Having thwarted Lex Luthor and three Kryptonian supervillains in Superman II (1981), the Man of Steel now battled his greatest foe yet: comedian Richard Pryor . . .
Gus Gorman (Pryor) is introduced as a perpetual loser who discovers an inborn talent for computer programming. Hired by corporate megalomaniac Ross Webster, Gus is dispatched to Smallville (Superman’s hometown) to reprogram a weather satellite to destroy Colombia’s coffee crop.
Meanwhile, Clark Kent has decided to return to Smallville, trying to get back to his roots. With his on-again, off-again girlfriend Lois Lane back in the big city, Clark rekindles a romance with high school sweetheart Lana Lang.
All is small-town happiness and tranquillity until Clark discovers Gus’ fiddling and puts a stop to it as Superman. That puts him on Webster’s bad list, and the arch-villain commands Gus to develop a synthetic substitute for Kryptonite.
With his computer prowess, Gus is able to identify most of the components, but a few read as “Unknown”. Fearing the price of failure, Gus improvises, listing cigarette tar as the missing ingredient.
The tar-laced Red Kryptonite splits our hero literally in two, with one half good and one half darkly evil, and the two sides battling each other for supremacy – a plot-ploy which gives Christopher Reeve something to play for a change. It’s rather nice to see Superman chasing blondes, drinking scotch and going to pot with a five o’clock shadow.
Meanwhile, Gus has developed a supercomputer for Webster.
Once Superman defeats his dark self, Webster turns the computer’s awesome capabilities against the Man of Steel, leading to a chase between our hero and a nuclear missile in the Grand Canyon (while an Atari-produced video game parallels the action).
Much of the original cast returned for this third instalment, with Margot Kidder making a brief appearance as Lois.
Apparently, comedy didn’t score as well with audiences as the more straightforward heroics of the first two films, but Superman III was still successful enough to inspire a fourth instalment in 1987.
The video game seen in the film was in development at Atari at the time of filming but never saw the light of day.