Superman III 4.28: The Stokis Uprising

The story so far: loveable loser, wind-up penguins, chaos in Calgary, Lois in Bermuda, casual attitude toward angels, uneaten potato salad, fake Art Deco, sackful of puppies, the bowling scene, half a soundtrack, and computers preventing people from relating to one another. Add six cups of comic relief, and stir.

It’s no wonder the Stokis family is barging in, demanding recompense. I feel exactly the same way.

They have been roughly handled, these incandescent Stokises, and they want somebody to do something about it. They have been folded, spindled and mutilated by the ongoing nonsense known to the public as Superman III, and they didn’t even watch the bowling scene, so you can just imagine how I feel.

I’ve spent weeks now, painstakingly establishing my critical framework for discussing the disappointments of Superman III, and if we’re honest with each other, you’re sick of hearing about it and so am I.

So I’m just going to run through the next ten minutes or so at top speed, clearing out the backlog of smart remarks that I would like to make, and then after this I’m going to talk about comic books and merchandise for a minute, and just generally try to get my blood pressure down.

Okay, to start with: Colombia, which is made out of sticks.

I mean, this must be the shoddiest-built country in all of South America. First, that red house on the left falls over backwards like it’s just a front with no building behind it.

And then the house on the right falls over, and it looks like they weren’t keeping anything inside it. Who’s in charge of real estate in Colombia?

Next: Webster’s big idea is to re-route all of the oil tankers in apparently the world and bunch them up together in the middle of the ocean, at which point Mr. Ross Webster will control all of the oil.

“If Gus Gorman can push the right buttons,” he postulates, “I can have it all. All the oil! All the pumps! All the tankers!” That is the entire scheme.

My question: How does he think he’s going to get away with this? Everybody knows who he is. He’s a billionaire and he’s famous.

Sure, Gus can send the tankers to someplace other than their intended destination, but the oil still belongs to somebody. If Webster says, “Finders keepers, this is all mine now,” does he expect everyone else to shrug and go along with it? I don’t get it.

Then: Superman saving Colombia from the hurricane. They’d planned this as an actual action sequence in the film, and we do get two shots from that original sequence, but then they decided it would be funnier if Gus put on a tablecloth and jumped around.

This is actually why they hired Richard Pryor in the first place: they saw him on The Tonight Show, acting out the story of Superman II in front of an amused Johnny Carson. For one beautiful moment of live television, Pryor caught lightning in a bottle, doing an improv routine that was so funny they gave him four million dollars to come and do it again in a Superman movie.

But the thing that made that moment funny was that Pryor was violating the rules of the late-night talk show, getting up from his chair and zooming around like a kid. He was clowning around in front of Carson and a live audience, and like the amazing stand-up comic that he was, he turned that nervous, ecstatic energy into a hilarious performance.

Now here he is on the set, with people telling him go ahead, take the tablecloth and pretend it’s a cape, and act out the story, like you did on Carson. It’ll be funny!

I can’t think of anything more poisonous to a moment of spontaneous creative improvisation than to try and make it happen again, in cold blood, when everyone’s expecting you to do it. He tries, and they make sure that Lorelei is happily chuckling the whole time so there’s a little bit of a live audience, but he’s just going through the motions because they’re telling him to. It makes me sad.

The big fall: Silly as it is, Gus’ ski jump is an interesting and well put together stunt. The stuntman is Greg Elam, falling several hundred feet attached to a cable.

They’re using a device called a “fan descender” which allows for a safe cable-controlled descent, originally used by the Royal Air Force to simulate parachute landings in hangars. Stuntman Vic Armstrong developed a variation of the fan descender for use in films while shooting a 1981 British heist film called Green Ice.

Armstrong had a history with Superman himself; he was the stunt man doubling for Chris Reeve in the flying scenes for Superman: The Movie and Superman II. He got a Technical Achievement Academy Award in 2000 for “the Fan Descender, for accurately and safely arresting the descent of stunt persons in high freefalls”.

Also stunt-related, there’s some nice footage in the Making of Superman III special of a long, trying day for Elam as he tries over and over to ski convincingly down the glass slope for the middle of the stunt.

Then he lands, and I’m back in tedious comic relief territory. I’m not going to get into it, see previous posts on the subject of comedy, but I would like to point out that the scene is the mirror image of Lois falling in Superman: The Movie. This must be what happens to people when Superman isn’t around to save them.

Moving on! Of all the silly things that Gus can do with his magic computer powers, I think this is the least explicable: using a weather satellite to analyze the chemical makeup of a mineral in another galaxy.

There is the strange idea in this film that if a person is smart about one thing, then they’re smart about everything. It’s not just Gus; Vera also has a sudden upgrade at the end of the film so that she knows how to program computers too. This is the usual result, when non-smart people try to make a movie about smart people.

And finally: Why do Mr. and Mrs. Stokis have to suffer these indignities?

First, there’s a cruel and misogynistic joke about Mr. Stokis not considering winning his wife’s hand to be valuable, and then they get sent to South America, where they’re battered and broken, purely for the joy of inflicting injuries on characters that the movie doesn’t like.

