IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987)
Director: Sidney J. Furie
In Hollywood, there's such a thing as "The Law of Diminishing Returns," where the quality of a long-running film franchise worsens over time, and the box office returns drop as well. Sometimes the producers will try to make a quick buck with some kind of gimmick like killing/resurrecting a main character, going for a "fish out of water" feel with an extreme change in setting, or making a movie in 3-D (a series of gimmicks that I like to call the "Friday The 13th Syndrome," though these aren't exclusive to that particular franchise). But in a lot of cases, others don't really try do anything to improve, instead choosing to stay the course. Such was the case the Superman movies. After the poor box office showing of Superman III, you would think they'd ditch the overtly unfunny comedy for something more in the same vein as the classic first two movies (or at the very least, make it a comedy that was actually funny) when it came time to do the next movie. And to their credit, they did in a sense, do things a little differently with it. But now, instead of a lame comedy where Superman fights both a gigantic supercomputer and an evil version of himself, we get a lame story about the horrors of nuclear war in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.
This tedious exercise in superhero cinema begins in space, as a cosmonaut (Eugene Lipinski) belts out a Russian version of "My Way" while on a space-walk to repair an antenna on their station. He's so wrapped up in his work that he doesn't notice an American satellite heading his way. The collision is brief, but it knocks the Soviet Sinatra out into the darkness of space and sends the space station into a tailspin. However, it all turns out okay, as Superman (Christopher Reeve) shows up and saves the day. Not only does he stand for truth, justice, and the American way, but he doesn't have any problems helping a few Communists in need. What a super man.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, a prison chain gang is working the rock-breaking shift at the local quarry while super-genius Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) whistles Mozart and waxes poetic on the efficiency of biogenetics as he tends a miniature flower garden. And that sentence ended up being longer than it probably should have been. Anyway, a very ugly convertible pulls up, blaring a Jerry Lee Lewis song as its driver asks the guards for directions to somewhere inconsequential. This turns out to be a ruse, however, as the driver is none other than Luthor's technologically brilliant yet otherwise idiotic nephew Lenny (Jon Cryer). And the guy must dress himself in the dark, because he looks like a Spencer's Gifts store threw up on him. While we the viewer quickly realize what's going on, the idiot guards have no clue, falling victim to Lenny's trap. They get stuck in the car, and in a bizarre moment, Lenny uses a remote control to drive it off a cliff. Luthor and Lenny get the heck out of Dodge, and Luthor is quick to resume his master plan: destroy Superman.
The scene shifts to the bustling city of Metropolis, where strange things are afoot at the Daily Planet. Turns out the Daily Planet's been the victim of a hostile takeover at the hands of amoral tabloid publisher David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker), which really honks off Planet editor and legitimate journalist Perry White (Jackie Cooper). Of course, it doesn't really matter what Perry has to say about it, because he's just been replaced with Warfield's own daughter, the garishly-clad Lacy (Mariel Hemmingway). The meeting to announce the management shakeup is soon interrupted, however, as the President (Robert Beatty) holds a press conference to support nuclear proliferation. Gotta give the President credit, he could have just been sneaky about it. Why acquire nuclear weapons behind the backs of your nation's citizens when you can just announce it on television for God and everybody to see? Though I wouldn't doubt it if the President was bluffing. I would.
We use the President's announcement of mass destruction to segue into some random fourth grade class in some random American town, where the teacher asks the class for their opinions on the political climate. And I'd like to remind you, this is a fourth grade class. I was in third grade during Operation Desert Storm, and we didn't have discussions like this. But then again, I don't think Iraq was threatening to go all Hiroshima on us either. The teacher's suggestion of a discussion gets the typical fourth grade answers... and then there's Jeremy (Damien McLawnhorn), the class daydreamer, who just says they should ask Superman for help. And you know what? That's the only thing in this movie that makes any sense. Why not ask for help from the guy that's immune to everything but a particular green rock? To quote the guys from the Guinness commercials, "Brilliant!"
Meanwhile, at the Metropolis museum, a tour guide explains to her group that Superman has recently donated a strand of his hair to the museum. And to prove it's Superman's hair, they suspend a thousand-pound weight from it. Lenny and Lex, trying to blend in as members of the tour group, stay behind to smash the glass case containing the hair with a set of bolt cutters and snatch the hair. And people say subtlety is a lost art. While we're here, I might as well point out something. When Lex snatches the hair, it causes the thousand-pound weight to fall and crash through the bottom of the case. But if you watch closely enough, a giant hole (roughly the size of the weight) falls out before the weight even drops. When the filmmakers leave such a blatantly obvious error in the movie, you know you're working with cinematic genius realized. Geniuses, I say!
