December 16, 2013

Movie Mondays: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace


TSuperman-IVitle: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Writers: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Story by Christopher Reeve (Characters by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster)
Distributed By: Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Mariel Hemingway, Jon Cryer, Mark Pillow, Marc McClure, Jackie Cooper, Sam Wanamaker, Susannah York
Release Date: July 24, 1987
MPAA: Rated PG

Welcome back to Movie Mondays one and all!  Continuing in the amazing saga that is Superman’s adventures on the big screen, today we have the harrowing task of observing Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.  Not having seen this movie in quite some time, all I had were my memories of it, and I dreaded revisiting the film.  After revisiting the movie, I promise you it isn’t as bad as you remember.  It’s not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it really isn’t the god-awful disaster your memories would have you believe.

What... am I looking at?!

What… am I looking at?!

In Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) escapes from prison with the help of his nephew and new source of comedy relief, if you can call it that, Lenny Luthor (Jon Cryer).  He decides to engage in a bit of war profiteering by selling nuclear arms on the black market, but of course Superman (Christopher Reeve) is there to foil his dastardly plans.  So, what does the evil criminal mastermind do?  He clones Superman, creating the evil Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow), a monstrous muscle-man powered by the sun.  During all of this, the film brings in two sub-plots about the nuclear arms race and sensational news scare tactics. 

With a storyline that proves poignant and timeless, still relevant today, this movie should have been great.  With cast of veteran Superman actors returning to do what they do best, being joined by Mariel Hemingway (Woody Allen’s Manhattan) and director Sidney J. Furie (Lady Sings the Blues), this movie SHOULD have been a success.  So, what went wrong? The studio went wrong, as the Salkinds dropped out after the failure of Superman III and turned things over to the notoriously low-budget studios of Golan-Globus and Cannon films.  The film suffered from huge budget cuts and unforgiving schedule constraints, and more importantly suffered from a studio that didn’t care enough to support what should have been that years biggest picture.

Nuclear Man sports some spiffy spandex

Nuclear Man sports some spiffy spandex

The premise for the film is wonderful, with Lex Luthor and Nuclear Man acting really as secondary villains, and the films true villain being the threat of nuclear war.  Unfortunately, everything is rushed, with the arms race plotline being put on the back-burner, in favor of more action, a trade-off that could have been excusable if the budget constraints hadn’t reduced the special effects of this film to a laughable made-for-TV quality.

The secondary plot revolves around The Daily Planet newspaper being bought out by a greedy unscrupulous tabloid publisher.  We have a plot about a company taking over a property formerly concerned with truth and gravitas, running it into the ground because of greed and a fixation on sensationalism.  I found the parallels to what happened to The Daily Planet and what happened to the Superman franchise as this film was being made painfully, heartrendingly depressing.

Our characters upset with the new company... or the actors upset with the new company?

Our characters upset with the new company… or the actors upset with the new company?

As for the aforementioned time limitations, budget cuts, and lack of respect to the film affecting the overall product, the examples are too numerous to mention.  So, we’ll try to address a few key examples:

Nuclear Man's reaction to the chafing spandex

Nuclear Man’s reaction to the chafing spandex

For starters, the entire third act which is essentially round two of the fight between Superman and Nuclear Man involves a newly introduced plot-point about Nuclear Man deciding he wants Clark/Superman’s new love-interest, Lacy (Hemingway) for himself.  At no point in the film prior to this scene had Nuclear Man met Lacy or known of her existence, so how he developed an infatuation with her is never explained in the film, nor is it necessary that he develop said infatuation, as it does nothing to affect the plot of the film.  But did anyone notice that this plot element had no bearing on the story or any actual introduction into the plot?  Apparently not. 

Humans can survive in the vacuum of space right?

Humans can survive in the vacuum of space right?

