Superman III = Super Bad
There is a scene in "Superman III" where the green man and red man on some traffic lights have a fight, it's meant to be funny but ends up plainly wrong. Plainly wrong is a good way to describe "Superman III" as where the first two movies had been entertaining mixing action with some clever touches of comedy along with reasonable storylines this time around the storyline is weak, as is the action and much of the comedy veers towards the daft rather than the amusingly clever. All of which makes "Superman III" sadly a poor movie and one which whilst has some memorable scenes ends up spoiling what had been a reasonable super hero movie series up to that point. And the obvious disappointing storyline, action and comedy also cause performance problems with Christopher Reeve looking ill at ease delivering a vast amount of corny dialogue and comedy.
When Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor - Stir Crazy) discovers he has hidden talents as a computer expert he comes to the attention of greedy business man Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn - Battle Beyond the Stars) and his sister Vera (Annie Ross) who blackmails Gus into helping them take control of the coffee industry. Whilst Gus does what he is meant to, using the Vulcan weather satellite to cause a storm in Columbia Superman (Christopher Reeve) ends up saving the day and unwittingly stopping Webster's evil plans. Infuriated by Superman's interference Gus is instructed to create synthetic Kryptonite so that it kills the man of steel, but with an unknown component the synthetic Kryptonite which Gus makes doesn't kill him but turns him into an evil superman causing Superman to face himself in a battle of good versus evil.
Unlike "Superman II" where we had a sort of continuation of the story set up in "Superman", "Superman III" serves up what is very much a standalone story with new bad guys and an almost different direction. As such the storyline takes us back to Smallville where Clark finds himself falling for his childhood sweetheart Lana Lang before having to battle the bad guys which basically are Ross Webster and his sister Vera who try to control the business world which culminates with Superman turning bad and having to battle himself in a good versus evil way. The storyline in itself isn't actually that bad and whilst the execution of it leaves much to be desired the fact that we have Superman turning evil and battling himself could have made for a good movie. Unfortunately the potential in the storyline is lost as "Superman III" ends up predominantly a comedy with various interjections of action which sadly fail to excite.
The comedy side of "Superman III" actually starts quite well and whilst seriously convoluted the opening comedy of errors sequence is great fun. Unfortunately the fun of the opening comedy scenes isn't captured anywhere else and much of the comedy ends up quite daft. The scene where Gus Gorman flies off of an office block on skis only to land safely on a sloped glass roof and ski down is just too far fetched and the comedy of it ends up daft although it is spectacular. But that is not the only scene which tries to be funny but ends up daft and on top of the traffic light men fighting with each other there are scenes such as Superman freezing an entire lake with his icy breath which is just stupid.
And sadly "Superman III" seems like a movie which tries to be a comedy first and a super hero movie second which means the action feels less and little of it is exciting. Scenes where Superman battles a super computer or as a bad version of himself straightens up the Leaning Tower of Pisa is daft and unexciting. Though having said that when we basically have Superman battling himself in a case of good versus evil it does get good even if it is still a little bit stupid. It just feels the excitement of Superman doing something truly amazing as he battles bad guys is missing and maybe the writers were trying to break away from what had happened in the first two movies but it doesn't work.
It also has to be said that Christopher Reeve looks very uneasy this time around and seems unsure of how to play the comedy which is thrown his way. He does a good job but it just doesn't quite work and makes it a less than great performance. Although saying that when he gets to play the bad version of Superman it does get good and Reeve delivers a very believable performance of Superman embracing his dark side. In many ways it's a shame that this side of the movie didn't take precedence over everything else as it is whilst we get bad Superman that "Superman III" is interesting.
What also doesn't help is that where as before we had the evilness of Lex Luthor this time around we have nasty business man Ross Webster and his sister Vera both of which are not nasty enough to be bad guys. Plus there is Pamela Stephenson as the stereotypical busty blonde Lorelei and in many ways it's a shame that Stephenson didn't have more to do because her quasi Marilyn Monroe impression is quite good fun. And that leaves Richard Pryor as computer whiz Gus Gorman who at times feels as if he is in another movie. Every single scene that Pryor is in revolves around his frenetic, fast speaking, nervous comedy and whilst it's fun to start with it ends up annoying by the time "Superman III" ends. In many ways the casting of such a talented comedian in "Superman III" was wrong from the outset and maybe the need to have so much comedy to make it work for Pryor is what is wrong with "Superman III".
What this all boils down to is that "Superman III" is sadly not a good "Superman" movie. It feels that the series went in a different direction and whilst the storyline revolving around Superman battling his dark side had potential the focus on being funny ruined things. It just all went too far with too much comedy and it ended up making it a weak movie which far too often borders on the outright daft rather than the clever.