Moving on, back at the Daily Planet, Lacy flirts with Clark for some ungodly reason, under the guise of proposing he write a new "Metropolis After Hours" column. Why, I don't know. Clark isn't exactly the kind of guy that would troll Metropolis's red light district, unless he got ahold of some of that fake Kryptonite from Superman III and turned evil again. Thankfully, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) interrupts the Lacy/Clark meeting before it can get any more uncomfortable, and she's got Jeremy's letter to Superman in tow. I guess he hoped the Daily Planet knew Superman's forwarding address. Lacy sees an angle in a little kid wanting Superman to destroy the world's nuclear weapons cache, and the next day, the Daily Planet runs the headline "Superman Says 'Drop Dead' To Kid." Because when you want to sell papers, you can libel the everloving crap out of the local superhero. I guess the Warfields majored in yellow journalism at the J. Jonah Jameson School For Defaming Superheroes.
Clark is so upset over the whole nuclear arms race that he retreats to the Fortress of Solitude to get some advice from some creepy celestial talking heads that I guess represent the Krypton Tribal Council or whoever's running the show now. I guess they just decided to say to hell with Marlon Brando after he wanted infinity billion dollars to do five minutes worth of work in Superman II. If that's the case, then at least the movie has thrifty budget management going for it. That's a plus, I guess. Anyway, seems that the Krypton Tribal Council has something stuck in their craw over the whole "Superman wants to interfere with Earth's proceedings" or somesuch. I can see how that would be an issue, since last time he decided to screw around and tinker with Earth's ebb and flow, there was this whole thing about making the planet spin backwards. So anyway, the Krypton Tribal Council warns Superman to fear betrayal before the scene shifts back to Clark's apartment in Metropolis, where we learn that the Soviet premier is jealous of America and wants some nukes for himself. Man, the President traipsing around all over TV announcing we had the bomb really blew up in his face (no pun intended).
Lois shows up at Clark's apartment and offers a little moral support, and when they step out onto the balcony for some fresh air, Clark takes her hand and jumps over the edge. But just before a seemingly senseless murder/suicide can make the news, Clark is quickly replaced by Superman, who snatches Lois and takes her flying around the world. And just for kicks, he drops (then catches) Lois while flying over the Rocky Mountains. That's real nice. Oh, that Superman, what a cad. Wait until she meets the business end of one of those mountains with her face, and we'll see how freakin' funny it is then. You can only spin the planet backwards so many times before you break something important. And just to make sure she doesn't make any connection between Clark jumping off a building and Superman showing up in his place, Superman gives her one of those amnesia kisses from Superman II and wipes her short-term memory. With Jedi mind tricks like that, you can certainly make sure there aren't any witnesses, if you catch my drift.
From "Can You Read My Mind, Part 2," we transition to the United Nations building, where Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure) is snapping pictures of Jeremy for the next issue of the Daily Planet. Superman triumphantly arrives, and asks Jimmy to take a walk with him. The pair start across the pavilion, a small crowd growing behind them as they head straight for the UN building. Lacy and Lois soon catch up with the crowd, accompanying Jeremy to the press box as Superman takes center stage in the UN's main chamber and announces that he plans to rid the world of nuclear arms. Both the Soviet and the United States put Superman's plan into effect, firing all their warheads into the air, where Superman snags them into a giant net in outer space (seriously!) and flings the big ball of missiles into the sun. Who has a net that size lying around? That thing must have taken months to construct!
But while Superman is eliminating the world's nuclear stockpile, Luther sets his own plan into effect. Meeting with three black market arms dealers, he arranges a missile of his own to be launched into space. That might not be such a big deal, but there's a hitch. Using the super-hair he stole from the museum, Luthor has created his own genetic goop that he attaches to his black market missile and launches into the waiting arms of Superman. Like the others, this one is shot into the sun too, but moments later, a fireball emerges. The fireball metamorphoses into a new superhuman born of Superman's DNA and powered by the sun, Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow). With long claw-like fingernails, the ability to shoot fireballs from his fists, and a body temperature as hot as the sun itself, he's quite the formidable foe... as long as he's in direct sunlight. So in short, Nuclear Man is like Superman from Hell, only with shadows serving as his Kryptonite.
