Superman III (1983) (part 1 of 6)

The Cast of Characters:
Superman III (1983) (part 1 of 6)Superman (Christopher Reeve!). The Man of Steel and America’s favorite Boy Scout. Obnoxiously geeky as his alter ego Clark Kent. Faces his toughest opponent (snicker) in…
Superman III (1983) (part 1 of 6)Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn!). A very poor, second-generation copy of Lex Luthor. He’s assisted by…
Superman III (1983) (part 1 of 6)Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson). A poor man’s Miss Teschmacher (yeah, just let that one sink in). Plays the dumb blonde but is actually very bright. Ha! A sexy blonde who is really smart, isn’t that a scream? Often at odds with…
Superman III (1983) (part 1 of 6)Vera Webster (Annie Moss). Ross’s vaguely butch sister. Eventually melds with a supercomputer in a vain effort to give us a decent villain for this thing. Has a strong dislike for…
Superman III (1983) (part 1 of 6)Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor!). Is either extremely dumb or extremely smart, depending on whatever the plot currently demands. Builds a supercomputer that was originally supposed to be Brainiac. Gives the Phillip Morris version of Kryptonite to Superman in a ceremony attended by…
Superman III (1983) (part 1 of 6)Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole!). Possibly meant as a love interest for Superman, but pretty much gets ignored by the story. Has a terminally cute son named…
Superman III (1983) (part 1 of 6)Ricky (Paul Kaethler). Generic child in peril fodder. Owns an equally (or perhaps more so) cute dog.

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The Law of Diminishing Returns has found few better examples than the Superman franchise. The first is a near classic of science fiction, and the second is a less serious, but still entertaining entry. But then with the third, there was a death-defying drop into inanity and poor quality. The fourth film is generally regarded as the worst of the series, and with its mawkish Captain Planet politics and deplorable special effects, it’s hard to disagree.

Still, the fourth is so cartoonish, I can view it like I would an episode of The A-Team and enjoy it on that level. Superman III, however, is the most dreaded kind of dreadful movies: The unfunny comedy. There aren’t too many things as excruciating as a joke that isn’t funny, so this means we’re in for nearly two hours of unending, enjoyment-free pain here. A more serious flaw in this film is its lack of a notable villain. Robert Vaughn is no Gene Hackman, and the supercomputer that Superman faces off with at the end is really just a machine, so it hardly comes off as threatening.

The movie opens at a Metropolis unemployment office. Richard Pryor steps up to the desk and gives his name, Gus Gorman. We see he’s got a yo-yo with him, and obviously this will be important later. The clerk, like the rest of the characters, is an exaggerated stereotype. Overweight, with a mountain of teased and dyed hair, and loudly smacking her gum, she finds his file. She asks if he’s looked for work. Gus sheepishly replies, “Uh, kitchen technician.” She corrects him: “Dishwasher. Any luck?”

He starts to reply, but Big Red interrupts. “Mr. Gorman, according to our records, you’ve been unemployed for thirty-six weeks.” He insists it’s only been thirty-five weeks, but she says that’s “not counting this week. You secured employment last June as a messenger and were discharged after one day for losing a—” Gus interrupts her. “No, no. See, they said I lost it, but I did not lose it! It was stolen by a pick pocket!” She looks at him and incredulously asks, “A television set?” This is one of those lines that probably sounded funny on paper, but out loud, and coupled with Pryor’s manic delivery, it just comes off as desperate.

He tries to defend himself by saying the TV “was a teeny, tiny, insy Japanese two-inch television set”, but she soldiers on. “The only other employment you found was in a fast food joint,” she says, “Which lasted twenty-eight minutes.” Gus bugs out his eyes and hurriedly explains, “Well, those people expect you to learn that in one day! Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, I don’t want sauce, I do want—” She cuts him off again, saying “the city of Metropolis is generous to a fault”, but after “thirty-six weeks of chronic unemployment, thirty-six weeks of living off the taxes of hardworking citizens, do you know what you are?” Coked out of his mind?

Gus defensively says, “Don’t call me a bum, I am not a bum!” Cut to a pair of African- American men looking on. She, who is never given a name, continues, “You are, I was about to say, no longer eligible. Next!” Ah, Reagan’s America was the pits, wasn’t it? Thankfully, we don’t have a tanking economy or an addled leader to worry about now.

