, he's much less clumsy and awkward here than he was before and is genuinely excited when Perry White allows him to go to his high school reunion, telling him that it might make a good story. At the same time, though, there's a subtle hint that he's maybe a bit tired of everyone he knows in Metropolis only being interested in Superman and not really giving a crap about him, like in the scene when he tells everybody at the Daily Planet that he's heading off and no one bats an eyelash. That carries over when he meets up with his old school friend Lana Lang and she and her young son, Ricky, eventually meet Superman for the first time. Rick asks Clark if he can get Superman's autograph for him and Clark groans, "Boy, if I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that." At first, it's rather sad to see that Clark is still competing with himself when it comes to how people interact with his two identities but that feeling is quickly done away with when, after Clark tells Lana that she can be assured that Superman will be at Ricky's birthday party, she tells him, "Tell Superman we think he's wonderful. But Clark, you're the best!" Clark is clearly very happy at that statement and he has a right to be. In Lana, he's found someone who, though she does admire Superman and thinks that he's incredible, is more to attached to the more down to Earth, mild-mannered persona of Clark. As a result, you feel that he now might be a little more comfortable with his double-life than he has been in the past.

As Superman, Reeve gets to do more here than just play the typical do-gooder again; he gets to play a corrupted, evil version of the Man of Steel as well. This gives us an opportunity to see even more of what a great actor Reeve was and, in fact, this was one of the few aspects of the film that was actually praised by critics. He starts out exactly how he's always been: pure, moral, and always willing to help whenever trouble arises. But, when he comes into contact with the makeshift Kryptonite that Gus Gorman creates, he pulls a complete 180. He becomes selfish and nasty, actually hitting on Lana when the Kryptonite first takes effect and ignoring the fact that she just told him that there's a situation brewing nearby that needs his help. By the time he finally comes to his senses and arrives there, he discovers that he was too late to help. This seems to accelerate his descent into darkness seeing as how, immediately afterward, Superman begins committing acts of vandalism across the globe. He straightens up the Leaning Tower of Pisa (angering this guy who's selling ceramic replicas of the tower as souvenirs) and, in a very dickish move, blows out the Olympic Torch at the tale end
of the event. He even unknowingly aids Webster in his plan to control the world's oil supply when the CEO's lovely assistant gets him to maroon one stray tanker in the middle of the ocean in exchange for her... services. The scene where Superman arrives at her place after doing what she told him to do and then leans down onto her, going off-camera as he does so, rather shocked me the first time I saw that. Even now, I still can't believe that they showed Superman doing that. I know he wasn't himself at the time but that's a horrific moment nonetheless. During this section, his costume begins to change, with the brightness of the colors fading to the point where the blue becomes quite dark and the red basically turns brown. He also develops the hint of a five o'clock shadow as well. This all comes to a head in a scene where you actually Superman in a bar! You see Supes downing shots like a boss and flicking peanuts across the bar, breaking anything that they hit. After this, Lana's son Ricky calls out to him, telling him that he's just in a slump and that he'll become great again. When he hears this, Superman decides to fight against his newly developed evil nature and after he lands in a junkyard, his two identities literally come apart. This leads to the best scene in the movie where the corrupted Superman battles the good-hearted Clark Kent (who still has his super strength, I might add). During this fight, you get a little more insight into the conflict that's always been present between the two, with Superman telling Clark, "You've been getting on my nerves for a long time!" Christopher Reeve seems to be having a lot of fun being bad in this scene, like when the evil Superman grabs Clark and before throwing him, says, "You always wanted to fly, Kent. Now's your chance!" I also like his line as Clark when he tells his evil half, "I can give as good as I get." It's a really good scene all-around (I'll elaborate on it further later) and is actually quite a brilliant way to make the main character's internal battle literal. Eventually, Clark manages to defeat his evil half and after doing so, opens his shirt to reveal that the suit has returned to its normal bright color and that the real Superman is back. He then proceeds to fix the damage his evil counterpart caused and to stop Webster from accomplishing his evil plan. Reeve played Superman's gradual descent into evil, as well as the literal battle between the two halves, very well and showed what a great actor he truly was. It's just a shame that this couldn't have been in a better movie or have had a movie entirely devoted it instead of being made into a subplot here. But still, what he was able to create in this film is still very impressive.

