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  Superman III Superman And Supermachine
Year: 1983
Director: Richard Lester
Stars: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Annette O'Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Robert Vaughn, Margot Kidder, Gavan O'Herlihy, Nancy Roberts, Graham Stark, Gordon Rollings, Lou Hirsch, Shane Rimmer, Al Matthews, John Bluthal
Genre: Comedy, Action, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) is waiting in line to collect his unemployment benefit cheque, but when his name comes up he has trouble getting through to the woman behind the desk who sees the sorry state of his employment record and informs him he is no longer eligible for the money. Gus is seriously deflated, and and as he takes out a cigarette he asks someone for a book of matches. On that book is an ad for a computer programming course that promises easy cash, and he has a brainwave - after all, how difficult can it be? It's not as if he wants to, I dunno, pick a fight with Superman (Christopher Reeve), is it?

Richard Lester was on his own directing Superman III, after taking over the previous instalment from Richard Donner, and you could tell his penchant for comedy was to be exercised from the title sequence, with some finely timed slapstick enlivening the initial ten minutes. However, most fans did not want to see a humorous Superman movie, and even though the tone does turn more serious in the second half, they still grumbled. Looking back, this version of the superhero seems more in the debt of the fashionable obsessions of the time, namely computers, the subject of many an eighties blockbuster and would-be hit alike.

A lot of viewers felt that Pryor was out of place here, as if putting a comedian in this situation was trivialising the hero, but his Gus is more interesting than might first appear. He is a reluctant villain, well aware that he has to assist evil billionaire Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn), who he tried to steal money from using his hacking skills, if he wants to stay out of jail, and feeling a buzz with his newfound talent, yet weighed down with guilt when he sees the suffering he is causing. Similarly, Superman grows conflicted between the good and bad sides of his personality when he is exposed to synthetic Kryptonite, turning him into evil Superman.

You get the impression that Lester and his writers, David Newman and Leslie Newman, are more interested in Clark Kent that his alter ego. He gets his chance to shine, and Reeve is as endearing as ever, when an invitation arrives for him to go back to Smallville where he was brought up. Thinking this will make for a good article, Kent jumps at the chance and once he gets to the high school reunion he meets the past object of his affection before Lois Lane (Margot Kidder appears for about five minutes) arrived on the scene. She is Lana Lang (Annette O'Toole at her most charming), and a romance is on the cards - or it would be if Webster's schemes didn't intervene.

Webster starts out wishing to control the world's coffee bean crops, and has Gus reprogram a weather satellite to cause the Colombian ones to fail (science is not this film's strong point), but then Superman steps in and saves them. Which is why the villains wish to destroy him, or Webster does anyway. Also backing him up are erstwhile jazz singer Annie Ross as his stern sister and comedienne Pamela Stephenson as a dumb blonde who is not as dumb as she wants you to believe. Along the way the pace may slacken, but there are arresting scenes for all that, the most significant one being that with no superpowered baddies around, Superman fights himself for control of his soul. But the finale, where a huge computer Gus has designed goes power-mad, is what most recall, especially the child-scaring moment when Ross is turned into a robot; perhaps if the writers had made all this happen earlier then it might have been more popular, but Superman III's minority of fans see it as underrated. Not perfect, but with something to offer nonetheless. Music by Ken Thorne, using John Williams' famous theme.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Richard Lester  (1932 - )

American director, from television, in Britain whose initially zany style could give way to genuine suspense and emotion. After making his film debut with short The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, which featured Goons Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, he went on to throwaway projects like It's Trad, Dad and Mouse on the Moon. His next, however, was a smash hit all over the world: A Hard Day's Night, not least because it had The Beatles as stars.

Lester was at his most successful in the sixties and early seventies, with notable movies like The Knack, Beatles follow up Help!, stage adaptation A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, satire How I Won the War, romance Petulia, weird comedy The Bed Sitting Room, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers and very British disaster movie Juggernaut.

Efforts like Royal Flash, Robin and Marian, gay bathhouse comedy The Ritz and Cuba made less impact, but in the eighties Lester was called in to salvage the Superman series after Richard Donner walked off Superman II; Lester also directed Superman III. Finders Keepers was a flop comedy, and Return of the Musketeers had a tragic development when one of his regular cast, Roy Kinnear, died while filming. Lester then decided to give up directing, with Paul McCartney concert Get Back his last film.

 
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