Superman III 4.14: King of the Prom

Now, the first thing that I’d like to point out is that Superman III is extremely judgmental about the consumption of alcohol for the purposes of adult refreshment.

It’s something that only the baddies do, and they do it performatively to show how bad they are. At the beginning of the seduction-of-the-innocent sequence, Webster makes a big show of accessing his enormous in-office liquor cabinet, and giving Gus a drink. Later, Gus uses Brad’s interest in thirst-quenching beverages to gain access to the company computer. And what is the last straw for Dark Superman, when you know that he’s really gone rotten? He goes to a bar and has a drink.

So I think that’s important context to establish, before I present my analysis of the film’s anti-Brad agenda.

Brad Wilson — former football hero, current single guy with a steady job — does drink alcohol at several points during the course of the movie, guilty as charged. He also briefly puts his arm around Lana during the reunion scene, in a way that she is clearly uncomfortable with. That is a bad thing that men should not do.

But, hear me out on this: I am not convinced that Brad is the worst person in this picture.

Take away the anti-alcohol bias, and what do we know about Brad?

Well, for starters, he’s not lying about who he is or leading a double life, like some people I could mention. After high school, he didn’t run off to a polar icecap and inherit supernatural powers. Brad stayed in his hometown, like a normal person, and he got a job, and he pined for the girl that he loved.

Sure, when we first see him, he’s bragging to somebody about an old football game, but if you want to talk about a show-off, then we should start with the guy who flies around in the sky wearing a bright red-and-blue circus outfit.

We also know that Brad has real feelings for Lana, which he expresses consistently throughout the movie, as opposed to the guy who parachutes in and hands her a lot of big talk, and then scuttles back to the city to write newspaper articles about her.

In the movie taking place in Brad’s mind, he knew that Lana had married the wrong man. Donald — the King of the Prom — was going to let her down, which he did, leaving her flat with a young kid to raise. And now that Donald is out of the picture, the high school reunion would be the perfect time for Brad to reconnect with Lana, and tell her how he feels. Unlike the other jerks in town, Brad doesn’t mind that Lana comes with strings attached; he’s willing to raise Ricky as a stepson. He just needs her to give him a break for a minute, and maybe she’ll see that the right guy for her has been standing here all this time, quietly hiccuping.

And when lying boasting coward runaway Clark Kent suddenly shows up in a spotless white tuxedo to sweep Lana away, does Brad try to grab her, or fight with Clark for her? Of course not. She’s made her choice, at least for tonight, and he just stands there looking sad. And yeah, he has another drink. Who wouldn’t?

And consider this, from the next sequence, when Clark is helping Lana to clean up after the dance:

Lana:  Thanks for helping me out!

Clark:  Are you kidding, Lana? A lot of guys would like to be where I am.

Lana:  Ha. You’d be surprised how many offers I didn’t get. Even Brad wouldn’t stick around for this!

Reflect on that line for a moment. “Even Brad wouldn’t stick around for this!” implies that Brad would ordinarily stick around and help Lana, and this moment is the exception.

And why didn’t Brad stick around this time? Because you-know-who is monopolizing the attention of the woman that he loves.

And then there’s the bowling scene, which I mentioned a couple posts ago that we’d come back and examine. In this sequence, Lana has taken her utterly hopeless son Ricky to the bowling alley, even though he can’t bowl and the other kids don’t want to play with him. And Clark’s there too, for I guess journalistic reasons.

The scene begins with the kids grudgingly accepting Ricky in their game.

Lana:  I just can’t stand this.

Clark:  Oh, Lana, he’ll be okay. Believe me, I know — I was a late bloomer myself.

Lana:  It’s not just that he’s small for his age. How’d you like to be the only kid in town without a father?

(Brad peels himself away from the bar, and starts climbing over the chairs to reach them.)

Lana:  Oh, look — stewed to the gills in the middle of the afternoon.

Clark:  Gee, all he had was chocolate milk.

Lara:  No, I mean him.

Brad:  Hey, sweet thing! Little kid getting hassled, huh? Kent, you still here?

Clark:  Well, I seem to be, Brad.

Brad:  All the kid needs is a couple pointers from the ol’ champ here. Kent, I bet you didn’t know I won the all-country bowling championship two years in a row.