Now, we go from the best part of the film's cast to the worst part and, ironically, this guy's presence here was used to sell the movie. Richard Pryor was a great comedian, there's no doubt about that, but he did not belong in a comic book movie at all. It's not bad enough that he's not funny here but, even worse, he's so over-the-top that he's annoying. His constant mugging and the silly sounds and voices that he does get old very quickly. A lot of people point to one scene in particular as the prime example of how unfunny he is here and it's so perfect that I'm going to use it as well. It's the scene where Gus Gorman informs Webster that Superman spoiled his plan to ruin Colombia's coffee crop with the hurricane he created by hacking into a satellite. He yanks the tablecloth off the table, wraps it around his neck like a cape, and proceeds to act out everything that Superman did, all the while shouting in that high-pitched, excited, stuttering voice of his. (The part where he says that Superman landed in the middle of a big plantation, jumps up, and goes, "Dun, dun, dun, da!" when he lands really makes me cringe.) It just goes on and on and on to the point where you're begging for somebody to shut him up. What's more is that this leads to him skiing uncontrollably off the roof of the building, falling hundreds of stories, and eventually landing on the side of the street unharmed. Right then, you know that the movie has officially become a cartoon. The scene where he arrives dressed as a general in order to give Superman the synthetic Kryptonite is also pretty annoying, with the gruff, growling voice that he uses as well as the over-the-top physical schtick that he does there as well. (If George C. Scott ever saw that, he probably went to a bar and started drinking.) I could go on and describe how unfunny Pryor is here in even more detail but all you have to do is watch the movie yourself to get the full gist of it. However, what's not talked about as much is the fact that Gus Gorman, when all is said and done, is not a very likable character. From the beginning, he's a conman who uses his new-found skill with computers to embezzle money and when Ross Webster employs him to help take over the world financially, he doesn't appear to have any qualms about hacking into a weather satellite and causing a major hurricane that messes up Colombia. He also doesn't have a problem with attempting to create a chunk of Kryptonite and giving it to Superman with the intent of killing him. (What exactly was his escape plan for when Superman dropped dead in front of that huge crowd anyway?) And, finally, the only conflict he initially has with Webster is when he feels he's not getting his piece of the pie and asks him to help him build a giant supercomputer in exchange for his services. Why does he want a huge supercomputer that can do anything in the first place? What was he planning to use it for? As if things weren't bad enough, not only is Gorman not a sympathetic character but his motivations are uneven. Over halfway into the film, he suddenly develops morals. He appears to take issue with Webster's oil scheme, is unhappy when Webster uses the newly completed supercomputer to attack Superman (what did he expect?) and, most sporadically of all, he's suddenly concerned for Superman when the computer starts blasting him with a ray of pure Kryptonite, even though he earlier gave him a chunk of the stuff for the exact same purpose. Again, where did this sense of morality suddenly come from? And finally, the cherry on top of this sundae of crap is when Superman drops Gorman off a coal mine where he's offered a job involving computers. It seems as though Gorman has learned is lesson, is ready to ready to get a job that's both steady and decent, and even thanks Superman for the opportunity... and after Superman flies off, Gorman turns down the job and decides to walk a long distance in order to get to a bus. Something tells me that, despite his apparent change of heart, Gorman really hasn't learned a damn thing and is probably going to go somewhere else where he can use his computer  expertise for petty theft again, making this whole scene and everything before it completely pointless. Mr. Pryor, you may have been a great comedian but you weren't funny at all in this film and the character you played was poorly written and, ultimately, not a good person. For the remainder of his life, Pryor did say that this was one of the movies he did that he regretted, so at least he realized that he didn't belong here at all and knew what a bad job he did. He sadly was and still is one of the worst aspects of Superman III and is a big reason why it's looked down upon so much.

