By Jim Foote
This time, I'm taking the tag team of Christopher Reeve and Richard Pryor over whatever crazy Survivor Series team BvS could muster up. While Batman Forever was an easier play, Superman III captures the essence of what Superman should be. It would appear Richard Lester understands Superman and Clark Kent more than Zack Snyder.
Yeah, I said it.
Batman Forever got a 5-point treatment to prove it was better than Dawn of Justice. Superman III will get... you guessed it... three. Get it? Because CLEVER. Let's jump down this rabbit hole together after the 'read more' jump.
In terms of duality, it's all there. Clark vs. Superman. Lana vs. Lois. Past vs. Present. Richard Pryor even serves as an example of necessity vs. greed. Duality, man. That's the essence of Superman III.
Superman is the mask. He really IS Clark Kent. You get a feel for this in previous films and future forms of media, everything from Superman: The Movie to the tv show Smallville. Superman is who he has to be for the sake of the world, but in his home life... he's just Clark Kent.
The story is rather simple. Superman is already around, saving lives on a daily basis. Heck, 20 minutes into the movie and he's already saved thousands. He saves a man from drowning in the opening scene, he saves Superman's Best Pal Jimmy Olsen (who is not shot in the head), the power plant workers, and countless citizens who would've fallen victim to the acid explosion Superman stopped. We get all of this within the first 20 minutes.
We meet Richard Pryor's character Gus Gorman (who we'll only call Richard Pryor because it's easier) as he's turned down for unemployment. He's reached the limit and is no longer eligible. He sees a very convenient ad for a computer/tech company on another man's matches. At the new job, he finds out so much of his money is taken out for taxes. In a very J.G. Wentworth kind of way, it's his money and he needs it now! He only cares about things now and wants to, as he says, "boogie." So he concocts a scheme, taking the fractions of a penny withheld. Office Space even used this. The fractions of each penny are rounded off and thrown away. Richard Pryor does a little computer trick and sends the fractions to himself... all of the fractions.
His boss,played by Robert Vaughn, quickly finds out and blackmails him, forcing him to help with a scheme to control all of the oil. When Superman interferes, Vaughn gets Pryor to help him destroy Superman.
Thing is... everything is clear. Everyone's motivations are clear. BvS, as I pointed out in the other article, is all over the place. Batman hates Superman because he's responsible for the Metropolis 9/11. Superman hates Batman because... well he doesn't. He is forced into a fight because MARRRRRTHA! Alexander Luthor... here's the thing about the Junior Luthor. No matter how many people I ask this to, no one ever comes up with a solid answer. What is Lex's plan exactly and why does he hate Superman? Why?
Typically, I get the convoluted answer involving his father beating him and Gods not helping him. Some stupid shit like that. It's all dribble because they couldn't write a better script. The real reason he hates Superman is because he's A[lex]ander Luthor and he's supposed to. That's what BvS does and of which they are a prime violator. They take your preconceived notions and trap you into THINKING they have an actual story. Don't be fooled. They don't. It's paper thin and if you think about the existing universe within the movies... it doesn't make sense.
I'll provide you with an example using the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: Civil War is just around the corner. We all know the selling point is Cap vs. Stark. Why does it work so well? Because these characters have existed for years and several movies up to this point. They've teased and built the tension between the two. Certain events have taken place, naturally leading us to the point of Civil War. Now imagine if all we had was The First Avenger, then Civil War. It would lose most of the meaning and all you would be hanging this battle on is that you know they fight in the comics. But in this cinematic universe, there's none of that since they meet and fight almost instantly.
That's what BvS does. Batman and Superman, even though they shouldn't be fighting, means so much because of the friendship. This is, the friendship exists in the comics. It doesn't exist in the movie. Civil War has a line that fully explains why their eventual fight should mean something. When Cap says, in defense of Bucky, "I'm sorry Tony, but he's my friend." What does Tony say? "So was I."