You’ll notice that there are a lot of comic sequences in the movie that involve insulting, assaulting, criticizing and/or punishing characters for the crime of appearing in the movie. Jimmy Olsen, who was adorable in the first movie, is now portrayed as a tedious bore. Gus is hit in the crotch, Vera is mercilessly mocked, and Brad is dragged around the office while he’s unconscious and later thrown into a wall head-first.

Ricky’s picked last for the bowling team, Wife gets half a grapefruit in the face, Lorelei endures endless condescension, the crowd at the Superman rally find that the size of their asses is somehow up for discussion, and I shudder to think what might have happened to that poor mime, struggling on the sidewalk. Even the guys on line at the gas station get a punch in the face, and they didn’t do anything.

I think Lana is probably the only one to survive the film unscathed. Besides her, it’s collateral damage, everywhere you turn.

So this, if you’re up for it, is another piece of the critical framework: comedy in and of itself is not the problem with Superman III. The problem is that the comedy is often misanthropic and mean-spirited, to the point where it seems like the film hates its own characters. The Stokis family objects to this, and so do I.

4.29: Kotzwinkle


If you’re looking for a pick-me-up after today’s post, check out my recent guest appearance on Tough Pigs’ Movin’ Right Along podcast! The show is a celebration and critical analysis of the Muppet movies, currently about two-thirds of the way through 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol. In the latest episode, “Did Everyone Hate This Movie in 1992?“, I relate the story of my experiences as a young Muppet journalist, covering the movie back in ’92, and why it haunts me to this day. There’s a full character arc over the course of this episode, and you will enjoy it, so go listen to that.

There are also a few little bloopers to look for in the scenes that I’m talking about today: Gus programs the coordinates of Colombia as 75 degrees west and 5 degrees south, which I am informed is actually the coordinates of Peru. There’s a continuity error around Gus’ shoes/boots over the course of the ski jump stunt. Finally, the computer says “Instructions recieved” when Gus asks it to analyze the Kryptonite.

4.29: Kotzwinkle


— Danny Horn

16 thoughts on “Superman III 4.28: The Stokis Uprising

  1. Even the donkey Mrs. Stokis rides on in South America has a low opinion of her. From the novelization, p. 120:

    “Isn’t it a wonderful vacation, Maury,” cooed Mrs. Stokis, as her beast of burden lumbered under her, lost in her own thoughts.

    El burro es muy perezoso, the burro said to himself.

    And twitched his ears.

    For it felt like rain.

    Which meant he wouldn’t have to carry this fat gringos [sic] around no more.

    “Perezoso” means lazy. And no, I don’t have much of an explanation for this passage either.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Hmm, I thought he was referring to Mrs. Stokis as a burro in a sort of ironic turnaround, but maybe you’re right. I guess he just wants to rest! The fuller passage gets into what annoying “gringos” the Stokises are, which is maybe intended to help us not feel so bad when they get injured in the storm.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. In my mind, this is when the postmodern era began. When you can turn truth, justice, and the American way into slapstick, what’s left to believe in or even take seriously?

    Another great piece, Danny. I think you’re at your best when you don’t have one fascinating, well-researched topic at hand. Not that you should give up fascinating, well-researched topics.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. We are all Stokis!

    Thank you, Danny, for skimming through these scenes, so many of which made no sense to me. I’m happy to move quickly to Superman’s identity crisis, which I hope will be coming soon.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Of all the silly things that Gus can do with his magic computer powers, I think this is the least explicable: using a weather satellite to analyze the chemical makeup of a mineral in another galaxy.

    Not as silly as a weather satellite causing(!!) causing the weather! :-O

    Liked by 3 people

    1. No matter the year, one thing almost all movies have in common is a deep and profound misunderstanding of what computers actually can and can’t do, coupled with an astonishing naivete about how easily human nature can be en masse influenced by the most cynical and lazy use of technology.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Your passage about Richard Pryor being told “just do that again!” brought back soooo many memories of relatives demanding I “act out something” for them when they came to visit, since I was a theater kid. You don’t really get what “context is everything” means until you’re fifteen and being forced to perform your Agnes of God audition monologue in front of your seventy five year old grandparents.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. The problem with Superman III’s comedy is that it’s not funny though skiing off the building was at least surprising. I watched the footage of the attempts to slide down the glass. I can only imagine how frustrating it was to do that repeatedly.
    For some reason I still cannot “like” Danny’s post. Is it because I don’t have a blog of my own? Just assume there’s a “like” from me in spirit on every post.


    1. I have the same problem. I’ve tried “liking” from different computers, different browsers, even different platforms. I used to be able to in the past, but it doesn’t work for me anymore.


      1. Can you like comments? My problem just seems to be confined to Danny’s posts. I can only assume this is something WordPress has done for some reason.


      2. I do have an account. I seem to be able to like Danny’s post if I go to the WordPress website but not if I open the blog in email. Hope that helps.


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