Another weak aspect of this film is Robert Vaughn as the villain, Ross Webster. After such memorable villains like Lex Luthor and General Zod, Webster is instantly forgettable simply because he's so one-note. He's a multimillionaire who isn't satisfied with the enormous wealth that he already has and is determined to control the world's most financially significant  resources and employs Gus Gorman's amazing computer skills to help him do so. And when Superman stands in the way of his scheme, he also becomes obsessed with destroying the Man of Steel in any way he can. That's all the motivation that he has and, as a result, he comes off as very shallow and uninteresting. This kind of villain would have worked back in the late 30's, early 40's when Superman first become popular but not in the 1980's. In fact, Webster is basically a poor man's version of Lex Luthor and if Gene Hackman hadn't been angry at the Salkinds, it wouldn't have been at all impossible for him to reprise the role here and keep everything else the same. Vaughn does what he can and does seem to be trying but the script doesn't allow for any of the charisma and entertainment value that Hackman brought to the part of Luthor and he comes across as just flat. It's a shame that they couldn't have gone ahead with their original plan to incorporate either Brainiac or Mxyzptlk into the film because either of them would have been far more memorable than Webster.

Like Luthor before him, Webster has a couple of cohorts and, also like him, neither of them particularly memorable. One is his sister, Vera (Annie Ross), a big, husky woman who is absolutely dead-serious and is constantly annoyed by both Gus Gorman and Webster's other cohort, Lorelei Ambrosia. The only memorable aspects of this character is, one, Gorman mistakes her for Webster's mother when he first meets her (what a weak joke) and, two, when Gorman's supercomputer becomes self-aware and goes berserk, it briefly turns her into some sort of cyborg-like monster. Other than that, though, Vera is as forgettable as her brother. And then there's Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson), Webster's secretary. She has an odd gimmick in that she acts like a stereotypical stupid blonde bimbo most of the time but when no one's around, we see that she's actually very intelligent, reading Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and disagreeing with Kant's conclusions. My question is, "Why doesn't she want anyone else to know that she's smart?" I don't get why she feels the need to act like a complete idiot whenever there are other people around her. In addition, she's the one who talks the corrupted Superman into helping with Webster's oil scheme in exchange for having sex with her. I know I said this before but that whole idea still makes me go, "Ugh!" And she seemed to actually connect with him as a result because when Superman shows up at the climax to stop their supercomputer, she not only says, "Hi, Superman!" but also hopes that he'll triumph, prompting Webster and Vera to give her looks that say, "What?!"

While she's not as memorable as Margot Kidder's Lois Lane, Annette O'Toole does manage to bring something to her role of Lana Lang. While Lana is a little scatterbrained, constantly jumping from one subject to another so fast that Clark is often unsure of what she's talking about, she's very kind and compassionate as well as a little sad, having to raise her little boy, Ricky (Paul Kaethler), after she and her husband split up and has to deal with the advances of the constantly drunken Brad. Most importantly, while she does think that Superman is as cool as they come, she's much more interested in Clark. She's always confiding in him, telling him how she feels and whatnot, and it's because of his advice that she decides to move to Metropolis, realizing that she's not going to get anywhere in Smallville. In
fact, in the scene where Clark is helping Lana clean up the gym after the reunion, she drifts off while looking at his high-school photo and thinks to herself, "The one that got away." I really like this whole idea and it's a shame that Lana is only in this one movie, particularly since she becomes Perry White's secretary at the end, because they could have written a whole film around the conflict that Lana likes Clark whereas Lois, while seeing Clark as a friend, is truly in love with Superman. I'll give the producers and screenwriters some credit, though, for remembering Lana from her brief appearance during the Smallville segment of the first film where she was the only who really liked and cared for Clark and brought that idea back two movies later. That type of thing is sometimes hard to find in franchises like this so I have to give them props. Finally, to briefly mention Ricky, while he does like Clark, he's truly an excited fanboy when he first meets Superman, receives an autograph from him courtesy of Clark, and is ecstatic when Superman agrees to visit him for his birthday party. Ultimately, it's his belief in Superman and his telling him that he's just going through a rough patch and that he'll be great again that prompts Supes to fight and ultimately defeat his evil side.

