Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (Review)

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is one of those rare films that is so shockingly bad on so many levels that it seems to transcend any sort of traditional system of evaluation.  It is a film that defies logic on multiple occasions, and ultimately ends up being one of the main factors working to tarnish the memory of late actor Christopher Reeve.  On top of all this, it was the resounding nail in the coffin of the original Superman film franchise, which screeched to an sharp halt after two incredibly successful first films.  But before we fully dissect the many failures of Superman IV, it is important to understand a bit about its shaky production history.

After Superman III failed to impress fans, critics, and everybody else, Reeve and the producers behind the franchise called it quits and hung up the red cape and blue tights for good.  That is until Golan & Globus (the producing team behind several Chuck Norris classics) came along and bought up the property, pushing forward with plans for a fourth film.  They made Reeve an offer he couldn’t refuse, and just like that Superman IV was born.  But problems quickly arose when G & G began ruthlessly trimming the budget (allegedly from $36 million to $17 million), forcing director Sidney J. Furie to make some unfortunate sacrifices which included reusing old special effects and shooting multiple scenes at the same crappy locations (since they couldn’t afford to shoot in NYC).  There were also a large number of cuts made after filming, with the final theatrical version sitting at a brisk 90 minutes and feeling like a rushed and unfinished mess.

The initial plot has Superman deciding to collect and destroy all of the world’s nuclear warheads after repeated Cold War rumblings between USA and Russia – a move that shows the hero intervening and using his powers over mankind to change the course of human history based on what he believes will constitute the “greater good” of our species.  This moral decision and the implications it has about Superman as a character are actually quite compelling, and could have easily carried the film if it would have been handled with a bit more complexity.

Instead, the whole thing takes place in about 15 minutes, while the rest of the first act simply rehashes the same uninspired Lex Luthor and Lois Lane stuff that we’ve seen a million times before.  There is actually a scene where, out of nowhere, Clark reveals to Lois that he is Superman, flies around with her a bit, then kisses her and erases her memory again.  I mean, seriously?  Has this just become a game for him?  Lois as a character has literally become a puppet, going through the same motions film after film and having her memory reset every time she makes any progress.  It’s all the more depressing that Margot Kidder looks incredibly tired in the role, simply going through the motions one more time. 

[As a side note, a hilarious deleted scene from the DVD shows an extended cut of the flying scene wherein Superman lets go of Lois, and instead of, you know, falling to her death, she simply continues to fly!  It’s not just a brief moment either, this goes on for a few minutes, with Lois soaring through the air alongside Superman like it’s no big deal.  Maybe he has some sort of super-anti-gravity aura?]

And then there’s Nuclear Man.  After the whole WMD plot seemed to come and go without consequence, Lex Luthor (with the help of his nephew, played with painful incompetence by Two and a Half Men‘s Jon Cryer) unveils his ultimate plan to make an evil clone of Superman using DNA extracted from a strand of his hair (which for some reason was residing in a museum?).  This produces the solar-powered Nuclear Man, played by the great Mark Pillow (star of such films as…Superman IV…) who, despite being made via Superman’s hair, actually sports a fluffy blonde mullet, and has deadly fingernails that he can extend and scratch you with.  In the film’s defense, there are a couple of deleted scenes on the DVD showing a “prototype” version of this evil clone which has dark hair and comes across more like the character of Bizarro, one of Superman’s villains from the comics.

A wildly overblown and uninspired fight ensues as soon as they meet, and we jump from disaster to disaster where Nuclear Man continually does something malicious to innocent civilians and Superman simply reverses it immediately after.  This sequence contains some of the film’s most ridiculous moments, not to mention some the worst special effects ever put to film.  One scene has Nuclear Man flying to China where he destroys sections of the Great Wall, only to have Superman arrive and use his (often-overlooked) brick-laying vision to rebuild it simply by looking at it!  Truly spectacular.

Later on, the fight moves to the moon, where we get a great look at Superman’s super-wires (the hidden secret to his flying powers).  After some back-and-forth battling, Nuclear Man flies down to Earth and grabs the Daily Planet’s new editor Lacy (played by Mariel Hemingway), and proceeds to fly back into space with her in his arms.  Yes, I said into space.  Thankfully, the laws of physics don’t apply in Superman IV, as can be seen by the way Lacy’s hair blows in the non-existent wind and she continues to breathe the non-existent oxygen, not to mention how she nearly falls out of Nuclear Man’s grip due to the non-existent gravity, even as she looks back at her planet far off in the distance.  The words don’t really do it justice, so I invite you to watch the scene for yourself:

As you can tell by the immense length of this review, Superman IV is a film that speaks to me quite strongly.  It is supremely awful, but in a pretty hilarious and interesting kind of way when you look at its production history.  There are some great laugh-out-loud moments, even if you’ll probably regret putting it on right away.  I will say this though, as bad as it is, I still enjoy watching it more than Superman III because it’s short runtime makes it feel like less of a drag than the 2+hrs of that film.  It’s clearly not for everybody, but fans of the old Reeve films who have a good sense of humour may see Superman IV: The Quest for Peace for the masterpiece of unintentional comedy that it is.

R  A  T  I  N  G  :    1 / 5   S T A R S

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987, USA, PG: 90 mins) Directed by: Sidney J. Furie.  Starring: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper, Mariel Hemingway, William Hootkins, Jim Broadbent, Jon Cryer, and Mark Pillow.


~ by Mark D'Amico on October 6, 2011.

2 Responses to “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (Review)”

  1. I love this. I agree, though, it’s a better picture than Superman III. This one, as wholly misguided as it is (and it is), it has more heart than III. I’d give it two stars because Hackman has a couple of great lines: “Lenny, I’ve always considered you the Dutch Elm disease in my family tree” and “Goodnight, sweet prince. Parting is… inevitable.”

    That said, there is so much awfulness here it’s almost too much to bear, and I’m a Superman apologist.

    Finally, I really think someone should write a book on the Cannon Group and Golan Globus. Fascinating stuff.

  2. […] the fact that almost two decades separate Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Superman Returns, wheels were constantly in motion to get the Man of Steel back to the big […]

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