Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) Director: Sidney J. Furie
Easily one of the worst movies ever made, Superman IV was a byproduct of the Cannon Group, a production company known for cranking out cornball ‘80s action flicks. Superman IV is unfortunately rife with cheap tricks and budget cuts (for example, the same clip of Christopher Reeve soaring toward the camera is recycled about a dozen times with different green screens throughout the movie). And nothing seems to make sense in Superman IV –people can breathe in outer space, cars can drive off cliffs, crashing in fiery infernos, while drivers and passengers manage to survive without injury, prison guards are easily duped, Lois somewhat ambiguously seems to know Clark Kent’s secret identity, Superman apparently contracts a life-threatening sickness from a radioactive scratch, and Superman can now apparently move the moon out of orbit to cause an eclipse? There is also a bizarre, albeit brief, scene showcasing an elderly, frail Superman which is quickly glossed over. In context, at the time Christopher Reeve was fuming over the collapsing scenery of Superman III but he was eventually persuaded to reprise his role in a fourth film in exchange for being granted co-screenwriting credit. His anti-nuclear proliferation activism is apparent throughout the film. Margot Kidder also needed persuading in order to return as Lois –throughout the production she and Reeve were apparently at odds, while Reeve was also in constant dispute with director Sidney Furie. Reeve later described the film as a “catastrophe from start to finish.”
In Superman IV, Superman rescues Russian astronauts from disaster and then returns to Smallville where he receives a distant message from his long-dead mother about an energy force which will permanently sever his ties to his home planet of Krypton. At the same time, an unknown buyer has expressed interest in purchasing the dilapidated Kent farm –but this is never really revisited. Superman rescues Lois Lane (reprised for the fourth time by Margot Kidder) as she is trapped aboard a runaway train, and then once back at the Daily Planet, a new employee arrives named Lacy Warfield (Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway) who makes Lois jealous by her very presence. She is actually the daughter of David Warfield, a newspaper tycoon who has acquired the Daily Planet in an effort to turn it into a gossip rag. He fires Perry White (Jackie Cooper) and, from here, ultimately Lacy’s presence in the film is confusing and seems wholly out of place.
Clark Kent also decides to spontaneously reveal his secret identity to Lois as they walk off the edge of a building together –cue a series of utterly abysmal flying special effects which are remarkably inferior to the original film in 1978. Superman uses this situation to briefly talk to Lois about his concern for peace on earth (a minor public dilemma over nuclear warfare has been raised by some random schoolchildren) before Superman erases Lois’s memory yet again with a kiss. Next, we see him strolling onto the floor of the United Nations where he promises to rid the planet of all nuclear weapons. He then collects every nuclear weapon on earth into a giant net and lobs it toward the sun.
Meanwhile, Gene Hackman returns as the silly villain Lex Luthor (after being entirely absent from the third film). Luthor is rescued from incarceration by his emo-punk nephew, Lenny Luthor, and he proceeds to create a new moronic villainous character called “nuclear man” (Mark Pillow plays nuclear man in his first and only appearance on the big screen) –the special effects here are downright terrible, and Gene Hackman actually dubs over all of Pillow’s lines. Superman simply stands aside while Lex Luthor describes nuclear man and calls upon him to destroy Superman. Amazingly, nuclear man has the special ability to… grow his fingernails. He looks like a Greek god with super-strength and radioactive powers. At any rate, Superman battles nuclear man all over the world from outer space, to an erupting volcano, to the Great Wall of China (which Superman reconstructs), and even the Statue of Liberty. Superman is briefly “defeated” but then he finds his life source from Krypton and entraps nuclear man in an elevator and launches him to the moon where they continue to fight in pure absurdity. Superman causes an eclipse by moving the moon (another groaning farce) which depletes nuclear man’s power and he dies as Superman drops him inside a nuclear reactor.
Suffice it to say this is an atrociously bad movie –every scene is sloppy, the editing is amateur, the dialogue is stilted, the special effects are worthy of a cheap B-movie, the script is terrible, and penny-pinching left many incomplete ideas in the finished product. Superman IV is a garbled, incoherent collection of nonsense –a sad fall from grace for the Christopher Reeve era. In many ways, it reminded me a great deal of Jaws IV: The Revenge (also released in 1987). Superman IV was such a failure that Superman would not return to the big screen for another twenty years. If the first Superman movie made us believe a man could fly, the fourth Superman installment reminds us that he is little more than an actor suspended from strings in front of a green screen. Unless you are a true completionist, I strongly recommend skipping this one.