Another callback to the first film here is the presence of Brad Wilson, the jock who had his eye on Lana and bullied Clark by ruining all the cleanup work that he had just completed so he wouldn't be able to join them in the fun they were about to partake in. Here, Brad (Gavan O'Herlihy) is far removed from the talented football player that he seemed to have been. Now he's a drunk security guard who's constantly hitting on Lana despite the amount of times that she's rejected his advances, recounts his glory days to anyone who will listen as evidenced in his first scene at the reunion, and is none too pleased to see that Clark has returned to Smallville and is getting Lana's attention. While it's not extreme, he still puts Clark down every chance he gets and just plain doesn't like him being there. At the end of the movie when Brad arrives at Lana's Metropolis apartment and sees Clark giving her a diamond ring (he's just giving it to her to replace the ring that she had to sell a long time ago but when Brad walks in, Clark happens to be down on his knee like he's proposing to her), that tears it for Brad. He tells Clark that he's always hated him, saying, "You're a nice guy, and nice guys finish last!" and tries to attack him but that's foiled in a way that's quite humiliating for him. While this instance is another addition to the film's problem of being far too slapsticky for its own good, the drunken prick still got what he deserved.

As usual, you have the ever reliable Jackie Cooper and Marc McClure back as Perry White and Jimmy Olsen. Cooper doesn't have much new to do with Perry but he's just as lovably hot-headed as always, annoyed by an assistant who's constantly bugging him to pull out the winning numbers for a contest held at the Daily Planet and irritated with Jimmy for going to a dinner party and bringing back a bunch of unremarkable pictures. He's even more irritated when Jimmy didn't get a single picture when Superman saved a guy whose car was filling up with water at the beginning of the film, and when Jimmy says that he didn't have his camera with him, Perry says, "A photographer eats with his camera. A photographer sleeps with his camera." (I like how Jimmy mouths the words along with Perry, indicating that he's been given this speech many times before.) But, despite how hot-headed he is, Perry, his initial reservations aside, is good enough to let Clark go to his high-school reunion on the promise that it will make a for good story. As for Jimmy Olsen, McClure has a bit more to do here than he did in the previous two films. That's not saying much, though, but still, it's worth mentioning. When Clark embarks on his pilgrimage back to Smallville, Jimmy goes with him as his photographer and actually talks his ear off about his relatives' old recipes. (God, Jimmy, are you like 70 or something?) But, en route to Smallville, they come upon a fire at a chemical plant and while Superman attempts to extinguish the flames, Jimmy gets way too close to the disaster in order to get pictures of it and falls and breaks his leg. He actually would have burned to death had Superman not flown him out. Jimmy is sent back to Metropolis with his broken leg, much to the annoyance of Perry, who forces him to take some pictures in the office of the Daily Planet even though his leg is in a cast. I actually wouldn't have minded if Jimmy had managed to make the trip with Clark because it would have given McClure something else to do and we might have been able to get to know Jimmy just a little bit more.

It's fitting that she's listed last in the opening credits because Margot Kidder might as well have not been in Superman III at all. Due to her very public criticism of the Salkinds (and, again, I don't give a crap about what Ilya Salkind has to say about it nowadays), her role here was limited to what is essentially a cameo, appearing briefly at the beginning before she goes off to her vacation in Bermuda and at the end when she comes back from said vacation, actually with a story about corruption. (Although, Perry proves here that he's not very good with geography since he referred to it as, "Corruption in the Caribbean," even though Lois went to Bermuda.) It's too bad that things worked out this way for Kidder because, as opposed to how frail and sickly she looked during the re-shoots for Superman II, she looks very lovely here. And, as I said before, it's a shame that these films didn't continue on with the relationship between Clark and Lana Lang because there's a hint of it at the end when Lois is already visibly jealous when Clark takes Lana out to lunch instead of her. It could have made for a great love triangle, especially when you take into account both women's aforementioned different relationships with the two identities.

While the quality of the series had certainly taken a dip by this point, you can't deny that this film's $39 million budget is right there on the screen. The movie looks top notch, with some well designed sets by Peter Murton. Besides the always great looking set used for the Daily Planet and the Pinewood backlot used for Metropolis (which really does look like a street in the middle of a big city), you also have some nice practical locations like the wheat-fields and plains of Alberta,  Canada that are used for Smallville and the impressive Glen Canyon in Utah that serves as the setting for the action scene that leads to the climax. The new sets like the interiors of the computer rooms and offices, the gymnasium where the high school reunion takes place, and the bowling alley all look appropriate and serve their purpose well and so does the junkyard where Superman battles his inner demons. There are two sets in particular that really catch my eye. One is Ross Webster's office and penthouse and, like Lex Luthor in this first film, he has a pretty cool pad. It's this huge open room with lots of silver on the decorum as well as a big shag carpet in the center of it, a workout section on one side, a bookcase on another, along with Webster's desk and a rotating bar no less. The outside of the penthouse even has makeshift snow and a slope that Webster uses to ski. (Stuff like this can make you think of becoming evil because it seems like there's a reward to choosing corruption over purity.) The other set is the huge supercomputer that Webster has built for Gus Gorman. I don't think I even have to say anything about it. Just look at it up top. As the Riddler would say, "Now, that's impressive!" Certainly has a very comic book look to it, which is very cool. It's not too far-fetched to assume that there was probably something like this that Superman dealt with in the comics during the science fiction boom of the 1950's. Say what you will about the film itself but you can't tell me that the supercomputer is not a knockout.