Clark:  Gee, I didn’t know that, Brad.

Brad:  Yeah. A natural athlete can play any sport.

(Brad walks toward Ricky, as he prepares to take his shot.)

Lana:  Brad, you’re just going to make it worse!

Clark:  It’s all right, Lana — he’ll be okay.

(Ricky is not okay. Rick sucks at this. The children jeer.)

Clark:  You watch, he’ll get a spare! C’mon, Ricky!

(Brad approaches, and takes Ricky’s ball.)

Brad:  Hey, kid — look, you’re holding it all wrong. Let ol’ Brad show you how it’s done.

(Clark gets involved.)

Clark:  Uh, Brad? Say, Brad, I think maybe he’ll be better off doing it his way.

Brad:  Well, for a guy who was lucky to be waterboy in the high school team, you sure got a big mouth, Kent.

Clark:  Well, I just think that maybe Ricky doesn’t need a bowling lesson in front of all the other kids.

Brad:  He needs a man to show ‘im!

Clark:  I think he’s doing just fine on his own. ‘Scuse me.

(Clark takes the ball away from Brad.)

Clark:  Here you go, Ricky. And give it your best shot. Okay! There you go.

And then Clark uses his secret magical powers to make Ricky believe that he bowled competently.

So here’s my objection: Brad was actually helping Ricky. Not helping him cheat, the way that Clark does, but actually helping him to improve at the thing that he’s trying to do.

The way that Brad expresses himself is not in line with modern enlightened thought — “He needs a man to show him!” — but you have to admit that Ricky is desperately in need of another caregiver. Lana has been raising Ricky by herself since he was three, and look what an utter mess of a child he’s become.

And here is Brad, displaying a sincere interest in Lana and her family. Brad is clearly demonstrating that he would like to be a positive figure in Ricky’s life.

You’ll notice that once again, when Clark grabs something out of Brad’s hands and pushes him aside, Brad does not react with anger. He just allows it to happen, because he doesn’t want to make a scene, and he’s not a bad person.

Yes, again he does the unwelcome shoulder-grabbing of Lana, which is not excusable and I do not excuse it. And yes, he cracks some jokes at Clark’s expense, which I will excuse, on account of Clark continuing to hang around poisoning Brad’s potential relationship with the woman that he has longed for all these years.

As far as Brad’s weekend afternoon buzz is concerned, if you don’t hold the Prohibition-era view of alchohol as a moral evil, then one might observe that it’s common for adults to drink beer at a bowling alley. That’s why there’s a bar there. Honestly, the film’s goody two-shoes idea that you’re not supposed to drink at social functions is shared by pretty much no one.

I’m not saying that I think Brad and Lana should be together at the end of this movie. He’s an alcoholic, and he needs to quit it with the unwanted shoulder-squeezing. But if he went to meetings and did the 12 steps for a while, I think Lana could do worse than go on a date with a guy who actually loves her, and wants to take care of her family.

I mean, she could go and follow the guy who causes senseless property damage at a struggling local community recreation spot, in order to give a child a lifetime of confused expectations as he struggles to understand how he could have been so powerful once and only once in his life. She could even move to a dangerous city with high rent, bad schools and a rising crime rate, in the hopes of a relationship with a man who’s taken a secret permanent vow of extraterrestrial celibacy. That is an option that Lana is free to pursue.

I just wanted to put in a word for the guy who didn’t inherit enchanted space powers, currently holding down a shitty job and dreaming of something better.

Tomorrow:
Finally, a post about Lana
4.15: The Man Who Loved Mayonnaise

Chapters

— Danny Horn

15 thoughts on “Superman III 4.14: King of the Prom

  1. Superman 3 as a rom-com told from Brad’s POV sounds like a potentially more interesting idea than what we got. We might even feel sorry for Brad who, like Bill Pullman in Sleepless in Seattle, loses out to his more famous co-star for no particularly good reason other than the fact the other guy is the lead. In some Parallel Cinematic Universe, Gavan O’Herlihy could end up playing the President.
    In our reality, Gavan played the oldest Cunningham child during the first season of Happy Days. He was replaced for season 2 before the character disappeared. Perhaps he joined Bobby Martin “polishing skis in the attic.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. One could also point to the other alternate universe where O’Herlihy joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and tried to extradite Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks in the USA back to Canada. Since Cooper did commit the illegal acts in Canada he was accused of, once again O’Herlihy was on higher moral ground than the leading man. Again poor Gavan / Brad lost out to the actor with higher billing.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Superman: “Wait, am I the bad guy?” *flashes back to beating up a trucker at the end of Superman II to get revenge for a fight that he himself started* “Nahhhh.”

