I did not live during the time of the first Superman movies, but I am sure that by the time Superman IV: The Quest For Peace arrived most moviegoers had had their fill of the Man of Steel. The first two films were charming in their defiance of all things serious, but it wasn’t a formula written for endurance. The third lost its a way a bit with its plot and its misuse of Richard Pryor. And now the fourth breaks down into a shambles completely; Superman IV is a waste of acting talent, money, resources, and its audience’s intellect.
How dumb the makers of this film must’ve thought we are! We have been exposed to Superman performing ridiculous tasks, but we are virgins when it comes to ridiculous tasks being performed for the sake of crummy entertainment. It is an insult that we are expected to be grateful for Nuclear Man, a haphazard mumbling buffoon created by Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) as a means of destroying Superman. And then we are expected to enjoy Clark Kent and Superman struggling to make appearances on a double date that both men are scheduled for. With Clarke and Superman making so many abrupt departures and arrivals, surely both the women must suspect that they are one and the same man. But no, as usual, Clarke’s glasses manages to hold up its end of the bargain.
One of the women is Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), the long-suffering admirer of Superman (Christopher Reeve). If my memory serves, she discovered his true identity in the second film. Between that one and this, she must have been dropped on her head, or undergone intensive neurosurgery, because Clarke to her is nothing but “the oldest living boy scout”. She has forgotten completely the events of two movies ago, and so enters this one fresh, possibly even fresher than when she entered Superman I.
The other woman is Lacy Warfield (Mariel Hemingway), daughter of Mr. Warfield (Sam Wanamaker), journalism tycoon and majority shareholder of the Daily Planet. Lacy has a thing for Clarke — she likes the beaten down, useless type — and sets up the double date as a way of getting to know him outside of work. Little does she know that all the screenplay has in store for her is a moment of miraculous desperation when she gets kidnapped by Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow) and is flown, without oxygen, mind you, into outer space.
Of course, the movie builds up to what director Sidney J. Furie must have thought would be a sensational climax in which Superman orbits the Earth in pursuit of Nuclear Man, and chases him back to Metropolis (New York City!) where the Statue of Liberty makes her appearance as a rather ominous prop, but the fight scenes are so badly shot, and so mistimed in their editing that they create confusion and delirium instead of wowing us with kinetic action. Here is a movie, though, where so little works and so much goes wrong that it’s almost impossible to identify a major culprit for its failure.
The direction is poor. The editing, as I mentioned, is sloppy. The visual effects are laughable (how, in a decade that spawned such technical marvels as The Terminator ($6.5 million) and Brazil ($15 million), does a movie so blatantly underutilise its 17 million dollar budget?). The acting, particularly of Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man, is a frail attempt at camp . And the screenplay, penned by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, seems to have been written by a toddler fascinated with the saturday morning adventures of Space Ghost. The story has undercurrents of nuclear war — there is an uproarious sequence where Superman hoards all of Earth’s nuclear missiles in a giant net in space and hurls it, almost hammer-throw-esque, into the sun — but it sidesteps all that angle’s possibilities in favour of mindless superhero action.
From a certain strained perspective, one can see what Sidney Furie intended to do with Superman IV; he wanted to make a comedy about Superman and his struggles. There are so many moments of slapstick here, so many gags that play out without embarrassment. But Superman is a comic character, not a comedic one. The difference is vital. Superhero movies can have comedic elements in them (as in this year’s Guardians Of The Galaxy), but the two genres are so individually distinct that should their egos clash, neither would work. Superman IV premiered at a time when the Superhero Movie had not yet taken flight. This could have worked as Furie’s excuse, and it would have been a valid one. But there is no excuse for lazy, lamentable filmmaking, and for Nuclear Man.
Best Moment | Nope.
Worst Moment | All of it.
Note: I refer to the Superhero Movie as a genre in this review even though it is, by definition, not one. Hollywood’s recent venture into the Superhero Movie, however, is quickly opening new doorways for the definition of “genre” to be reworked and reanalysed. Is the Superhero Movie a genre on its own now? What constitutes a genre anyway? I feel a journal entry about this brewing in my mind.