Not only is the production design top notch but so are the special effects. By this point, the effects artists had really mastered what was originally very difficult and time consuming work. First off, the flying scenes look better here than they ever have before in my opinion. Every once in a while you still get some noticeable rear-projection and blue screen effects but for the most part, it's quite seamless. However, that said, they weren't as successful with keeping the blue of Superman's costume consistent this time around. There are many shots here where his suit is clearly turquoise instead of actual blue. No big deal, though. Also, the rotoscoping and matting effects, like when Superman uses his laser eyebeams or when he deals with the rays that the supercomputer fires at him, are extremely well done. Yes, they do look cartoonish but I've always felt that these effects have a charm to them that CGI doesn't. The physical and model effects look good as well, like when Superman straightens up the Leaning Tower of Pisa (while it is clear that the sculptor was filmed in front of a blue screen, the effect behind him does look quite convincing) or when he gets trapped inside that plastic bubble that the supercomputer hits him with. The most astonishing effect to me is during the battle in the junkyard. While there are some obvious body doubles apparent, there are also many shots, some of which last quite a while, where you can see Christopher Reeve's face both as the evil Superman and Clark Kent and it does look like Reeve is battling with himself in those instances. Finally, I have to comment on the video game graphics that you see during the sequence when Webster is using the weapons systems placed throughout the canyon against Superman. For 1983, those graphics are very advanced. In fact, they were apparently so life-like at first that they were asked to tone them down and make them look more like actual computer graphics. I'd be interested in seeing what those original graphics looked like actually because the way they look in the finished film already looked quite good and realistic. Whatever else you can say about Superman III, you can't deny that every penny of its substantial budget is right there.

So far, I think I've been fairly lenient on Superman III but now we get to what many agree is the biggest problem with the flick: the tone. Good God, where do I begin with this? Well first, I'm going to say that I just don't understand why the Salkinds thought that making a Superman film campy and comedic was the way to go. And let's not forget that they had been trying to do this from the beginning. They tried to force Richard Donner to make the first film overtly comedic but he refused, leading to a lot of tension between them that resulted in his being fired from completing Superman II. Then, when they hired Richard Lester, who was mainly known for comedies, to finish the sequel, they got him to put as much comedy as possible into the new material that he shot. In recent years, Ilya Salkind has said that the reason they wanted to go this way was because a Superman movie should be made for children. Um, did they just completely ignore the enormous success of the first two films? Those weren't made strictly for children, despite the Salkinds' attempt to do so with the added footage in Superman II, and yet kids back did really enjoy them. And on that note, I don't see how putting in the suggested sex between the evil Superman and Lorelei and casting a comedian whose shtick was being as vulgar and un-PC as possible in one of the lead roles was supposed to appeal to children. Confused priorities, much? But anyway, with Donner and Tom Mankiewicz completely out of the picture for Superman III, the Salkinds and Lester were now free to bring their infinitely more comedic version of the character to the screen and yes, I'm lumping Lester into this as well. As I said, Lester's preferred genre was comedy and according to something that Christopher Reeve himself once said, he fully embellished this approach and, "Was always looking for a gag." As a result, Reeve, like a good portion of the fans, did not care for this film at all and felt that making it primarily a slapstick comedy starring Richard Pryor had ruined any potential it had. I wouldn't say it completely ruined it since there are a number of aspects to this film that I do like but I do agree that it is far too silly and goofy for its own good and was totally the wrong approach.

