Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
There’s no way that Superman IV could be as bad as Superman III, right? RIGHT? Before diving into the film, I had to do some thinking. What would this movie be about, and why the sudden use of a subtitle? So Superman presumably goes on a “Quest for Peace” in the movie, but what spurs it on? War? Gang violence? Only one way to find out and that’s to watch the movie.
Why did I watch this movie. This is one of the worst superhero movies I’ve ever seen, and I saw Catwoman AND Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance in the theater (Both of them!). I’m getting ahead of myself, because at first I was wondering why this movie gets such a bum rap. It starts out in a way that gives you hope, which would make the film even more awful if it had been titled “The Quest for Hope.” In the beginning we see Superman save a group of cosmonauts in space, a scene that actually plays really well even through dated effects. He then flies to Smallville and meets with a realtor at the Kent farm. It took three movies, but Clark finally went back home, and it looks like nothing has been moved since his father died, except his body of course.
After all these fun and poignant sequences, the rug is pulled out from under us and we fall into a cleverly-designed torture chamber called: the rest of the movie. There are a few good things though, Christopher Reeve is still an awesome Clark Kent/Superman, Margot Kidder is still a great Lois, and Mariel Hemingway (that one really cute woman from Manhattan) is in the movie. The scenes featuring these three, and lots of exposition, are among the only strong points. The idea of the Daily Planet being bought out and reformed into a tabloid, that’s a good idea, but it’s not the focus here so it quickly takes a backseat (and is resolved off camera). Those few minutes where they’re all together and discussing things irrelevant to the central plot are actually more interesting than the rest of the movie.
Where does the movie suddenly go wrong? When we see a classroom discussing the arms race between Russia and America and this one loud-mouth brat starts screaming about how Superman should destroy all the nukes. This could have worked, but the director managed to squeeze the most obnoxious performance possible out of the kid. “Got under my skin” doesn’t do enough justice to how much this annoyed me. The idea of a kid asking why Superman doesn’t destroy all of the weapons (Hey! I finally get the subtitle!) could have been really great. It also would have made Superman’s moral dilemma way more interesting if the kid showed genuine compassion for the human race instead of screaming at the top of his lungs because “LOOK MA I’M IN A MOVIE!”
This brings up another problem with the film. After being berated by a ten year old, Superman really starts to question what he can do for the planet. He even goes back to Jor-El’s warning about not interfering with human history, but wait… Superman completely ignored that warning in the first movie and everything turned out fine. Why would Superman NOW decide he needs to listen to his long-dead father’s warning? I realize that the fourth film in a franchise is when you start to stray away from the mythology you’ve already set up, and eventually it doesn’t matter because Superman ignores the warning once again and destroys all the weapons.
There are a few other logical fallacies in the film, even beyond Superman’s dilemma of “I can’t interfere.” First, we get to the point where Lois reveals to Clark that she has secretly remembered everything, even though he totally used his amnesia kisses on her. This brings up a really frustrating point – why would Lois pretend to not know all these things? In Superman II, when he plants the forgetting kiss on her, why does she immediately not remember a THING from the events of the movie? That’s one example, the other thing this movie does to totally ruin the legacy of the other films is when Superman says this line: “If you teach them to put their faith in one man, you’re teaching them to be betrayed,” which utterly destroys the “Superman as a messianic figure” metaphor. Sure, it sounded nice in the scene and in that context, but when held up it makes about as much sense as Lex Luthor’s wig fascination.
It’s difficult to put my finger on what really soured this movie. There are so many terrible things that no one can be fully blamed for the downfall, but the return of Gene Hackman is certainly one that made me groan. His performance as “the greatest criminal mind in the world” (which doesn’t become more true just because he yells it) is the kind of over-the-top corniness that is reserved for Ed Wood pictures. I will admit, this time around Lex Luthor’s plan actually sounds like a good one, until you think about it, and then he changes it so it’s even dumber. By letting Superman destroy the nukes, and controlling all the arms dealers in the world, Luthor can be the sole provider of nuclear weapons to the world. But if these countries were so willing to destroy their weapons in the first place, weapons they created themselves no less, why would they go to Luthor to buy more of them? Can’t they just make their own again? But everyone is apparently ready to be a peaceful world without weapons, so what’s the point? Sure comic book Luthor would be able to convince the world that they need those weapons, but Gene Hackman’s (ahem) hacky version wouldn’t.
Moving on to the “Nuclear Man” aspect of Luthor’s plot, which is the kind of story idea that a writer who hasn’t read a comic book thinks would make sense to comic book readers. To start, Luthor steals a strand of Superman’s hair from the “Superman exhibit” at the local museum. Since that in itself isn’t dumb enough for you he took that strand of hair and put it in a little rocket-womb, shot it at the sun, and it birthed the fully-grown and fully-clothed Nuclear Man (It would appear only even numbered Superman movies feature villains that he is capable of punching). Anyway, Nuclear Man fights Superman and gives him the flu (really) resulting in Superman losing his powers (again) and then regaining them (again) from a special Kryptonian crystal (again). This movie wasn’t even trying at all.
I’ve touched on the logical failures of this movie beforehand, but the climax of the movie is when it really started to test my patience. In an effort to rid Nuclear Man of his powers, Superman pushes the moon out of orbit to create an eclipse. It works to the extent that Nuclear Man loses his powers, but what about the catastrophic effect that moving the moon would have on Earth? Tidal waves would suddenly cease, weather patterns throughout the globe would change in an instant, and hundreds would likely die from potential flooding. So much for not changing human history, again. Also, at the end Superman takes his new love interest up in the air to fly around with him. Where do they go? Outer space, and you know what happens to Lacy Warfield? Nothing, she’s fine. Even though the very beginning of the film showed humans in space, wearing helmets, and almost getting sucked out into the void as long as Superman is holding you, space travel is like a walk in the park.
There is no way that people made this movie thinking it was as good as the first film. Its story is idiotic and boring and the effects are somehow worse than the original film which was ten years old at the time. This is clearly an exercise in stupidity. Though I do imagine if this film had been written and animated by an 8 year old, it would be praised on the internet for its creativity, and likely make it bearable.