Superman IV: The Quest for Peace Review

(0.5 STARS)

It isn’t hard to see where Superman IV: The Quest for Peace goes wrong. Its awfulness hides in plain sight and renders the film as a whole nearly unwatchable. It’s a little like the sun—stare for too long, and you’ll feel physical pain.

But then you start to feel a little bad for the film—the obvious runt in the Superman litter. The project was fucked since Jump Street. No one cared. Reeve, Kidder, and Hackman sat in their trailers laughing maniacally while they stared at their fat paychecks. Producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus trimmed the budget originally promised to director Sidney J. Furie by more than half, resulting in a film that, in addition to making less sense than Superman III, looks incredibly cheap. But once you get a look at Nuclear Man (yep), you’ll start to feel angry again. It’s a shitty cycle succinctly summed up with one simple sentence…Superman IV SUCKS.

Weirdly enough, the film doesn’t start out all bad. It wants to explore a mostly untouched aspect of our hero’s lore: his parents’ instructions to never interfere with Earth’s business or history. The nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union is at an all-time high, and there’s real fear that war is nigh. A young boy writes Superman (Reeve) and asks him to stop the insanity, and our hero doesn’t know what to do. He confides in Lois Lane (Kidder) before wiping her memory of the fact that Clark is Superman once again. He visits the Fortress of Solitude for some guidance from his mother (voice of Susannah York). His conclusion: it’s time to step in. Superman declares to the United Nations that he’ll destroy every single nuclear weapon.

This isn’t great news to the just-broken-out-of-prison-again Lex Luthor (Hackman). Alongside his breakdancing nephew Lenny (yep), played by Jon Cryer, he concocts a plan that will replicate the creation of life using the power of the sun and a strand of Superman’s hair. It goes off without a hitch, and Nuclear Man (played by Mark Pillow, voiced by Gene Hackman) is born. His “father” instructs him to kill Superman and also warns him that he’ll lose his power if he’s ever out of the sunlight.

Ugh, where to start? Nuclear Man is probably the worst thing that’s ever happened in a comic book movie (a category of awfulness that also includes Tobey Maguire’s gothic cool guy nonsense, as well as bat nipples). Why does he have Gene Hackman’s voice? It’s so weird. How does any of it make sense? How does Luthor know all the rules? And better still, if he was born out of the sun, where’d he get such a killer outfit?

Honestly, though, the Nuclear Man stuff is a fucking abomination. There’s a crazy around-the-world fight between he and Superman that goes on forever and ends up on the moon. At one point, the villain actually takes a human being outside the atmosphere before Superman rescues her and brings her back to Earth. It’s utterly careless, completely uninvolving, and lacking any semblance of a positive, praise-worthy characteristic. And then Nuclear Man is gone. It’s so abrupt that you can’t help but wonder if someone read the script and simply told Furie and his writers to just kill the thing in five or fewer pages. Denoument? Fuck it.

The film’s other essential thread deals in the world of The Daily Planet, where a tabloid tycoon, David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker), fires long-time editor-in-chief Perry White (Jackie Cooper) in an effort to throw ethics out the window and sell more papers. Like the rest of the film, this thread goes nowhere other than to give White a predictable glory moment toward the end of the film.

The chemistry between Reeve and Kidder that so captivated us in the first two films has completely fizzled out by IV. We’re treading on awfully familiar territory, and the curveball thrown their way in the form of Mariel Hemingway (as David Warfield’s daughter, no less) isn’t at all developed.

And the film truly is as passionless as the Superman/Lois romance is here. There’s a reason it took nearly 20 years for Superman to return to the big screen after The Quest for Peace. It’s that bad. It escapes my clutches with a token half star because there’s a bit of perverse entertainment in its awfulness. But I take pleasure in the fact that it never made back its money, that it killed a few careers. It should have. It’s horrible, terrible, stupid, dumb, sad, pathetic.

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