Fitting that this is where Lester's credit appears, isn't it?
Right from the very start of the film, you know you're in for it. Instead of the awesome space-oriented opening credits sequences that were used in the two previous films (and, more or less, would be used again in the last two films in this series), we get some really lazy credits that look similar to the Star Wars text crawls superimposed over a montage of mind-numbing slapstick. It's just one gag after another, with a guy who's too busy looking at Lorelei to watch where he's going slamming into a pole, knocking over a bunch of wind-up, plushy penguins that a vendor is selling, a woman on roller-skates (what is with Richard Lester and roller-skates?) crashing into a hot-dog vendor's cart that proceeds to knock over three phone booths like dominoes, one of the toy penguins getting set on fire (I don't even know what that object was that set it on fire) and Clark eventually using his super-breath when no one's looking to blow it out, a seeing eye-dog getting away from his owner and proceeding to knock over a woman carrying a sack of groceries, said blind man mistaking a road-painting device for his dog, and so on. When I first saw this movie, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. This is ridiculous! I've shown this sequence to people who've never seen the movie before, telling them, "Look at this pandemonium and tell me if you would think that this was the opening to a Superman movie." I always get the same answer: no, and for good reason. I'm a fan of slapstick and love the Three Stooges and all but this stuff doesn't belong in this type of movie. Seriously, a bucket full of paint falling on a guy's head? A mime (that's right, a mime) slipping and causing another guy to fall? Clark preventing a pie from falling on Lorelei by grabbing it and unintentionally splatting another guy in the face with it? It just doesn't fit. (And I didn't even describe everything that goes on in this sequence.) And yeah, there are many more comedic instances in this movie but this was just insane and unnecessary to say the least.

I hate to admit it but I can't look at this
without smirking.
As I said earlier, Richard Pryor's antics in this movie are painfully unfunny. Whether it's those aforementioned scenes where he acts out how Superman ruined Webster's initial plan (I love how in that scene, the camera cuts to Robert Vaughn staring incredulously at Pryor, making me wonder if he's actually acting in that shot) or dresses up like a general in order to give Supes the synthetic Kryptonite, nothing about him works at all. One sequence that makes the film even more cartoonish than it already was at that point is when Gorman bribes his way into a business office for Webster Industries in Smallville by getting Brad, who's the security guard there, drunk (as well as himself) so he can take control of a weather satellite and use it to destroy Colombia's coffee crop. Another unfunny bit of shtick follows where Gorman has to use the passed out Brad to turn on the main computer (two keys on opposite sides of the computer have to be turned at the same time) so he can try to hack into the satellite but he makes a bunch of errors before eventually doing so. Said errors cause havoc with computers everywhere, leading to a bit where the traffic signals in the middle of a city (I'm guessing it's Metropolis) go haywire and create a bunch of chaos. There's a shot during all of this where the WALK and DON'T WALK traffic signals actually start fighting each other! What?! I know it's a comic book movie and that you shouldn't take it seriously but this completely destroys any of the believability and verisimilitude that Donner and Mankiewicz strove to instill in the first movie. Speaking of Smallville, during the high school reunion there's a part where the guy who's acting as the DJ is dancing to the music and, out of nowhere, there's a brief shot of his crotch rocking back and forth as he dances. Yeah, we really needed that. As much as like Christopher Reeve's performance as Evil Superman, even most of the vandalism that he commits doesn't amount to much more than mean-spirited, childish pranks. While there are some bits of humor in the film that are more in line with the sly kind that was present in the first one (like Perry White's exasperation with his assistant and Jimmy Olsen), it's so overwhelmed by all of this over the top, cartoony junk that it's unlikely that you would notice it. Watching this film again, it's small wonder why Lester is so despised among Superman fans because, again, he took what started out as a respectable, well-meaning series of comic book films and turned it into a joke.

Its egregious amount of humor aside, Superman III does have a lot of action, which is something that I will give Lester. Even though he was mainly interested in comedy scenes, he does know how to do good action as well, as evident in the big battle in Metropolis from Superman II. Here, we get to see a lot of Superman doing what he does best. While there are small cliffhanger moments as well, like when Supes saves a guy from drowning inside his car when it drives over and gets stuck on a fire hydrant during the opening credits or when he saves Lana's son Ricky when the kid fell and knocked himself unconscious in the middle of a wheat-field that's being plowed, there are major action scenes too, the first one being when Superman helps with a chemical plant that's caught on fire. It's a pretty exciting scene, as we see Supes create a makeshift slide that the people stuck on
top of the plant's roof use to get down, Jimmy Olsen severely injure himself while trying to get pictures of the disaster and Superman walks right through a patch of flames in order to get to him, and ultimately, Superman having to act fast to put out the fire before a large batch of volatile acid inside the plant overheats and creates a highly corrosive mist in the process. It's a wonderfully triumphant moment when Superman freezes the surface of a nearby lake, flies it back to the plant, and drops it down towards the plant, it melts and becomes a brief shower that extinguishes the fire on the way down, all while the awesome Superman theme plays. Really good sequence.