That's why the eventual conflict means so much. They've come so far and we've seen that. BvS has no such moments. Bruce hates Superman from the start and Superman gets VERY easily played by Luthor into a fight. That's it. Then, it's MARTHAAAA time.
That's not a good story. That's bad story telling and leaning on fans previous knowledge to fill in the blanks because you couldn't write a good movie nor did you understand the characters for which you were writing.
Superman III doesn't have that problem. They "get" it. They get what Superman is and should be. Take this picture...
The story in Superman III is concise. You know where you're going and it gets you there, every scene having a point. They're not trying to shoe horn in leads for other movies or other characters. They follow the plot points, the story moves forward and ends when he needs to. A perfect example of this is Lois Lane. She doesn't have any meaning in this Superman story, so they get her out of there. They send her on a vacation and she only pops up near the end, as a realization of, "oh shit, I wasn't needed. I was replaced with a better character."
All of the characters have their motivations, ALL clear. Clark wants to be happy and visit with his past. Lana allows him to have someone who isn't always talking for Superman. I'll get into this more in a bit, but she represents what he was forced to leave behind in order to become Superman. It's beautiful, poignant and represents his struggle with being Superman. Robert Vaughn wants to control oil, using the increasingly available computer/technological advances, recognizing the opportunity to blackmail Richard Pryor. And Pryor? He's just trying to get by. Once he realizes he can outsmart and stick it to "the system," it sends him down a path he wasn't smart enough to get out of without Superman.
Again, tell me the plot and character motivations of BvS. You can't. You can give me the thin veil they wrote and put before the screen, but it doesn't make sense. If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit.
BvS deals with a lot of dark issues, but the problem is that's all they deal with. There's no balance. You never come up for air. You just sink deeper and deeper. I'm trying to think of any fun and light scenes in BvS. Are there any? Arguably, the most light hearted scene is when Clark bangs Lois in the bathtub. That's your brightest moment in that movie, folks. Sex in a bathtub.
Superman III is very light and constantly playing with humor. Sure, Richard Pryor skiing down a building, sticking the landing on the ground and not dying isn't really funny... at all. But they take a lot of chances and do what they can to lighten the mood. At times, it borders on straight camp. They have the two people in the walk/don't walk signs start fighting. That's a thing. Having said that, the movie is fun. Richard Pryor is NEVER not funny. BvS is heavy. It's constantly hitting you with more death, suffering, and never changes tone. That's a problem when you have a character who is supposed to be the brightest and most hopeful of any superheroes. Also, now that I've brought up the 'hopeful' point, allow me to skewer a meme I see on the internet almost daily.
Bullshit. A sacrifice would be Zod making it known he's going to kill Superman OR the people of Earth, and making Superman choose one. All he does is demand Superman come aboard his ship. He wants him to turn himself in. Nowhere in that was death promised. That's not a sacrifice. That's a demand/request being met.
Oh... and the sacrifice in BvS was crap, too. Why didn't Wonder Woman use the Kryptonite spear? I've read the usual answer being 1) she needed to lasso Doomsday and 2) Superman knew death would happen and didn't want to condemn WW to death. Again, a thin veil of reasoning. Superman must not think of WW very highly if he just accepts she'll die. We need to accept it was another fill in the gap ploy to just get them where they needed to be. I'd imagine the conversation went something like this...
"Well, we need Superman to die."
"How do we do that?"
"Umm... Doomsday? I heard he killed him in the comics."
"Just put him in and have him kill Superman."
"But Batman and Wonder Woman will be there."
"Umm.. just have Superman pick up that spear so Doomsday can impale him."
"But... why would Superman do that? That doesn't make sense."
"Just do it. People won't notice because DOOMSDAY!"
The point is, Superman's death was never supposed to instill hope in BvS. It was supposed to instill this dark, violent world. There is no variety in tone. It's singular and dreary. You want hope? Nope. We're going to impale Superman instead. Fuck you.
