Why you should care

Even the Man of Steel has his off days.

As an 8-year-old connoisseur of movies, I thought I’d seen it all. And then came the day I caught a matinee of Superman III. Archnemesis Lex Luthor was nowhere to be found. Instead, the Man of Steel faced off against … Richard Pryor? The story was a snooze. The jokes were lame. The film was a dud. Except for that one scene.

Anybody who’s seen the film knows what I’m talking about. Superman — the most clean-cut of all superheroes — gets sloppy drunk. The scene is bizarre and borderline insane, and yet it’s unquestionably the best thing about the film. A mucho depressed Superman visits a seedy bar (in his red-and-blue costume, mind you), hits the booze like he’s pledging Animal House and then stumbles around, a hot, angry mess, while confused onlookers gawk. Oh, and then he proceeds to fight a version of himself (the good, glasses-wearing Clark Kent) in a junkyard, Fight Club-style.

Sure, logical questions are inevitable. Like “How in the hell can Superman get drunk?”

It’s a metaphor. I think. For Superman’s inner demons. Maybe? I don’t know. But whatever’s going on, the results stand in stark contrast to the rest of the schlock the movie has to offer. Sure, logical questions are inevitable. Like “How in the hell can Superman get drunk?” And why is his outfit all dirty? And who does his laundry? And why does he have five-o’clock shadow? And how does Superman shave? Aren’t his whiskers stronger than any razor?

Another fabulous scene from a forgettable movie: The Replacements.

Still, the scene flat-out works. It’s disturbing, kind of scary, totally unexpected and very cool. As a hero, Superman is so strong, so unbeatable, that watching him fight can be a smidge boring. After all, if nobody (on Earth) can beat him, where’s the suspense? It’s an intriguing dilemma that the filmmakers managed to solve during this nine-minute scene. It’s Superman vs. himself. If good Clark Kent wins, America will be saved. If bad Superman wins, then, bartenders of the world, lock your doors.

The fight humanizes a cartoon character, which is never an easy thing to accomplish. If the rest of the film were only half as good, Superman III could have been a classic instead of the beginning of the end of a beloved franchise. Because, believe it or not, things only got worse for Superman (and audiences) in Part IV, when he fought Nuclear Man, possessor of radioactive fingernails and a mullet that would not quit.

The scene continues in these videos, Parts 2 and 3.

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