Gus cries out, “You mean that’s it, finished like over?” No, finished like your career in two years. She glowers at him through a face full of horrid make up. He grumpily mutters, “Next as in bye!” and walks in the direction of the two black men. Gus asks one of them for a light, and then he looks at the matchbook cover as “comic” music plays in the background.

Inside the matchbox is an ad reading “EARN BIG MONEY, BECOME A COMPUTER PROGRAMMER.” Well, what are the odds? Gus looks right into the camera, either getting an idea or Richard Pryor is deciding it might be time for a career change. This brief taste of comedy (and this is as funny as it gets, gang) immediately ends and the opening credits roll.

I’m not a fan of the labored slapstick of the Austin Powers movies, but Mike Myers is Buster Keaton compared to what we’re about to see. Miss Ambrosia, assistant to this movie’s villain, walks down a bustling Metropolis street. A guy distracted by her breasts walks right into a pole. (See, guys are so stupid when they see a hot chick.) He tumbles backwards into a street vendor’s display of mechanical penguins [??], which I’m sure are a hot item.

Then, a girl on roller skates stumbles over this accident, and grabs onto a hot dog cart. She then rams the cart into an occupied telephone booth and tips it over, knocking down several other phone booths domino-style. Then we cut to Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy, who was buying a hot dog at the cart, just laughs at all the wacky hijinx. Yeah, you don’t want to see if anyone was hurt or anything, Jimmy.

A lady in the last phone booth accidentally lets go of her dog’s leash and the dog runs off. Pole Dude tries to help the penguin seller gather his toys. Absurdly, the “Superman III” logo appears to a triumphant flare of music. The director is sure doing a lot to hold up the integrity of the character.

One of the toy penguins waddles by an open flame, catching its wing on fire. The dog runs by a blind man with his guide dog, and the guide dog breaks away and gives chase. The dogs upset a woman and cause her to spill her groceries, so a concerned street maintenance worker rushes over to help. The blind man stumbles over to the maintenance worker’s stripe-painting machine and grabs the handle. The machine leads him in circles, because apparently the blind can’t tell the difference between a dog and a piece of heavy machinery.

The flaming penguin wanders over to Clark Kent, who grabs it and surreptitiously uses his Superbreath to put it out. Clark goes to buy a copy of the Daily Planet from a vending machine, and please don’t ask me why he has to buy a copy when he works for the Planet. Unfortunately, when he pulls the paper from the rack, he forgets his own strength and rips the paper in half. Perhaps if Superidiot grabbed a paper from the pile in the machine he would have still been able to read Marmaduke on his coffee break.

Superman III (1983) (part 1 of 6)

Blind people are so wacky!

Blind Man is still wandering around in circles, so I guess the worker who was operating that machinery must have insisted on walking the woman home. Pole Dude walks by and bends down to pick up a toy penguin. Blind Man knocks him into a concrete pit, and Pole Dude gives a “Why me?” look into the camera as Blind Man steps on his head to get to the sidewalk.

And it’s not over, folks. Outside a bank, shots ring out and masked robbers flee. One slides down the staircase railing simply because it looks “cool”. The robbers run into the street and a car swerves to avoid hitting them and plows into a fire hydrant. The car quickly begins to fill with water. Maybe the driver will drown! Wouldn’t that be kooky?

Bystanders flail on the car doors and one guy succeeds in tearing a door handle off. None of them gets the bright idea to try to smash the windows, so no wonder these losers need Superman. Clark hears their cries and rushes into a photo booth. A little boy comes by and begs his mom for change, and as soon as he puts the coins in, flashes go off inside the booth. Superman leaps out and grabs the strip of pictures, finding that, “hilariously”, each one is a carefully posed stage of his transformation.

Superman III (1983) (part 1 of 6)

Brain… hurting…

Superman tears off the last picture and gives it to the delighted little boy. Then the wires holding Superman manage to only wobble a touch as he flies across the street. The strip of photos, by the way, has completely vanished. He lands on the roof of the car and rips the sunroof off so he can pull the guy out and pause to shake hands with him. Strangely, Superman doesn’t bother chasing down the bank robbers [??]. And, no, it’s still not over, folks.

