When Superman Went BAD


 What a poster...

Stories of heroes turning into villains have been around almost as long as there’ve been stories of heroes… and they never cease to trouble me. Not so much now that I’m supposedly an adult, but the memories of the childhood damage still flares up whenever I think about the possibility of a hero going bad. And never was I so traumatized as when Richard Pryor’s synthetic Kryptonite made Superman stop bathing, grow a 5 O’clock shadow, and get his evil on in SUPERMAN III!

My dad took my brother and me to the mall cinema for SUPERMAN III one fatefully tragic day. At the start, my take on SUPERMAN III was similar to my take on all the SUPERMAN movies when I was a kid: awesome when Christopher Reeve was in the blue tights, boring any other time.

Still, despite the fact that I knew there’d be scenes without Superman, I was goofy excited! Superman was, and is, my favorite superhero ever. Maybe my favorite ANYTHING ever! And that love started with the movies, later getting me hooked on the comics.

At the time, I had no inkling that SUPERMN III was a drop in quality for the series. I didn’t know about the directors named Richard controversy: Donner being replaced with Lester during SUPERMAN II and SUPERMAN III being Lester’s first time 100% at the helm, resulting in a far less heartfelt movie. Whatever -- I was just excited to see Supes save the day in a bright red cape again.

 Don't take it, Supes!

But things took a turn after Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor), posing as a shouty Army general for some reason, presented Superman with his manmade Kryptonite. Odd that Superman just accepted this replica of the only thing that can kill him, yeah? Alas, instead of killing him, it made him EVIL! Well, extremely surly at the very least.  

First he hits on Lana Lang in an unseemly way after normally being such a gentleman, then he blows out the Olympic torch, straightens the Leaning Tower of Pisa (is that really bad… ?), and freaking hooks up with a bad blond floozy who’s in cahoots with the Lex Luthor stand-in villain -- which leads to him becoming a pawn of the bad guys, stopping an oil tanker and causing a spill… ack! 

Cut him off! 

After these shenanigans came the scene that truly disturbed me: Surlyman’s super drinking binge and super nervous breakdown. For some wacky reason, he splits into two different people: the evil Superdrunk and straight-laced Clark Kent. Once split, they violently duke it out at a junkyard. This is when six-year-old me had had enough! I couldn’t watch Superman trying to kill Clark Kent. The very concept freaked me way out, and Christopher Reeve, giving this movie way more than it deserved, really sold the evil Superman. He was mean, taunting, and cruel.I covered my eyes, turning from the screen and burying my head in the empty seat next to me, not doubt choking back tears because, well, I’ve always been a crybaby. My dad noticed and scolded me paternally: “I paid for you to watch this. If you’re not going to, we’ll leave, boy.” I panicked, not wanting to miss Superman on the big screen, no matter how much it scared me, and turned back to the movie.

Eventually, evil was defeated and Richard Pryor was let off the hook. But for a moment, I was petrified. Seeing Superman go bad was too much for me to take back then, and, honestly, I don’t think I’d be comfortable watching it again even now...

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D.J. Kirkbride is a co-editor and contributing writer for the POPGUN anthologies from Image Comics as well as the owner of all four Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies... even though he only really likes 1 & 2. 
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14 Comments
Posted by Tainted-Cell

I actually thought the dueling personalities was the best part of Superman III, though I agree with the rest of your assessment. Still, not as bad as the fourth movie!

Posted by elevatorparty

this was good. 

Posted by Icon

I could not disagree more. Superman going rogue, albeit briefly, was one of the few saving graces of this film (and Christopher Reeve was brilliant). I particularly liked the metaphysical Clark Kent/Bad Superman battle in the junk yard. Even as a kid I was intrigued. The only Superman moment from the films that actually scared me as a kid was the Superman scream in the first movie (when Lois died). Someone with that much power just snapping in rage like that (again Reeve was brilliant) when he couldn't save her was frightening (for a kid to watch). 

Posted by JAH_Donuts

Stop crying boy! Or I'll take away your internets!

Posted by Mosedogg

It's so easy to forget how easy it would be for a Kryptonian to walk around running the show. With almost no effort, just the threat of being incinerated by lazer beams!

Posted by djkirkbride
@Icon: I don't think we're disagreeing. Budget restrictions and questionable logic aside, evil Superman was the best part of the movie... and Reeves playing the part so well is what really freaked me out as a kid. In comparison to Superman 1 & 2 (either cut -- Lester or  Donner), 3 is definitely lesser and easy to dismiss... except for that evil Superman. It's why I wrote about it. Whenever good guys go bad (an episode of He-Man also comes to mind), it just bothered me as a kid... and, well, as an adult, too, I guess. And Superman is the BEST, so when he goes bad, it's the WORST.
Posted by MKF30

Yeah, this part was epic...and Reeve pulled off the darker, lost Superman perfectly!

Posted by Darth-Spidey

From what I've gathered, this sounds an awful lot like Spider-Man 3.

Posted by save.me.now
@Darth-Spidey:  I actually wouldn't quite compare it to spider-man three. Evil superman was more of a "bad" person and clark kent was still fine. In Spider-man 3 Spider-Man seemed more evil while peter just came off as an annoying douche-bag that can't dance. Plus spider-man three had a lot more stuff going on, while Superman 3 really just focused on superman becoming evil. But in the sense that they were both the third movie, that ended up not being as good as the first two they are similar.
Posted by No_name_here
@djkirkbride:  Nice article, Kirkblade!
 
I actually re-watched SUPERMAN 3 recently. It plays a lot better if you just take it as a goof.
 
I was always unnerved out by intense Bizarro Superman (which is what I took him to be), but I was REALLY freaked out by movie Braniac (which is what I took that to be)'s possession of knock-off Luthor's manly sister. SILVER SKIN!
Posted by ateygheyev

I'm sorry...so very sorry...

Posted by 244

Wow, man. I feel for you.

Edited by cmaprice
@Tom Pinchuk said:

" @djkirkbride:  Nice article, Kirkblade!  I actually re-watched SUPERMAN 3 recently. It plays a lot better if you just take it as a goof.  I was always unnerved out by intense Bizarro Superman (which is what I took him to be), but I was REALLY freaked out by movie Braniac (which is what I took that to be)'s possession of knock-off Luthor's manly sister. SILVER SKIN! "

y'know, "Bizarro" was (kind of) in Superman IV. All of his scenes were cut from the film, but are on the DVD extras. Gotta love the circus music and the clownish sound effects!
 
Posted by Fuloqwam

For me, the issue with Superman 3 was that he became evil because a foreign object told him to do it.  It modified both his motives and his behaviour, the way a programmer would modify a robot.  He lost all humanity when that happened, and became more of a weapon than a person with powers.  And one of the reasons the movie wasn't enjoyable was because you were basically just waiting for him to "break the spell".
 
The same could be said for Spider-Man 3.  An alien lands and tells Peter to be a giant douche.  He didn't snap under tragic loss and pressure, He didn't let his pride go to his head, he just basically became a jackass because "that's what the alien does to you".   
 
Now, unless the audience are heroin addicts or Roiders, how are they supposed to relate to that?   The key for superhero movies is to keep the audience rooting for the superhero.  To do that, you have to keep them likeable.  Want to turn a good guy bad?  Look at Harvey Dent, who can say they wouldn't go crazy going through what he went through?  Or, to a lesser extent, Tony Stark, the lovable jerk-hero.  Heck, look Shakespeare's  MacBeth or Othello.  It's been done, and frankly, I don't think it's particularly hard.