Synopsis: Christopher Reeve not only dons the hero’s cape for the fourth time in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace but also helped develop the film’s provocative theme: nuclear disarmament. “For me, it’s the most personal of the entire series,” Reeve says. “It directly reflects what Superman should be, and should be doing.” Superman does a lot this time around. To make the world safe for nuclear arms merchants, archvillain Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) creates a new being to challenge the Man of Steel: the radiation-charged Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow). The two foes clash in an explosive extravaganza that sees Superman save the Statue of Liberty, plug a volcanic eruption of Mount Etna and rebuild the demolished Great Wall of China. Your quest for superheroic excitement is over!
eyelights: the Clark Kent/Superman double date.
eyesores: the storytelling. the cheap-o looking production. the plot.
“You know what I can do with a single strand of Superman’s hair?”
“You can make a toupee that flies?”
When ‘Superman IV’ came out, in 1987, I was a rebellious teenager. I was pulled to anti-heroes like Dirty Harry, The Punisher and Wolverine. I still loved Superman, but I a bit more cynical. So, when the fourth and final entry in the original series came out, and it was subtitled “Quest for Peace”, I just couldn’t stomach it.
I mean, I was intrigued by the notion that Christopher Reeve had written the story, but the plot felt lame to me. Still, I collected comic books at the time, so I did take a gander at DC’s adaptation of the movie when it came in. And it looked like crap. So I ended up waiting something like a decade before ever seeing the movie.
Seriously, I hadn’t missed anything. In fact, I almost wished I had never seen it.
The picture revolves around Superman’s attempt to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Naturally, Lex Luthor shows up to prevent him, intent as he is on making money from black market weapon sales, and creates an counterforce called Nuclear Man, a superpowered henchman who has the ability to kill his nemesis once and for all.
Throw in a subplot about The Daily Planet being taken over by a media tycoon, a romance between Lacy, the tycoon’s daughter, and Clark Kent, and you’ve got yourself a movie.
But a cheapie.
You see, Cannon Pictures, which owned the franchise at the time, decided to make the movie on half of the original budget – which was already a fraction of its predecessors. And it shows: the opening credits, which try to evoke the original film’s but look cheap, are a good indicator of what’s to come. And it’s a bad omen.
Superman’s flying looks like crap. How could it possibly get worse, ten years after the original, you wonder? Well it did. Superman is poorly superimposed on various backgrounds – like a crap paper cut-out. Further to that, his hair/wig is lackered black, like plastic. So weird. And, to make matters worse, he looks less fit.
Superman is no longer super.
At the opening, Clark Kent goes back to Smallville to sell the family farm. I loved that he decided to hold out for a real farmer, not a developer – it’s a nice touch and so in character. But it’s a scene that’s wholly marred when he makes his ship (which is buried in the barn) disappear with just a look, with no rays or anything. WTF.
Meanwhile, Luthor is working on a chain gang, but escapes with the help of his… nephew (an irritating John Cryer playing a new wave/punk teenager, and trying too hard to be cool)? I mean, seriously, the guards are so pathetic that it’s a wonder that Luthor even needs his help: He just drives in with gadget-addled car? Really?
Then the pair go to a museum that has a strand of Superman’s hair and steals it, needing Superman’s DNA to create their own superbeing. But they do it in broad daylight, during opening hours, and looking so goofy that someone should have been suspicious. And yet they get out of there without a fuss – not even a chase.
Lex creates Nuclear Man by attaching a dubious piece of technology on a nuclear warhead that he expects Superman to throw into the sun as with all the others. Somehow it works, creating a fully-clothed and minimally intelligent being. Somehow. But the worse part is the animation of his birth from the sun, which is utterly pathetic.
Yeah, there was no CGI then. And no money for decent animators, apparently.
Nuclear Man has terrible plastic nails and he burns footprints in ground as he walks – which must be pretty rough on his boots. Basically, he looks like a rejected WWE (then-WWF) wrestler. But he has one terrible weakness: he loses all power and goes into “silent mode” when there’s no sunlight. Ooh… plot point!!!
