Superman III–deservedly–gets a lot of flak, but it’s actually the most faithful to the comics in a lot of ways. It plays out like a late sixties, early seventies Superman comic–“The Man Who Killed Superman,” turning out to be a bumbling, generally well-meaning guy like Richard Pryor, or “Superman Versus the Ultimate Computer.”
Superman III is also Superman versus the neo-cons (one has to wonder if, while the computer hijinks influenced Office Space, the oil plotting influenced Dick Cheney). The film’s villains are constantly weak, with Robert Vaughn (whose character has some great lines) and Annie Ross turning in dreadful performances.
But it didn’t have to be bad, which is what’s so upsetting about it. The stuff in Smallville with Clark Kent meeting up with his high school crush is often fantastic–it lets Christopher Reeve add a facet to the performance and Annette O’Toole’s great as the love interest. Even better is when she gets to Metropolis–it’s only one scene (she wasn’t back in IV) but the dynamic with her and Margot Kidder seems like it would have been outstanding.
Poor Marc McClure gets a lot of screen time at the beginning… then disappears. But the same goes for Reeve. Once Superman turns into evil Superman, he’s in the movie even less.
Pryor’s good. His dialogue’s weak, but his performance isn’t.
Lester’s direction is mostly good, though the slapstick fails–cinematographer Robert Paynter is a disaster.
But then, disaster is Superman III‘s keyword.