The next big action scene, not counting the stuff we see during the scene where Gorman describes how Superman foiled Webster's plan to destroy Colombia's coffee crop (the effect that we see of him getting rid of the tornado is another great one, I might add) or the brief bits of the evil Superman committing mild acts of vandalism like straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa and whatnot, comes when he's coerced by Lorelei to shanghai the one oil tanker that's refusing to follow the computer-programmed orders that Gorman is giving it to go to the middle of the ocean and stay there. It's so out of character to see Superman intentionally causing damage like when he tears open the hull of the tanker, causing the oil to spill out all over the ocean, and then just leave the tanker there. Granted, it's not much of an action scene but I felt I had to mention it because, again, it just seems so wrong from what we know about Superman. This leads into what I consider to be the best scene in the entire film, which is when Superman attempts to overcome his demons and the two identities come apart to battle it out in the junkyard. While I'm not exactly sure how that worked or, for that matter, whether what we're seeing is actually happening or if it's all in his head, this is still a well done and surreal scene as super-powered Clark Kent attempts to take control of his corrupted alter ego. It's akin to the first battle in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, where Mechagodzilla is still disguised as the real one. It's just so unusual and amazing to see two Godzillas fighting each other and the same principle applies here as well. And this isn't a little scuffle either; it's a very long battle. They punch and throw each around, Clark sends Superman flying into a vat of acid but then Superman blows the acidic fumes back at Clark, Superman tries to use the machinery around them such as a scrap crusher to kill Clark but his alter ego continues to fight back, throwing a bunch of tires onto him, etc. It's a really exciting scene and Christopher Reeve masterfully plays both dueling characters. It finally ends when, after escaping from a car crusher, Clark strangles the evil Superman and succeeds in destroying him. After he does so, there's a glorious moment afterward where Clark looks up at the sky and opens his shirt to reveal the real bright blue and red super-suit while the theme plays triumphantly, indicating that the real Superman is back. He then proceeds to undo all the damage that his evil side caused (again, with the theme playing full tilt) before flying off to deal with Webster and his gang.

After that, we get a sequence where Superman flies through the canyon in order to reach the secret location of the supercomputer but, as it turns out, Webster is prepared for this and uses a number of rocket launchers and an MX-missile to attack him. This sequence, while nothing special overall, is ultimately fine. The effects are done rather well, like the rear-projection, the blue screen work, and the miniature missiles (not to mention the computer graphics that Webster is seeing, which I went into detail on earlier) and it's exciting to see Superman having to deal with all of these obstacles at once. Superman does indeed receive punishment from the missiles, like at one point where he's blown backwards into the side of the canyon wall, and has to really think fast in order to deal with all of this stuff.