He flies away and a couple of guys painting a billboard wave to him and accidentally knock over a bucket of paint. A portly gentleman is standing below them, and a splash of yellow paint lands on his shoulder. Believing it to be rain [?], he opens up his umbrella. Seeing that this isn’t the case, he closes his umbrella just in time to have the bucket of paint fall on his head.

Unable to see, he knocks over a gumball machine, spilling its contents all over the street. Cut to a mime performing for some cafégoers. He soon slips and falls on the gumballs to enthusiastic applause.

Superman III (1983) (part 1 of 6)

Hey, mime violence, I can get behind that.

Meanwhile, two movers are carrying a painting, and Blind Man walks right through it and finds his dog munching on a gumball. Another guy trips over the mime and stumbles right into a guy carrying a tray full of pies. Clark catches one that comes close to hitting Miss Ambrosia, but then he swings around and accidentally smashes the pie into the face of Pole Dude. Clark then blinks several times into the camera. Having heartburn from reading all of that? And this was just the opening credits. There’s still over two hours to go.

Jessica Ritchey

Born in Western North Carolina, Juniper was discovered in a filthy shack in the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains, speaking a made up language to a tattered rag doll, her only companion. Her social skills have improved little in the intervening years. She is currently making flailing efforts at being a freelance writer. One of history's supreme procrastinators she plans on writing a book about it someday.

Multi-Part Article: Superman III (1983)

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  • Lovesthebj

    Love the review. One correction is during the opening credits, the car swerved into the hydrant not to avoid hitting the robbers, but because the police shot out his tire… while shooting at the bank robbers… who were fleeing into a crowd of bystanders. And superdude, with superdude hearing, didn’t know anything was up until he saw a crowd of people around the car. The police are never seen again either.


  • Jfdk

    Great review. I relived the anguish in my mind. It was worth the loss of brain cells and drooling.

  • Elfshotthefood

    I saw this movie a long time ago so I can probably be excused for forgetting a lot of it, but even with this recap doing its best to jog my memory the only scenes I can remember are the fight in the junkyard, and for some reason the sight gag of the figures in the crosswalk sign punching each other. That’s it.

  • bbally

    I’m sorry but I find Robert Vaughn’s Ross Webster as a more effective Lex Luthor than both Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey’s Luthor.

  • drdvdplayerhandbook

    God, I saw this movie a few months ago and I noticed why I had forgotten about it. It’s hedious. That Rude Goldberg-style scene is one of the worst movie intros I’ve ever seen. It would be bad enough in a comedy, but in a Superman movie? I’m surprised most people simply doesn’t stop watching at that point.

  • Kapt Blasto

    I think the one thing that could have saved this movie, was if the ultimate Supercomputer instead of turning Vera into a robot frankenstien….was compromised somehow by an alien presence observing….and turned into the Donnerverse’s BRAINIAC…

    who after coming out of the “transformation chamber” catches hold of Loreli, making Ross and Gus run for cover and watch in horror, hiding behind the safety of the boulders…as the FEMALE BRAINIAC, with the frightened Loreli in her clutches, traces, the tip of her finger across the Loreli’s petrified face, somehow disarming her fears with a false sense of comfort like a Mom to her daughter, until she reaches her forehead……”You seem to have trouble *accessing* your feelings….” Brainiac purrs….with almost a eerie robotic imitation of a motherly voice….”allow me!” and just like if it was Terminator II, the finger turns into a LONG PIERCING NEEDLE impaling Loreli’s SKULL, and coming out through her beautiful blond tresses, DRIPPING RED on the other side….

    All Gus and Ross can do is shiver with horror, rooted to their hiding spots, seeing Loreli start to slip into death, watching her eyes slowly roll upward, as the blood begins to trickle from the entry wound.

    But just as the FEMALE Brainiac, wickedly smiling in anticipation, ready to see her prey slowly slide off the deadly finger-needle and fall lifeless to the ground, allowing the Female Brainiac to taste the spoils of her first kill off her needle-finger like chocolate off a spoon, Death suddenly halts, and Loreli, still having the deadly finger-needle still impaled in her head, regains herself, stands up, and locks eyes with the Female Brainiac, and smiles a wicked smile of her own, that turns the Female Brainiac’s countenance a complete 180!