When Superman and Nuclear Man finally fight the scene is marred by terrible blue screening, rope work and maquettes. And, for some reason, Supes can rebuild the Great Wall of China with his eyes. It ends with Nuclear Man clawing the back of Supes’ neck – which immediately weakens him. Then he kicks him into the distance.
Um… why not just kill him? Why not fulfil your destiny, the reason you were created?
And this is when gets worse:
Superman disappears, presumed dead. But he’s taken ill from the scratch. A scratch! So Clark is locked up at home, feverish and with sweats. After a brief visit by Lois, suddenly Supes is in Kansas, getting the last green crystal (but… wasn’t the last one already used in ‘Superman II‘?) and he’s old, dying. WTF. What happened?
Equally out of left field, Nucelear Man inexplicably wants Lacy, the tycoon’s daughter, and kidnaps her. Uh… can you say “random”? So he shows up in Metropolis, in traffic (he doesn’t just fly to her office or her home). But Superman is already there (When did he get there, and why?), somehow, and challenges him. WTF.
Seriously, it feels like there are tons of missing bits, like it was edited together by a hack. (The film was reportedly trimmed from 138 minutes to 90 minutes! 30 minutes can be found in deleted scenes of the Special Edition DVD, and some of it actually helps the film make more sense – but it’s all really pretty subpar stuff).
Anyway, Supes feints giving in, says he’ll take Nuclear Man to Lacy. And then takes the elevator! WTF! He later traps Nuclear Man in the elevator, takes him to a crap moon set and they fight – which is anticlimactic due to the poor fake gravity. After knocking out Supes, Nuclear Man takes Lacey… to space.
Somehow she can breathe!
Lacy can breathe in space?
It’s bad enough that Lacy starts off being a worldly, ruthless business person and ends up being neither at the mere thought of Clark Kent – as though a person like her could ever get her knickers damp seeing this buffoon in action. And yet there she is, lying on her desk in various poses to try to catch his eye and seduce him.
At least this leads to one of the only redeeming bits of the picture: A double date that Lacy has with Clark and Lois and Superman. It could have been done better: the gags are contrived and Clark/Supes changes in public. But it gives Reeve the chance to do slapstick – and he’s pretty good, actually, though the material isn’t.
Still, it doesn’t make up for the rest of the picture which is so poorly-written that even my 14-year-old self would have rolled my eyes.
The worse of a series of terrible moments is when Superman, needing advice, reveals himself to Lois (a worn-looking Kidder) by walking off the ledge of his penthouse apartment with her – and in the middle of the day, no less. And then takes her on a flight. Again (except done way cheaper). What kind of dumb @$$ $#!t is this?!!!
To make matters worse, she then professes to having never actually forgotten that he was Superman, even though he kissed her memories away in ‘Superman II’. WTF. So why pretend all this time (including now, when he jumped off the ledge)? And yet he kisses her again, to make her forget. What, even though it didn’t work the first time?
Aaaaargh!!! How does any of this make ANY sense?
The writing is terrible, the dialogues are pathetic, the performances are barely tolerable, the special effects are utter crap, the action is bloody ridiculous… heck even the legendary Alexander Courage’s score sounds tinny! It’s really just a terrible, terrible picture; there’s barely anything of note in this movie.
‘Superman IV’ was a dismal failure on all counts: the critics hated it, it tanked at the box office, and even star Christopher Reeve blamed it as a death blow to his career. And it’s not surprising at even a passing glance: ‘Superman IV’ is a piece of crap movie, a pale caricature of what the series started out to be not even a decade prior.
It would be the last of the Christopher Reeve/Superman films. I’d like to add “sadly”, but given where the series was headed, I think that we were ultimately spared a lot of misery. I just wish that Reeve’s swan song hadn’t been so dismal, because this load of dog poopee is what people remember – if they even saw it all.
Date of viewing: May 8, 2016