Now that my senses have returned to me (someone must have slipped me some tainted moratanium!) I can move on to the sorry business of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Where do you even begin with a movie so steeped in bad vibes? THIS is the movie that killed Superman; it beat Doomsday to the punch by about 5 years. That seemed to imply this movie was so bad, so TOXIC, that the mere release of it marred Superman‘s chances at the box office seemingly up until this very day.
But could it possibly be worse than Superman III?!
The concept behind Superman IV is sound. With the escalating arms race between the Cold War superpowers reaching a fever pitch, a child’s outcry for Superman to find a solution sends him into a spiral of guilt and soul-searching. Should he intervene in Earth’s political and military problems and risk making the world dependent on him? Or what if he made things worse? On top of that, Lex Luthor escapes from prison and uses Superman’s own genetic makeup to construct a foe that can match Superman blow-for-blow… and then some. Sounds like this movie should have everything necessary for a compelling Superman story, right?
Except that it fails miserably in just about every department. It’s really staggering just how much potential this movie wastes by just doing a poor job at everything it tries its hand at. I hardly know where to begin! But let’s just pick a place to start: the budget. Before the movie’s production began, the production company behind it slashed its budget in half, resulting in a paltry budget of $17 million. You can hardly make a romantic comedy on that sort of budget these days. It becomes REALLY obvious where they started cutting corners. Almost all the special effects are atrocious. And apart from being atrocious, they’re reused. Didn’t you see that shot of Superman flying toward the screen just a moment ago? Well, you did, just transposed onto a different backdrop. The effects are really, really poor, to the point of people and objects looking like cardboard cut-outs flying through the air. The ONLY decent special effects are the little bolts of energy flowing around Nuclear Man all the time. And they’re decent in that Masters Of the Universe-era special effects way, which is to say they look very fake.
And Nuclear Man himself. CRIPES. There’s a reason this was Mark Pillow’s first and last movie. He’s awful at doing anything but looking like an even gayer Dio Brando from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. He has these huge stick-on nails and for some reason when he claws at Superman he poisons him with… uh… radioactivity? I didn’t even think Superman was vulnerable to that. Nuclear Man’s weakness is that he has to be in direct sunlight to live, but the movie doesn’t seem to care about this until it wants to forward the plot since there has to be instances throughout the movie where he would’ve been out of the way of the sun. And he has Lex Luthor’s voice, if Lex Luthor had no personality. He’s simple-minded and constantly complains about wanting to destroy Superman, but when Lex finally tells him to destroy Superman he says he wants to have fun first. BUH? Fine, do whatever you want, Nuclear Man.
Then there’s this incredibly stupid subplot where The Daily Planet is bought out by a tabloid publisher, who puts his daughter, played by Mariel Hemingway, in charge of the editorial content of the newspaper. Of course they want to make the paper more sensational to sell some copies, so they put a busty model on the front page for no reason. Subtle satire, eh, folks? But what bugs me about this isn’t the cartoonish nature of these villains, it’s Mariel Hemingway herself. She can’t. fucking. act. Maybe she’s a good actress in other films, but she’s total butt here and that’s all that matters. It’s like she acts in a talentless vacuum. And what’s worse is that she’s supposed to be this total sexpot who dresses provocatively and gets her way with men. So she’s introduced to us in the clunkiest, most hideous 80s wardrobe that was ever conceived and she spreads out on her desk for Clark really clumsily. Yes, that’s right, she’s interested in Clark for no real reason except that it seems like Lois wants him. (Except that it really doesn’t seem that way at all; just play along with the movie.) There’s really no drama in this love triangle. Mariel likes Clark, but Clark’s not interested in her, he’s interested in Lois, who’s interested in Superman. There’s really no reason to expect he might choose Mariel over Lois, so why should we care? Also Mariel has an unattractive man-face.
But boy, the other choice isn’t so hot, either. I’ve given Margot Kidder shit over the series for her portrayal of Lois, but this has to take the cake. Somehow between Superman III and Superman IV she has turned into a skeksis. She looks about 15 years older than Christopher Reeve in this movie. It’s like she drank from a false grail and is turning into a skeleton before our eyes. They try to hide her fading looks (and there wasn’t much to fade in the first place) with cute hairdos and makeup, but she just looks hilariously ghastly throughout the whole film. And Margot’s idea of acting seems to be talking your fucking head off about whatever comes to mind. She just RAMBLES in some scenes.