    Loreli’s next words: “So, Colu wants to battle the planet of WAR, do they?” and with her one hand, grasps the finger-needle and slowly pulls it out of her own head. Ross and Gus, from their hiding places, too terrified to even scream, watch…as Loreli pulls the whole finger-needle out of her head, and, just as a finishing MOCK….takes the tip of the bloodied finger-needle herself, and slides it along her own lips, and says to the Female Brainiac….”Mmmmmm…..delicious!…..Now let’s taste YOURS!” while BREAKING THE FINGER NEEDLE TIP OFF, letting it fall and clink on the ground at both their feet!

    Now the Female Brainiac, with her head electrodes blipping wildly, is the prey….as Loreli, still with the wound trickling, and still WICKEDLY smiling…brings HER FINGERS up into view….where all ten of her finger nails, now metal….start getting LONGER AND LONGER AND LONGER, and HER EYES start having little red, green, and blue dot-sparks of electricity start running zig-zag patterns, around what was the whites of her eyes….

    This is ready to turn into a female battle royal of INTERGALACTIC PROPORTIONS, and Ross and Gus, right now, aren’t quite sure whether to run for safety….or keep watching! It doesn’t look like they have much time to decide….because HERE COMES SUPERMAN, READY TO SETTLE THE SCORE!

    • Kapt Blasto

      Now….if they just were smart enough and wrote this into the flick….I’m quite QUITE sure, that Superman 4 would have been understood better….especially, with Nuclear Man’s Nuclear Fingernails!

      Because, we could have wrote it, that EVIL SUPERMAN, having his way with Loreli….could have a son….and that son, was….NUCLEAR MAN, the son of SUPERMAN!

      It was NEVER addressed in Superman IV of what could have happened to Loreli, as to whether or not, SHE could have been made fat with child….and whether or not…that child could have been….EVIL….or GOOD….or even…..the son of Superman!

      • The_Stig

        I know it was pre-Crisis, but at least in the modern continuity, Human and Kryptonian DNA aren’t compatible. I have no idea if the issue was ever brought up in the bronze age, or the silver for that matter.

        • Kapt Blasto

          well, Stig, how do you explain THIS,
          in Superman II (the DONNER cut) when Superman was getting depowered….there was this ONE SHOT of Lois looking on…and the Big disembodied head of Jor-EL…..turned to look at Lois, and then back to Superman. (!!!!)

          Now how could a RECORDING have enough sense to go and TURN TO LOOK at Superman’s Girl…..?

          That tells me something: That when Jor-El said to the Council, “Neither I nor my wife will leave Krypton…” What if Jor-El DID NOT MEAN, “stay on the planet and die right along with you?”

          Because Kryptonian CRYSTALS went with the BABY, KAL-EL….so…’s my theory:

          You know the “switcheroo” maneuver that Superman did, to depower the phantom-zone trio? And of course you seen the “simulation clones” that Superman did of himself to Fool the trio, with the trio following suit……you remember “played this game in school, never was very good at it…” and Stig, I know you know that line…..

          What if….Jor-El and Lara, had CLONED themselves, in a manner similar to Superman in that one scene fighting the villians in the fortress…..and they kept running around with the others…….but meanwhile, the REAL JOR-EL AND LARA put themselves in a crystal (I think the GREEN ONE, maybe…or maybe the RED ONE, that I know you DID see Jor-El place in Superman I) and THEY, live in the Fortress as LIVING GHOSTS, TRAPPED within the crystals of the fortress????????

          Or, perhaps the RED one, that we know did NOT get destroyed….or did it?

          We can only wonder…..

          • Kapt Blasto

            kinda like the SAME IDEA, as trapping the phantom zone trio in the phantom zone….but, they put themselves in a kind of SIMILAR device….I mean, Jor-el DID “discover” the phantom zone….did he not?

