THREE GUYS AND… A MOVIE
series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson
written by Dominick Cappello
Okay, here’s the truncated “Superman III” backstory… Producer Ilya Salkind wrote a treatment which featured Brainiac, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and Supergirl. This treatment is available online, but I’ve never read it because I haven’t heard good things. Warner Brothers apparently had zero interest in producing a film which incorporated so much of the comic book source material. Legendary standup comic Richard Pryor then declared on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” that he loved “Superman II” and would be eager to appear in the next Superman film. The die was cast.
The filmmakers injected a ton of comedy into “Superman III”. The opening titles roll as a silly slapstick routine unfolds in the streets of Metropolis. Richard Pryor portraying inept computer programmer Gus Gorman gets sloshed while wearing a giant cowboy hat. Later, he accidentally skies off a skyscraper. During the climax, the villains capture Superman in some sort of giant balloon that will deprive him of air. But, doesn’t Superman fly in outer space? Obviously he can hold his breath for quite a long time. Also, the villain’s sister turns into a robot… for some reason.
Still, there is a lot to like about this film. Clark Kent returns to Smallville for his high school reunion. Along the way, Superman must douse a fire at a chemical plant. Once at the reunion, he becomes reacquainted with Lana Lang, the girl he had crush back in high school, played by Annette O’Toole, who would go on to play Martha Kent on TV’s “Smallville”. To be honest, I preferred Lana Lang to Lois Lane. Clark doesn’t have to be Superman to impress Lana whereas Lois needs him to be Superman. Lois would never settle for plain old Clark. Christopher Reeve and Annette O’Toole are the saving graces. Lex Luthor is nowhere to be found. Robert Vaughn plays Ross Webster, a sort of Lex Luthor wannabe type character. Okay, so the filmmakers claimed that they didn’t want to repeat themselves. That’s fine, so they had Lana Lang as the love interest instead of Lois Lane, but if you’re not going to have Lex Luthor, then have a completely different type of villain. Not just some random poor man’s version of Lex Luthor.
Ross Webster catches wind that Gus Gorman is embezzling from his company, so he blackmails Gus into doing his dirty work. Gus synthesizes tar laced Kryptonite, which turns Superman into an evil Red Kryptonite version of Superman. So, why didn’t they just use Red Kryptonite? Nevertheless, Christopher Reeve is amazing as an evil Superman, showing off what a versatile actor he was. Superman leers at Lana, straightens the Leaning Tower of Pisa, causes an oil spill, and blows out the Olympic Torch with his super-breath. What a dick move. The best scene takes place in a junkyard. Superman is being torn apart by the conflict within his own psyche and he somehow splits in two. Superman and Clark Kent battle each other for supremacy. How is this happening? Is it happening? Is it all in his head? I don’t know, but it’s awesome. Clark defeats the evil Superman, then turns back into good guy Superman. He then fights a super-computer which becomes self-aware. Superman vs. Skynet? Sounds good on paper, but the execution was bland. After the computer is destroyed, Superman and Gus become friends… for some reason.
“Superman III” is always referred to as “the one with Richard Pryor.” I actually wouldn’t have a problem with Richard Pryor had he been used right. Maybe he could’ve played Mr. Mxyzptlk? That may sound like strange casting as Dudley Moore was rumored for the part, but bear with me. On the DVD commentary, Ilya Salkind says that he wanted Frank Langella for Ross Webster. Frank Langella would have been a great choice for Brainiac. He was incredibly sinister as Skeletor in “Masters of the Universe” four years later. So, Frank Langella as Brainiac teaming up with Richard Pryor as Mr. Mxyzptlk to destroy Superman. Though, I’m a bit hesitant to co-sign the Superman / Supergirl incestuous overtones that were part of Ilya Salkind’s pitch. “Superman III” wasn’t epic, but Gus Gorman’s embezzlement scheme would resurface in Mike Judge’s “Office Space.” So, that’s not too shabby of a legacy.
– Dr. Rochester