Superman III, however... they give you the darker, more adult moments. But you also get Richard Pryor over acting as some kind of Military personnel. If your movie just goes down, further and further, never picking up or going in any other direction... you're a one trick pony. If you dig that sort of thing, all the power to you. But just because you like it, doesn't make it a better film.
BvS, I've said it before and I'll say it again. It's a pretty flick. It looks amazing. The visuals are on point and at times, it looks like a comic book come to life. But that's all it has. It may look like a better collection of splash pages at times, but Superman III gives you variation. It gives you humor. It gives you fun.
A perfect example lies with Superman's Best Pal Jimmy Olsen! In the opening sequence, there's an entire scene playing out with a blind man, a man near drowning, Clark Kent casually screwing up one of those pay-for-newspaper machines and Jimmy Olsen trying to just get a hot dog. It's a bit longer than it needs to be and it's quite zany. That being said, Superman swoops in and saves the day. At the end of it, Jimmy Olsen, hot dog in hand, shouts in elation, "Way to go, Superman!"
You'll never... eeeeeeever... hear anyone say that in the Snyderverse. There is no fun. There is no hope.
Fuck your hope. You get BvS instead.
What's the main difference between Lana and Lois? Lois wants to be with Superman. Lana wants to be with Clark Kent. Lana would be with him in SPITE of him being Superman. Lois would be with him because he IS Superman. In fact, when Superman goes "evil," he comes onto Lana. She turns him down. Although, when Lana sees Clark, she gives this look as if her heart skips a beat and she can't believe her eyes. Funny thing... that's how most people look at Superman.
When Lois returns in Superman III and sees Lana as the new secretary, you can see the look on Lois' face (in a moment played brilliantly by Margot Kidder). She gives this look as if to say, "oh no... I'm being replaced," even though in terms of the story... she'd never be.
Richard Pryor, or Gus, is the "everyman" to a point. All he wants to do is live comfortably. He can't find work and has been handed a raw deal. After unemployment shuts him down, he lucks out and finds a job at Robert Vaughn's company. He never set out to steal or screw anyone over. But when he finds out all the work and long hours is getting him nowhere, an opportunity presents himself. Plus, he's not stealing from anyone, in his mind. These are only fractions of a penny that are being rounded off and thrown away. Thing is, you throw them altogether... and it comes out to a ton of money. He takes it, thinking no one's going to notice and it was going nowhere. Until someone, of course, notices.
He's then used, abused, blackmailed, and forced into doing whatever Robert Vaughn wants. He doesn't even dislike Superman. He's a fanboy. He even puts on a blanket/towel and pretends to fly around like Superman. But he has no other play. It's help his boss or go to jail. But when push comes to shove, he turns and helps Superman. Why? Because Superman inspired him. It's pretty clear if you look at it. He sees Superman is the ultimate good guy. He's just a man, but next to Superman, he sees what needs to be done and wants to do what Superman would. He's just looking for some help, and sure enough... Superman's there.
Robert Vaughn's Lex Luthor fill-in, is actually a better character than you realize. He's smarter and more cunning than he is evil. He's not out to kill people, he just wants to remain in control and have whatever he wants. Unless you get in his way... THEN he'll try to kill you. His plan of controlling all of the oil makes way more sense than bombing the San Andreas Fault and making a new California. I mean, c'mon.
That being said, they're both better plans than Luthor's in BvS. At least in the old Superman flicks, the villains had a reason to hate Superman. They had plans to be rich, but Superman stood in their way. He stood as the opposition to any wrong doing and in their minds, what they wanted. In BvS, as I stated above... Superman has nothing to do with Luthor. He's not standing in the way of a thing. He wants to kill Superman just... because.
And Finally... SUPERMAN.
What's the number one thing Superman doesn't do? Or if he does/has, he knows is wrong and will either grieve or hold himself accountable?