But really, the killer in this movie is the general laziness from everyone involved. It doesn’t seem like anyone took making this movie very seriously, and although it tries to have some sort of profound message on nuclear proliferation, it tries to marry it to a plot that could only work in the goofy Silver Age Superman universe. I mean, Lex Luthor taking a hair from Superman and cloning him? The movie doesn’t even satisfyingly explain HOW Lex is able to do that. He just steals a piece of his hair from a museum. It’s holding up half a ton of weight, but somehow he’s able to cut it with some shears. DUHHHH OKAY. Then he smears some gooey stuff and puts a few black and gold ribbons into some sort of capsule thing and smuggles it onto a missle that Superman flings into the sun. And that reaction somehow creates Nuclear Man. Do you really think anyone’s that stupid, Superman IV?
And Superman’s answer to stopping the arms race is to steal every nuclear missile in the world and put it into a net that he flings into the sun. How does any government in the world let Superman get away with that? You’d think they’d try to find as much kryptonite as they could to stop him from doing it. Nothing in this movie’s plot makes any sense, though. There’s an 11th hour plot development where Nuclear Man somehow becomes smitten with Mariel Hemingway and demands Superman tell him where she is. How the fuck would he think Superman would know?! And then when he finally gets to her, he takes her into outer space. Yeah, that outer space. Where she should freeze to death and explode from the decompression. But she doesn’t! Because Superman IV doesn’t care about that shit!
What Superman IV does care about is showing stupid battles between Superman and Nuclear Man. Nuclear Man makes a volcano explode somewhere in Italy, causing lava to endanger the villagers below. So Superman rips the top off of a nearby mountain to bottle the volcano up and uses his ice breath to save all five villagers from imminent danger. Does that sound exciting? It’s even more dull watching it happen. And then there’s their silly slap fights where Dio Brando Nuclear Man tries to claw Superman’s eyes out with his fabulous nails. What really made me laugh though is the looks on their faces when they fall off of Lex’s penthouse ledge. Why should they look so fucking scared? They can both FLY.
There IS an upside to this movie, though. There’s even more Lex than ever before! Gene Hackman’s a fantastic sport in this movie and brings plenty of gusto to the part. Lex always seems a bit more prankish than outright villainous in these movies. And he gets a bit more screentime with Superman, too. Watching them banter is tons of fun, and I wish we’d seen more of it in earlier films. The only black mark on Lex this time is his sidekick, Lenny, his doofy nephew played by Jon Cryer. Yes, that Jon Cryer. There’s basically nothing to Lenny except that he’s a dope with an awful haircut. And Superman drops him off to be molested by a Catholic priest at the end of the movie. But what I REALLY don’t understand in this film is how Luthor got the penthouse he’s staying in. He basically escapes from prison and immediately has a swingin’ lair like this? Makes no sense. At least in the first movie his pad was an abandoned subway station or something and it was hidden away from anyone who could try to find him.
Interesting casting sidenote: Jim Broadbent has a bit part as one of Luthor’s associates. If I ever meet him, I’m calling him out on it.
There’s also a plotline where Superman revisits his family’s abandoned farm and takes this glowing green crystal from the spacecraft his parents found him in which has been hidden under the floor in the barn. Yeah. Another magic green crystal. A voiceover from his mother says that it contains all the energy of Krypton in it or whatever. OK, neato. It basically serves no purpose besides reviving Superman later on in the movie when he’s dying from Nuclear Man’s radioactive cat scratches. That’s always the thing with Superman: you can always count on him to pull some sort of bizarro Kryptonian technology out of his butt in order to save himself when the going gets tough.
Superman IV isn’t worse than Superman III. But it is about as bad. Whereas Superman III embarrassed itself via lame comedy and using computers as retarded plot devices, Superman IV embarrasses itself by failing to provide even the tiniest fraction of entertainment even when given a story that has all the makings of a decent adventure. But what chance did they have when you have writing like this:
Nuclear Man: Where is the woman?
Superman: Give it up, you’ll never find her.
Nuclear Man: If you will not tell me, I will hurt people!
[Nuclear Man begins to cause mass destruction]
Superman: Stop! Don’t do it, the people!
GROAN. It could’ve been worse, though. Youtube has documented some of the half an hour of footage they cut and were planning to fit into Superman V. Let’s just say that it makes Superman IV look like Citizen Kane in comparson. Superman IV couldn’t even make enough money to pay its paltry budget back. It was a failure on absolutely every level. Fuck, even Superman III could boast it made a tidy sum. Superman’s final line in the movie, which he says to Lex, is “See you in twenty.” Just about, Superman. Just about.