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Superman III (1983)

David and Leslie Newman were really onto something with Superman III. Spring-boarding from Part II’s existential crises (“Who is Superman without his powers?”), the screenwriting duo pushed further into the duality of Clark Kent and Superman by turning the Man of Steel into a drunken, menacing jerk—thanks to a synthetic hunk of Kryptonite laced with tar. The junkyard battle, which externalizes Supes’ internal struggle, is one of the most distressing scenes I can remember seeing in a family film. Unfortunately, this next-level look at the Blue Boy Scout gets subsumed by a hundred-and-ten minutes of Richard Pryor’s shocked-face vamping; a super-computer sub-plot that goes nowhere; and a semi-coherent romance storyline between Clark and high-school sweetheart Lana Lang (the radiant-but-squishy Annette O’Toole). The early Superman films always vacillated between sincerity, slapstick, and the horrors of omnipotence. This third outing best illustrates the schizoid hazards of treating comic books as kids’ stuff.

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