With Superman II we got a blend of two visions – Richards Donner and Lester – and while the finished article wasnâ€™t perfect it was certainly an entertaining ride. With Superman III we got the full undiluted Richard Lester and oh boy, was it bad.
Lester must have misunderstood when Ilya Salkind asked him to make a comic movie and made a comedy movie instead. How else do you explain Richard Pryor as one of the films villains? Or a credit sequence thatâ€™s akin to Benny Hill (and even features Bob Todd!)? The juvenile comedy runs throughout the film but the laughs are few and far between.
Of course Lester isnâ€™t completely to blame, he was after all hired by Ilya Salkind, and itâ€™s Salkind whoâ€™s responsible for the lower budget which doesnâ€™t just mean special effects that are a lot less special, but a cut price cast as well. Why pay Gene Hackman a small fortune when you can get Robert Vaughn to play virtually the same part for a fraction of the cost? And while youâ€™re at it why not do away with Valerie Perrine in favour of Pamela Stephenson? Margot Kidder not happy as Lois? Cut her part down to a cameo and introduce Annette O’Toole as Lana Lang to provide another love interest for Clark Kent, thatâ€™ll show Kidder sheâ€™s not indispensible. In every sense this is a budget Superman, an attempt to milk a little more money out of the Superman cash-cow.
Richard Pryor is painfully unfunny throughout the film; heâ€™s so bad I almost wanted to stop watching to save him further embarrassment. Pryor was always a bit hit and miss though, so itâ€™s perhaps not too surprising how bad he is here. Robert Vaughn does Luthor-lite, accentuating the silliness and cutting back on the menace (which is a shame as he could have made a good villain). Stephenson may as well have been grown from Perrineâ€™s cells and any hint that there may be more to her character stays undeveloped.
Still there is one bright spot in the shape of Annette O’Toole. Her Lana Lang is a breath of fresh air after the bossy, rude and self-centred Lois. Here we have someone we can believe Clark could fall for. If the film had focused a little more on them and less on Pryor it would have been a better movie (not a good one, but better).
Instead we have Superman facing off against a super-computer for a tension free exercise in cheap special effects and panto-villany. Could things get any worse for The Man of Steel? Well Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was only a few years away.