In terms of the MoS/BvS Snyderverse, I'm going to throw away the Zod killing. He killed Zod in Superman II. He also did it in the comics. The problem wasn't the fact of killing but the reason. Oh, so he's going to kill that family of four, so now you'll do it. But what about when you two destroyed most of Metropolis? You wouldn't take him out then. In BvS, he TOTALLY kills the warlord in Africa, though. He super speeds towards him, driving his head through a concrete wall. He's done. Superman is a murderer, acting outside of the law.
Superman III's Superman would NEVER do such a thing. He acts in partnership with the U.S. Government and everyone's happy to have him. This is why they get Superman. Superman doesn't think of himself as better than everyone else, as too good to obey our laws. He's still accountable. He feels an obligation to help because he can. He can, therefor he should.
In Superman III, there is constant conflict between Clark and Superman. Him wanting to go back to Smallville for his reunion is him wanting to visit his past, his time as Clark Kent. He's Superman when he needs to be, but being Clark Kent gives him a chance to just be himself. He even tries to get Lana, and her boy, to move to Metropolis so he can be with them. He knows Smallville is his past, but he wants to bring Smallville WITH him. Why? Because he's only human.
Which brings us to the fight. The showdown. Clark Kent vs. Superman. Call me crazy, but I whole heartedly enjoy this fight more than the Doomsday fight in BvS. Why? Because I care about the characters in Superman III. They've given me no reason to care about anyone in BvS. Things just kinda... happen. In Superman III, there's a natural build up. You have all of this conflict between Clark and Superman, who he wants to be... who he really is... what he wants out of life. So when he's infected with "red" kryptonite (I get it's green, but has the effects of red), Superman acts less like Superman. He's still a dork at heart, not really being all that evil. He doesn't attack people, but instead corrects the Leaning Tower and blows out the flame of the Olympic Torch. The most violent thing he does is finger flick peanuts at bottles of alcohol.
Before I get into it, watch the fight for yourself.
in BvS, in a clip not yet on the internet, he doubts himself and says Superman was just an idea of a farmer. No. Just no. Jonathan Kent saw Clark as Clark. Why you do this, Snyder? WHYYOUDOTHISSSS?!
Christopher Reeve always understood the character. Even when he guest starred on the show Smallville, he still had a line that sums up the character, his upbringing, and what makes him who he is. "Humanity... is not only about biology."
Clark Kent is always slouched, he speaks in a submissive tone, going under the radar. Even when he initially is leaving the Daily Planet, Perry White won't even give him the time of day.
Superman is stoic, film, and a figure everyone looks up to. He's almost like a living statue. He has a commanding voice and doesn't have to scream to get attention.
"Evil" Superman has the body language of someone who's just done with things. He's going to have some fun, he's going to relax. You get that in the acting, in the way he talks to people and the way he moves. Hell, I'm pretty sure "Evil" Superman bangs the bad guy's attractive girlfriend.
If you look at the movies from purely a film and storytelling standpoint, Superman III is better constructed. The characters all have motivations made clear. They all have some kind of arc or natural progression, moving towards the ending. BvS is clunky, constantly shifting to another plot with little to no reasoning. It's all over the place, making the viewers fill in the blank based on what they've known previously (and what doesn't exist in its current universe). They do this because they're more concentrated on its destination and not the journey.
If you're not concerned with how your story gets to its conclusion or next point, then why should anyone care about where it's even going? You lose the power of story. You lose all hope.
Superman III is clearly the better film. It's not without its mistakes or shortcomings, but it has more to offer. Better acting in Christopher Reeve, better chemistry with Annette O'Toole, comedy with Richard Pryor, and a better constructed story.
Man, they really left their universe in a great place at the end of Superman III. If only Quest For Peace didn't let Canon Films completely screw it all up.
And hey... at least they didn't shoot Jimmy Olsen in the face in Superman III.