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I dunno…

    I mean, I get that Brad has his life, and his issues, and his hangups. We all do (even Clark. ESPECIALLY Clark.) But what it comes down to is–I don’t think Lana wants to date this guy.

    She’s known him her entire life. It has been made amply clear that he’s interested. But she is not. And that’s all that’s required. Even if Clark had never entered that high school gym festooned with memories, crepe paper and regret, she was not interested in Brad.

    (I’m not saying Clark/Superman is the better bet, at all–this is the third film in a row that demonstrates beautifully why a superhero is NOT the guy to pin your personal hopes on. They simply are spangled and weighted down with hopes already, from everybody you know and various ones you don’t, and yours is going, inevitably, to get lost in the crowd.)

    And maybe Lana DOES want a romantic relationship–nothing wrong with that at all! But wanting a romantic relationship does not automatically equal “you are required to date a guy who is interested in you if you cannot reciprocate.”

    For one thing, it’s cruel. If Brad deserves thoughtfulness, getting his hopes up temporarily won’t solve any of his problems. (And until he DOES get a handle on his alcohol use he isn’t the guy I would want around my kid even if I was interested.)

    He’s not acting especially hopeful, either. He’s acting entitled, like Lana owes it to him to realize he was The One For Her and is stubbornly refusing to do so. And his constant longing, drunken gazing and shoulder clutching aren’t helping his cause.

    And frankly, what exactly is Brad bringing to the table here besides a decades old crush and a drinking problem? His refusal to let go of past glories may be understandable but it is also, at the very least, exhausting. Does he want Lana for herself, for her current adult, single parent self who’s had her heart stomped on but keeps dreaming and hoping, or, like Clark, as some kind of magical mirror to reflect a past where everything was possible and you weren’t yet divorced and middle aged with bad knees and a narrowing life?

    The hardest truth out there is nobody is automatically deserving of the person of their choice’s love. That’s one reason we celebrate marriages and unions in the first place–it’s a public cheer for two people who beat the odds.
    .

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think it was the opposite. Brad offers to teach Ricky how to hold the ball, because he thinks Ricky can learn, and improve his skills. Clark just wants to clap, and pretend that Ricky’s good at bowling when he clearly isn’t.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. It doesn’t have to be either-or. Both Brad AND Clark can suck in their own ways.

    I think it says a lot for Lana’s character that she hasn’t given into Brad. As goddess says above, she’s clearly not into him after all these years. But it’s meaningful that she hasn’t accepted his advances out of desperation to be with someone–anyone–and have a father for Little Icky. She clearly has self-worth and the desire not to settle.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I’m surprised this wasn’t pointed out before, but Brad and Lana have dated in the past. We see traces of it in the Smallville segments in Superman, where Brad knocks over a pile of helmets and pom poms.

    Brad pining for Lana after all these years is standard jock mentality, where he’s longing for the time people chanted his name in collective joy, rather than in exasperated sighs.

    I appreciate the difference in perspective, as it best highlights the problems with how Clark acts with mostly pointless Ricky, but it’s unfortunately considered contradicted by years of bad movie & TV jocks.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. 1983 was also the year that Tracy Ullman’s cover version of ‘They Don’t Know” was a hit and the video for it was on TV fairly constantly. The Brad character from Superman 3 and Tracy’s crude, loutish husband ‘Paul’ in the video struck me at the time as so interchangeable, that I wondered if it might even be the same person. 40 years later I know better. 1983 must have been the year for that character trope.

    Like

    1. I see the guy in the video more as Clark. He’s a nerdy guy and nobody can understand why she’s with him, but in the end he turns out to be Paul McCartney, a real “superman.”

      Like

      1. It’s been awhile since I sat that Tracy Ulman music vid, but I didn’t think she had really been dating Paul McCartney, just fantasying about it.

        Like

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