Sunday, 17 November 2013

What about Synthetic Unity?

And now Pinky, we will take over the WORLD

1983 was a bit of an odd year cinema wise.  The battle of the Bonds rang out as Octopussy clashed with Never Say Never Again whilst George Lucas released his extended toy advert Return of the Jedi.  Another of the 3s came in the form of Jaws 3-D; three doesn't seem like a lucky number.  Much maligned by the public and critics on release Superman makes his return in the less than originally titled Superman III.  Now, that title is slightly misleading.  Whilst it is Superman III, it's less a superhero movie and more a vehicle for Richard Pryor.  Pryor is cast as Gus Gorman a secondary character and then promptly takes over overshadowing Reeve's overdue top billing.  Pryor was aided in this by director Richard Lester, the usurpation of Richard Donner now complete.  After this, the now mainstreamed Pryor got himself a $40 million contract with Columbia and went on to Brewster's Millions and the like.

Whilst Superman and Superman II were effectively parts of the same film the Salkinds now have their man in charge to deliver the version of Superman that they always wanted.  They've seemingly won the war with Donner but not without consequences.  Gene Hackman refused to have any part of Superman III whilst Margot Kidder is marginalised and so we have a Superman devoid of his nemesis and love interest.  Their replacements aren't entirely effective.  Lex Luthor is replaced by the lightweight Ross Webster played by the efficient Robert Vaughn and Annette O'Toole steps in to be Lana Lang, an entirely unneeded Lois Lane mark II.

Casting isn't the only departure as Superman III has an overly slapstick feel and veers into camp territory from the outset.  The space based opening credits of the first two films is replaced by a slapstick sketch.  If it wasn't for the titles and the merest hint of the Man of Steel you wouldn't know it was a Superman film amongst all the sight gags and penguin based near misses.  Pamela Stephenson meanders through the chaos and will be recycled as the Woman In The Red Dress for The Matrix.

You look very familiar
A nice touch with a photo booth reaffirms Superman's presence before we make way for The Richard Pryor show.  Pryor is Gus Gorman, a bum who develops a penchant for manipulating BBC style computers.  When I was at school there was Repton, we didn't even have the vaguest notion you could use one of those beige beasts to control the weather or an oil tanker.  It makes you wonder what a Sega Dreamcast could have really done.  It's also slightly scary to think that the iPhone in your pocket is a vastly more powerful piece of kit than anything Gorman tapped away at to analyse Kryptonite.

Superman III is a very confused film.  So much seems to have been done on the hoof and this scattergun approach doesn't lend itself to a coherent story.  Why should Kent's return to Smallville coincide with Gorman's need to use an untraceable computer?  It shouldn't but it does.  The return to Smallville also affords the opportunity for The Liability Formerly Known As Jimmy Olsen to find a rival.  Little Ricky might be prepubescent but he makes Olsen look redundant.  Yeah Ricky is a bit of a drip but he has more of an affect on Superman than Olsen and Lane have combined in the previous two films.  This is all down to the best part of Superman III: Supes chemically induced internal conflict.

Smoking kills. Subtle
 Now, we know Superman is an alien and we know that he's going to have some Daddy issues.  Juxtapose that with his protection of the human race from itself and what's left for poor old Kal-El?  Who's giving him a foot massage at the end of the day?  A little bit of tar based blagging from Gorman and we find out that Superman isn't very happy at all.  Some misconstructed Kryptonite leads to Superman, slowly going bad.  The change is subtle in comparison to the visual comedy style Lester has employed so far.  Superman has a cheeky glint in his eye as he fancies a bit of sexy time with Lana before going on a massive bender.  Superpowered peanuts lead to a trip to the junkyard and Superman's internal torment gains physical form.  Whilst this makes little or no sense the battle is magnificent and leads to perhaps the most iconic Superman image ever:  Clark Kent tearing his shirt to show he is Superman Regained.  It wasn't just a case of getting the cape and tights down to the dry cleaners.
Hey kids! Johnnie Walker is bad!
Our reinvigorated hero now has one small job, to defeat Webster who we had largely forgotten about.  Webster's evil scheme has evolved to involve oil tankers, ransoms and now a cave housing the world's most powerful computer.  You see, Gorman had gotten bored of hacking financial systems and traffic lights on his BBC and felt he needed a bit more oomph to really take control.  Apparently weather control isn't enough.  So, some pocket based blueprints become a computer that will give James Cameron ideas and Superman is lured into a trap.  Now for some more inexplicable goings on.  I can deal with a massive computer becoming self aware.  I can deal with said massive self aware computer turning Webster's sister into the genuinely scary Robocop forerunner.  But I can't deal with the massive self aware computer putting Superman into a giant zorbing ball to suffocate him.  I've seen Superman fly through space to turn Earth back in time, I've seen Zod talking on the Moon so why am I now being asked to accept some zorbing based shortness of breath?  It's a good job Superman has access to the pink goo from Ghostbusters II to sort this misfiring computer.

There's still time left for a needless cameo from a future Eastender and a few extra pounds per square inch to put a smile on Lana Lang's face.  Yeah, Superman III is muddled and overly comic but there are some lovely moments and it probably stands as my favourite of the Superman films even with the niggling unanswered question of why Lorelei plays dumb.  Despite all this there's a feeling that the Man of Steel is running out of steam.  He's got one outing left in the 80s and it's not one to look forward to.