Eventually, Superman overcomes the rockets and missiles and arrives at the villain's secret hideout. Just as he's about to take them into custody, they use Gorman's supercomputer to defend themselves, first enveloping Superman inside a plastic bubble in an attempt to suffocate him (do they not know that he can fly around in space just fine?) and when that fails, the computer fires a ray of pure Kryptonite at him and brings him to his knees. This is when Gorman has that inexplicable change of heart and decides to do the right thing by shutting the computer down. But, just when it seems like all is said and done, the computer reactivates itself. Gorman realizes that the computer has become self-aware and is feeding itself. While Gorman manages to disable the Kryptonite-firing ray gun with an axe, allowing Superman to get back on his
feet and apparently flee, the computer begins sucking electricity from nearby towers and causes a blackout all across North America. In one random and particularly freaky moment, Webster, Lorelei, and Vera are escaping when Vera is pulled back inside the computer, which proceeds to turn her into a cyborg! Her face is covered with metal, her skin becomes very pale, her hair becomes wild and frizzy-looking, and her eyes become completely white. It's quite a bizarre moment, mainly because it's so
unexpected, and after she's turned into the cyborg, she proceeds to stomp towards Webster and Lorelei like the Frankenstein monster and uses the power that the computer has given her to prevent the two of them from escaping. That's when Superman returns to the battle with a can of the acid from the chemical plant that he saved at the beginning of the film. The computer does analyze the canister but deduces that it's harmless and then attacks Superman with electric bolts and energy rays. While Superman is at first able to fend it off, the computer quickly overpowers him and attempts to assimilate him the same way that it did Vera. However, the extreme heat that the computer has to put forth in order to do this causes the acid to become volatile and when it bubbles over, it disintegrates the computer's circuitry and destroys its power source, rendering it harmless. I must say that I thought this was an entertaining final battle for the movie. I like seeing Superman take on something completely different from the mad schemes of Lex Luthor or a being with the same powers as him like General Zod. While this starts out as part of a villain's scheme, it evolves into, if you think about it, Superman basically battling SkyNet: a self-aware computer that threatens not only the safety of the U.S. but the entire world and is able to create cyborgs to do its dirty work. The whole spectacle of the battle is fun and the way that Superman ultimately defeats the computer is rather clever and a nice callback to something that was established at the beginning of the film. While I do still have mixed feelings about the film as a whole, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't come out of this finale with a smile on my face.

Is this album cover awesome or what?
As with Superman II, the music here was provided by Ken Thorne and while he once again reused the main theme and other pieces of music that John Williams composed for the first film, here he was able to compose a lot more new material,  some of which works and some of which doesn't. Not only do I not like the overdone slapstick sequence that begins the film but I don't like the music that Thorne composed for it either. It fits with the silly nature of the sequence but my point, again, is that this stuff shouldn't be in a Superman movie at all. (Sorry if I sound like a broken record on that score.) The same goes for the almost  balletic music that you hear during the sequence where Gorman is trying to take control of the weather satellite but is causing havoc while doing so: it shouldn't be in this type of film. I don't even remember the theme that Thorne created for Gus Gorman at all but I here that he did create on. All this bashing aside, I do like the music that he composed for the junkyard battle between Clark and the evil Superman. That really works, particularly in the moment near the end when Clark bursts out of the car crusher and struggles with Evil Superman before finally vanquishing him. Thorne also reuses some of the material that he composed for the previous film here and that works well in the areas where he placed it. Besides Thorne's work, there are also some tunes that were created by Giorgio Moroder in an attempt by the producers to capitalize on how popular synth pop music was at the time. While Moroder composed some actual songs for the soundtrack, most of them were used very briefly and in instrumental form. The one that I remember the most because of how long it's playing in the background during this scene is, "They Won't Get Me," which you hear when Gorman is trying to get Brad drunk so he can hijack the weather satellite but is getting quite drunk himself in the process. As ridiculous as it all is, I remember actually liking the way that music sounded, even if I didn't care for the scene save for the image of Richard Pryor in that ten gallon hat. They also say that Moroder composed a new love theme for Clark and Lana but, like Thorne's theme for Gorman, I don't remember it at all. While the score for Superman III certainly isn't bad, I don't think the new material is as strong or as memorable as the score for the original or even the music that Thorne composed for Superman II.

While it's not one I revisit very often, I don't think Superman III is as horrible as many say it is. I do think it has some entertainment value: the action scenes are fun and well executed, the special effects are much improved for the most part, and Christopher Reeve is still in top form, particularly when he gets to play Evil Superman and when he portrays both him and Clark Kent during the fight in the junkyard. However, the film does have a lot of problems, chief among them being the overabundance of slapstick and juvenile humor, and Richard Pryor being so unfunny and annoying that it can make you wonder if this is the same guy who's often regarded as a comic legend (I guess he didn't work in PG-rated films). It also doesn't help that, at the end of the day, the character that Pryor plays isn't a very good person, the actual villains are pretty damn weak, and the film's story is overcrowded. Superman III is the definition of a mixed bag and while it does have some great stuff, you have to make it through some really bad stuff to get to it and some may find that that's something they can't do. For me, though, I don't regret having ever watched it but, at the same time, if I had a choice, I would much rather watch the first film or either version of Superman II over it.