Back on Earth, Kal-El soon finds himself in quite a predicament: he's somehow been talked into a double date, posing as Clark with Lacy and as Superman with Lois. Needless to say, this love triangle is even more insane than the Clark/Superman/Lois one from the first movie, but only half as intriguing. The double date is soon cut short when Luthor makes use of Superman's super-hearing to call in a bomb threat. Turns out was just a hoax, a ruse to get Superman to arrive at Luthor's new penthouse apartment. How he acquired such an apartment during his stay in prison, I'll never know. Nuclear Man arrives on the scene, and he and Superman throw down. And for some ungodly reason, Nuclear Man stops the fight in order to demolish huge chunks of the Great Wall of China and cause an eruption at Mount Vesuvius in Italy. Superman rebuilds the Great Wall and stops the eruption and moves the fight to the relative safety of the moon.
The pair brawl all over the place, but Nuclear Man gets the upper hand and heads back to Earth, where he picks up the Statue of Liberty and drops it over a crowded city street. You just know Nuclear Man means a little more business than the Evil Superman from Superman III. Straighten the Leaning Tower of Piza? Please. When you blow up the Great Wall of China, cause a volcanic eruption, and drop the Statue of Liberty on Manhattan in order to squash hundreds of people, you've gone from being a minor annoyance to being a complete and total a-hole. Superman catches up and snatches Lady Liberty before she can cause any damage, but just as he's returning the statue to her perch, Nuclear Man sneaks up on him and gives him a rather nasty scratch on the neck with his atomic claws. The scratch is enough to incapacitate Superman, who is unceremoniously booted into orbit by Nuclear Man, leaving his trademark red cape floating in the breeze.
Anyway, enough of that whole Superman thing. Why don't we move along to the business dealings at the Daily Planet? If you're into corporate wheeling and dealing, you're in luck, because Mr. Warfield just named Lacy as the new publisher of the Daily Planet. Lois, quite miffed over the blatant show of nepotism and the Planet's "Superman Is Dead!" headline, quits the newspaper, prompting Lacy (now sympathetic to the causes of honest journalists) to tell her father off. Meanwhile, Lois heads to Clark's apartment, where he's reclusively hidden himself as he battles the radioactive flu. She lets herself in and gives Superman a pep talk via Clark, baring her soul (and love for Superman) before presenting Clark with the cape of Metropolis's hero. Very much near death, Clark turns to a glowing green crystal he took from the Kent farm in Smallville earlier in the movie. Through it, we hear the disembodied voice of his birth mother, Lara (Susannah York), who tells him that the crystal contains all that remains of Krypton's energy, to be used to save his own life. Man, those green crystals do everything, from giving Superman the final energy of a long-dead planet to creating Fortresses of Solitude.
Meanwhile, with Superman gone, Luthor declares victory against his greatest foe. Nuclear Man happens to notice Lacy's picture on the cover of the Daily Planet, and he's got himself a nuclear crush. He storms the Planet headquarters and demands to see her, but the rejuvenated Superman arrives just before Nuclear Man can lay waste to any more police cars or SWAT team vans that have arrived on the scene. Superman lures his foe into an elevator (where there's no sunlight), then yanks the elevator car from the shaft and flies out to space, where he drops his cargo on the moon. But stupid Superman didn't fuse the doors shut, as some sunlight seeps in through the edges of the door and gives the incapacitated Nuclear Man his powers back. He tears his way out of the elevator, and on the surface of the moon, Superman and Nuclear Man have one final showdown.
Ugh. Just... ugh. I want to hurt Superman IV, but I can never hurt it the way it hurt me. People say movies cause real-life violence, and for a change, I'm going to agree with them. This stupid, no-good movie just makes me want to punch stuff. I'd rather zap my testicles with a car battery while jamming rusty fishhooks under my fingernails than watch Superman IV again. I hate it that much. I wouldn't wish the horror that is this movie on my worst enemy. I swear, I think there's one section of Hell where the damned are forced to watch Superman IV over and over again for the rest of eternity. I really can't think of a single nice thing to say about the movie. The movie is so full of holes, one would think it was produced in a Swiss cheese factory. How can it be daylight in China, Italy, and the United States all at the same time? Did Earth spawn two or three new suns? Why does the Jeremy character suddenly disappear for no reason? How can people fall in space when there's no gravity? How can humans survive in the vacuum of space without oxygen?
