Richard Lester made a number of popular comedies in the 1960s including The Beatles classic A Hard Days Night (1964) and other hits such as The Knack (1965), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) and Petulia (1968). Lesters grounding is in comedy and this is an approach that dooms Superman III. The opening scene, for example, is a giant choreographed custard pie sequence where Clark Kents changing into Superman unwittingly causes a chain of disasters in the street involving a blind man, toy penguins, a row of phone booths collapsing and a fire hydrant causing a man to nearly drown inside his car. When we come to other scenes like where the computer targeting system for a missile launch suddenly turns into a videogame or with the animated figures on a traffic light signal getting confused and deciding to fight it out, we realize we are watching a film that is no longer taking itself seriously.
The major problem with Superman III is the writing in of Richard Pryor, who was a popular Black comedian of the time in films like Stir Crazy (1980), Some Kind of Hero (1980) and The Toy (1982). Richard Pryor has no place in the film he was only cast after an appearance on a US talkshow where he said how much he would like to be in a Superman film. Pryors exploits are given as much running time as Supermans and this is a clear signal that the film is focused on selling itself to the light comedy and childrens audience and no longer interested in paying respect to the comic-book. Richard Pryors presence results in some incredibly silly antics with him running about in a giant cowboy hat getting Gavin OHerlihy drunk; or one scene messing about on Robert Vaughns rooftop ski slope where Pryors bumbling ends up with him skiing down the slope, off the side of the skyscraper and all the way to the ground where incredulously enough he survives without harm (a feat that would in reality kill him, no questions about it).
The script has no real focus. Robert Vaughns villain is merely an unimaginative rehash of Lex Luthor from the first film, even down to his blonde bimbo. Moreover, Websters villainous schemes are vague and unfocused we are not even sure what his grand plot is. There are also numerous inconsistencies in the script Superman can fly through a hail of missiles yet a good bottle of whisky gets him drunk; and when he does the old coal-squeezing trick from the comic-book, it amusingly not only comes out as a diamond but a cut and refined one too. There is an amazingly bad climax one where the super-computer becomes a recalcitrant AI in about 30 seconds flat then starts shooting rays and turning people into cyborg zombies. The special effects are not that special this time out. The one worthwhile sequence is where Superman splits into a good and bad self and the two start fighting it out in a junkyard a scene that has clearly been modelled on the super-powered street fight that Richard Lester choreographed and was the highlight of Superman II. Christopher Reeve gives a customarily good performance in both roles.
Missing substantially from Superman III is Margot Kidder and the character of Lois Lane. In interviews following Superman II, Kidder had been vocal about expressing her dissatisfaction with the way the Salkinds had fired Richard Donner and in punishment her role here was severely diminished with her appearances here kept only to a few minutes at both the beginning and the end. She is replaced by Annette OToole as Lana Lang, one point where the film does pay homage to the comic-book, with OToole doing a reasonable job. [In an interesting piece of trivia, Annette OToole was later cast as Martha Kent, the adopted mother of the young Superman in tvs Smallville (2001-11)].
Other versions of the Superman legend are:- seventeen Superman animated shorts produced by Fleischer Studios between 1941 and 1943; two serials made during the 1940s, Superman (1948) and Atom-Man vs Superman (1950) both starring Kirk Alyn; the low-budget feature film Superman and the Mole Men (1951), which became the basis of the long-running tv series Adventures of Superman (1952-8) starring George Reeves; Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-7), a popular tv series that focused more on the love triangle relationship between Clark/Superman (Dean Cain) and Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher); the excellent animated series Superman (1996-2000) where the superheroic exploits were rendered in a beautifully stylised Art Deco milieu; several spinoff films from the animated series with Superman: The Last Son of Krypton (1996), The Batman Superman Movie: Worlds Finest (1998), Superman: Brainiac Attacks (2006), Superman: Doomsday (2007), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010), All-Star Superman (2011), Superman vs. The Elite (2012) and Superman Unbound (2013), while Superman also appears in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II (2013) and as one of line-up of DC superheroes in the same creative teams Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-6) and its film spinoffs Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Justice League: War (2014), Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016) and Justice League Dark (2017), as well as in Legion of Superheroes (2006-8) from a different creative team, while Young Justice (2010-3) features Superboy, a clone of Superman, as a regular character; the tv series Smallville (2001-11) played by Tom Welling, which concerns Supermans teen years; Bryan Singers follow-up to the Christopher Reeve films Superman Returns (2006) starring Brandon Routh; Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006), Richard Donners edit of his original intended vision of Superman II, which had been subject to much in-fighting with the producers; and Zack Snyders reboot Man of Steel (2013) starring Henry Cavill and its follow-ups, the DC superhero team-ups Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017); and the tv series Supergirl (2015 ) starring Melissa Benoist with appearances from Tyler Hoechlin as Superman. Superman also turns up as an animated character in The Lego Movie (2014). Also of interest is The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (2015), a documentary about the aborted Tim Burton-Nicolas Cage Superman film of the late 1990s.