          • The_Stig

            You have to understand that the Pre-Crisis era was WEIRD and in the films they were always pulling stuff out of their ass like Superman’s Super-replication powers and that giant plastic shield he threw at Zod, Ursa and Non, I mean what was the deal with that thing? It’s really the same problem with Superman in general. It seemed like every month, he was showing off some bizarre new power that would never, ever be mentioned again. They did this a hell of a lot in the Silver Age. I say that anybody can write Superman, but few can do it right. I highly recommend you read All-Star Superman. Not only is it one of the finest graphic novels I have ever had the pleasure of reading, but it’s a beautiful love letter to Superman and his 80 year legacy, and Grant Morrison nails it. Seriously, check it out. Right now. Stop reading this and go to your nearest comic shop and pick up the trade paperback.

            Jor-El and Lara are dead, The films made that clear. They did not clone themselves, they did not escape into the Phantom Zone, they are not ghosts, they aren’t pining, they’re passed on, they are no more, they have ceased to be, they have expired and gone to meet their maker, they are stiffs, bereft of life they rest in peace, and if you hadn’t nailed them to the perch they’d be pushing up daisies, their metabolic processes are now history, they’re off the twig, they’ve kicked the bucket, they’ve shuffled off their mortal coils and joined the choir invisible…..but I’m now going to answer your question as to how the holographic recording of Jor-El turned to look at Lois.

            It wasn’t a recording, because Superman could interact with it.

            If you’ve played Mass Effect, then you’ve no doubt heard of a thing called Virtual Intelligence. If not then here’s the gist of it: VI is pretty much a hologram you can interact with…although the technology of the Giant Jor-El Head was more sophisticated than just a glorified information kiosk. It not only was the repository of all his knowledge, but it was programmed with his personality too. In a sense, it for all intents and purposes WAS Jor-El. If you’re a Star Wars fan then it’s similar to how a holocron works.

            I can’t speak for anything before the Bronze Age, but there WERE in fact Kryptonians who escaped the destruction of Krypton into the Phantom Zone, and Brainiac shrunk and bottled the city of Kandor to preserve it. It has since fallen into Superman’s hands and now resides at the Fortress of Solitude until Superman can find a way to restore it. (In the modern age, there’s a drastically different origin where a literal wizard did it but the major details are more or less the same, but the Brainiac version is the version people are most familiar with).

          • Kapt Blasto

            I did read All Star Superman….He gets some kind of Super disease and toward the end of the book he’s doing all he can do before HE’s pushing up dasies…and probably winds up becoming a BIG HEAD next to jor-el….

            I’m telling you though….if Mass effect is what you say “Jor-El” is a more sophisticated Version, thereof….then in the DONNER version we had Jor-El, and in the LESTER version we had LARA…..and in both films they could Walk out and interact with Superman…or, maybe ANYONE ELSE….

            (and “Borrowing” };-] from a manuver seen in Star Trek Voyager, where with an sophisticated arm band, they got the holographic Doctor to go on away missions with the crew….)

            Then how about we start my flick like this…..

            Awaking from a Horrific Nighmare, with a SCREAM that comes forth in the dream with WATERY BUBBLES…URSA finds herself 16 fathoms underwater, with a Dead Zod’s hand at her neck, Disgusted, she throws off her dead precious General’s hand, and she finds herself ALIVE, Underwater… and wondering which of TWO LIGHTS to head toward….the one shimmering beneath her feet, or the one above her head (she’s been unconcious now, for so long, and the COLD ARCTIC WATER has preserved her [much in the same way the arctic ice preserved Captain America] and she finds herself being drawn toward one of the lights, but she wants to head to the other one….too bad…

            Coming through the light, and emerging from the COLD ARCTIC water, a SICK FEELING rumbles from URSA’s guts…and she LETS HEAVE….all over one of the walls of the FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE…..turning it from crystal white…to the Brilliant colors from SUPER STOMACH-SLUDGE (with somehow the audience alone, seeing the patterns of the SLUDGE writhe around, and form the SUPERMAN S)

            Tired, Confused, and dizzy from coming back to life, URSA sits with her legs dangling over the edge of the abyss that she came from, cursing herself for not having the strength to just fall back in to join her precious General once again, in eternal watery sleep, or, even to head toward that OTHER shimmering light she saw underwater, and in general, cursing herself that somehow she’s alive again, trapped in the Fortress, on Planet Houston, which to her, might as well be worse than the Phantom Zone itself….