And sweet merciful crap, are the effects bad. If you thought the flying effects looked somewhat unrealistic before, wait until you see this one. With the exception of one or two scenes, you can obviously tell that they simply put the actors in front of a green screen and added the background in later. One would figure that they would improve the quality of the effects as the franchise progressed, but no, they just get worse. And don't get me started on the "Superman drops Lois as a joke" bit. Is it just me, or did it look like Lois was falling horizontally? How can that happen? And not only are the effects bad, but so is the set design. I mean, I can't be the only one who saw the folds in the black backdrop during the moon scene. I've heard of the fabric of space and time, but I didn't think it was literally fabric. If that's the case, I think my high school science teacher and all those sci-fi movies I've watched over the years have some explaining to do.
And like the far better Superman II, they spring a bunch of random powers out of nowhere on us, and we just have us assume that Superman is a telekinetic too. He's got all these other powers, why not? The apparent telekinesis that General Zod showed in Superman II is taken to a far extreme level here, as Superman rebuilds a demolished section of the Great Wall of China by merely looking at the rubble. So now, not only are Kryptonians Jedi masters, but it looks like they took Carrie to heart. If Superman was rebuilding it by hand while moving so fast I couldn't see him, that's one thing. But telekinesis? No. But perhaps one of the most telling examples of the awfulness of the movie is near the end, when Nuclear Man grabs Lacy and flies into space with her. She's not wearing a spacesuit or an oxygen mask or anything, she's just there. When can humans survive the vacuum of space exposed? I can understand Superman and Nuclear Man, but Lacy is supposed to be a normal human being! I thought humans need oxygen and stuff like that. I know movies about aliens with godlike powers don't exactly subscribe to the laws of nature and physics, but come on.
Just like in Superman III, John Williams's classic soundtrack is poorly performed and hideously underwhelming. It had no flow, no real tie-in to the scenes. Composer Alexander Courage apparently took no pride in his work here, and the score is lacking the triumphant feel of the score from the first two movies. It's almost pitiful in its ineptitude. And let's not get me started on the acting. While Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman are good as always, the rest of the cast is the definition of "letdown." I didn't really want to see or like any one in the movie. Mark Pillow's Nuclear Man is unbelievably generic, and he doesn't even get to really say any lines, since Hackman provides the Nuclear Voice. And let's not get started on Sidney Furie's direction or the script. Written by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Connor with some input from Reeve, the movie is just a compilation of bits and pieces with no flow or internal logic. If there's anything good that can be said about the other black sheep of the series, Superman III, I can say that it at least it managed to make some kind of sense in the end. But by the end of Superman IV, I had no clue what I'd just seen. The movie was absolutely disjointed and all over the place. In fact, I'll do a Synopsis In 60 Seconds to show what I mean...
"Lex Luthor breaks out of jail. The Daily Planet falls victim to a hostile takeover and turns into a tabloid. A kid wants no nuclear bombs. The kid becomes a big deal, then vanishes. Superman throws missiles into the sun, and Nuclear Man is born. Lacy hits on Clark, Lois hits on Superman, and it goes nowhere. We get a reprisal of the classic Superman/Lois flying scene from the first movie, only crappier and with Superman almost killing Lois just for a laugh. Superman fights Nuclear Man and loses, then does the Rocky comeback and beats him. Before the rematch, Nuclear Man pulls Lacy out into space and she disappears shortly thereafter. Perry White buys the Daily Planet and Superman decides to quit destroying nuclear weapons because it really didn't solve anything anyway."
There. I just saved you ninety minutes that you could spend doing something more interesting. It's like the filmmakers wanted to make the stupidest, most mind-numbingly awful movie ever. Or at the very least, they wanted to make a movie about a superhuman from Krypton that was actually worse than Supergirl. I can forgive Roger Corman's Fantastic Four for being bad, because they had a miniscule budget and the movie was never intended to be released anyway. But this is Superman! He's arguably the most recognizable superhero ever, and this had to be the note the Chris Reeve series ended on?! Ugh, it's like nobody even gave a damn during the making of this movie. And if they can't be bothered to care, I can't either. You win, Superman IV. You broke my spirit, you insulted my intelligence, and you crapped on my heart, you soulless bastard of a movie.
Final Rating: *