Thursday, 1 June 2017
Do you know why Superman III is great? It puts the Clark Kent / Superman dichotomy front and centre, drawing dramatic premises out of the turbulent emotional state created by two separate identities sharing the same vessel. It also allows Christopher Reeve to flex his jerk muscle. The film begins with Kent feeling a little unloved at work - Perry White is busy ignoring malfunctioning bingo machines and, after their amnesia kiss in Superman II, Lois Lane is back to being an indifferent co-worker. With very little to keep him in Metropolis Kent pops back to Smallville for his High School reunion, spending some time with his teenage crush, Annette O'Toole's Lana Lang.
Lang is a distinct romantic proposition in these Superman films. Unlike Lois, who is first and foremost besotted with the Man of Steel, Lana is actually interested in the human Clark Kent, recognising his innate goodness as an opportunity for long-term emotional stability. For balance, she also views his decision to move away from their small town as exciting and forward-thinking. He's the complete package. Leslie Newman and David Newman's screenplay doesn't really do much with Lana and Clark's relationship beyond proposing it as a road bump along the route to Superman's human persona and Lois finding each other but the structure is there for, at the very least, some Silver Age two-timing in the next instalment.
Superman III seizes on the fracture Lana and Lois' disparate interests propose then, thanks to a blazing crystal of synthetic Kryptonite provided by Richard Pryor's Gus Gorman, uses the idea to power action scenes grounded in Superman's shattering sense of self. Poisoned by the radioactive rock Superman starts to degrade and corrupt, his hair loses its immaculate styling, he gets a 5 o'clock shadow and his bright, primary coloured cape curdles into a rusty, carmine red. This split comes to a head in a scrap yard filled with gutted automobiles. Superman and Kent disentangle from each other, two opposing ideas battling for control of the whole. It's a dazzling sequence, skipping delicately between director Richard Lester's fine comedic detailing and the terrifying proposition of a Superman governed by his oozing, reptilian brain.