            And there she is, sitting all by herself, alone in the middle of the fortress…reasoning that no, she’s not alive, she’s dead, and this is hell, and this is where she deserves to be…alone.

            but her loneliness will not last for long… out of one of crystal walls, from just behind URSA…a figure in shimmering WHITE moves toward her…not even the steps make a sound, as the figure, having a WOMAN’s shape, approaches into the distance toward the folorn villianess in BLACK, and without a word, sits down next to her on her right, making it now TWO that sit on the edge of oblivion….like two shakers of pepper and salt sitting together on a kitchen cabinet shelf…Pepper doesn’t notice that shimmering Salt, has came, as URSA is too wrapped up in her forlornness to even notice, nor notice that Shimmering Salt has SMOLDERING FIERY REDDISH-BROWN HAIR.

            (What happens is that Lara takes Ursa “in the back room” and shows her WHY she has to keep coming “out of the crystals,” like the living ghost/recording she is….what appears to be a pantry, stocked with FOOD….but it’s CHAINED UP….it turns out LARA has said something to JOR-EL…and Jor-El didn’t like it one damn bit, and left her there to live out existence alone and without food. Something like, “Though Kal-El was a miracle…he was NOT my first child!” Which she does explain to URSA…and they determine they BOTH have to leave the Fortress, but how will LARA, seeing as every time she’s tried to leave, she blinks back into the Crystals….so URSA, seeing a loose crystal, and of all things, DUCT TAPE, says, “I have an idea…give me your leg!”

            Cut to the Daily Planet Offices….

            Who should walk into the office, but a whole bunch of Purple-jacketed goons, a crazy lady wearing a Jester’s outfit…and right up to Perry’s Desk…the JOKER HIMSELF. Who calls out to “Bob,” who, wearing some kind of BRACE on his waist, and legs….plunks down on Perry’s desk what looks like something he stole off a chandelier….which causes the Joker to say:

            “I want an honest answer from you, Perry…I think you and I are on the same wavelength here…..[which causes Perry to give ol’ Mr. J a poker-faced, “Uh, Yeah, right!” look, which Joker blithley ignores and continues on…] What kind of MADMAN…would STEAL from another MADMAN’S FRIDGE, empty it completely bone dry…and leave….their CRYSTAL UNDERWEAR, in the CHEESE DRAWER, of all places…..?”

            But what REALLY SHOCKS the hell out of everyone, is PERRY’S REPLY…..
            “Because the sonuvabich that stole outta your fridge, didn’t have enough courtesy to leave it in the vegetable crisper… decent people!”

            And he goes to Harley, and he says, “You see, Harl, it’s just like I told Bob, (after i shot him in the nuts with the nine-iron gatling, we got last Christmas) ‘When you ask the right questions, to the right people, you GET the right answers….which is why we’re all here, talking to a man who UNDERSTANDS where I’m coming from!”

            And he continues talking to Perry, saying, “Hell even _I_ though it was something BOB stole outta the parlor, as a joke, you know…but… if you’ll EXAMINE the evidence, you’ll see it’s some GUY’S UNDERWEAR, because the yellow stains HIGHER HERE, and the BROWN STAINS back OVER HERE….so I know it is NOT some glass panties from a FAT CINDERELLA and her little HUNGER GAMES, you see….and since I know my guys, and they’re NOT crazy enough to be THAT Maso-Chistic, I figured I’m dealing with a REAL GENIUS sonvuabich!”

            To which RICHARD WHITE, in the room with all of them…says, “Look! There’s one crystal missing, off the side!” To which Joker says, “Well, so it is! You’re very perceptive, kid! Hey BOB, lemme ask you something….don’t it Look like we got a regular BOY WONDER here…..? aH heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh hehHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HEE heEE HEE HEE hoooo hoho ho ho ho ho”


    • The_Stig

      The Supercomputer was originally intended to be Brainiac, actually.

  • Asher

    The movie’s only redeeming qualities? The chemical plant fire, the junkyard fight between Superman and Clark Kent, and Superman’s battle with the giant super-computer. Other than that, I suggest you either turn off your brain or do a whole truckload of drugs before checking this out.