Another problem with this rushed film is a lack of attention to common logic.  During the fight, when Nuclear Man kidnaps Lacy, he flies off with her into space… yes, into space, where apparently Lacy isn’t burned up exiting or re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and can totally breathe in space.  This glaring problem could have been easily resolved by switching the bad visual effects blue-screen shots of Nuclear Man flying through space with another shot of him flying through the city.  But that would have probably required a reshoot, which those pesky time and budget restraints wouldn’t allow for.  Another leap in logic that nobody seemed to care about fixing, would be Supermans method of defeating the solar powered Nuclear Man by pushing the moon out of orbit, causing an eclipse.  This solution would have been totally acceptable during the silver age of comics, but doesn’t hold up under any application of common sense.

There’s a scene in the Fortress of Solitude, which looks like a cheap knock-off of the Fortress that appeared in Superman & Superman II, where Superman consults with the Kryptonian elders about his concerns for humanity and the nuclear arms race.  The elders tell Superman not to interfere, for fear that it teach humanity to rely on one man, who will ultimately fail.  It’s a decent scene until the last words of the warning echo throughout the Fortress, and the creative team behind this scene decided that rather than being an actual echo, one of the elders would just be saying the word over and over again while staring creepily at Superman.  It’s another prime example of people not caring or thinking about the final product of the film.

The heavyweights come out of their corners...

The heavyweights come out of their corners…

This film also suffers from one of the same problems that Superman II suffered from, which is giving Superman random superpowers that he never had in the comics.  In one scene, Nuclear Man blows up The Great Wall of China and Superman repairs the wall with telekinesis, where he could have just fixed the wall with his Super-speed, strength and heat vision… but again, budgetary restraints.

This general lack of respect for the project is only made worse when compared to the positive qualities this film has, and the sheer potential this film had.  Upset with how poorly Superman III was handled, Christopher Reeve fought hard against the creation of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, only agreeing to do it after the studio allowed him substantial creative input for the script.  Little did he know what the studios budgetary restrictions would do to his vision.    

The two best parts of this film are Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder.  Reeve, as always delivers a heartfelt and genuine performance as The Man of Steel and makes you truly believe in the character, no matter how hokey and old fashioned his sentiments may seem.  In fact, the films, this one in particular, often make a point of the fact that his old fashioned notions are a better way of thinking than the modern, more cynical, way of thinking he’s surrounded by.

Kidder, after reading the lousy script

Kidder, after reading the lousy script

Margot Kidder delivers the goods as Lois Lane, as per usual.  The beginning of the movie has her character acting like a ditz occasionally and really suffers for it, constantly practicing her French (a callback gag from Superman II) for example.  And her character has been reduced from the strong-willed person she was in the first two films to more of a hanger-on in this movie, acting like a school-girl with a crush whenever Superman is around.  Thankfully, these moments are few and far between.

Despite these negative aspects, Kidder gets the best scene in the film and absolutely steals the show.  In a moment when she reveals that she’s always known Superman’s secret identity, she visits Clark after his first fight with Nuclear Man.  Superman is suffering from radiation poisoning and is sick and powerless.  She tells Clark that she can always tell when Superman is in trouble, and with tears in her eyes she confesses her love for him and expresses her wish that he pull through, giving Clark Superman’s cape, that he lost during his fight.

The film has a message, which is that seeing the world the way Superman sees it, from space, it’s all just one world, with no borders, made up of just one people.  And though the presentation of the message is limited by the resources of the film, the message itself remains intact and Christopher Reeve’s sincere and earnest delivery gives it a strength and heart that shines through the dreary mediocrity of the rest of the film.

Superman addresses the UN delegates

Superman addresses the UN delegates

Just like Superman and The Mole Men, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is one of ONLY THREE superhero movies I can think of, the other being the first X-Men film, with any sort of socio-political message behind it.  And for that reason alone, it is worth watching.

Unfortunately, no amount of positive elements can outweigh the overall failings of this film.  This is a bad film folks.  What’s worse is that it had such potential.  The biggest problem with this movie is just how horribly mishandled it was.  Watching this movie doesn’t fill me with the hate that it seems to for a lot of critics and Superman fans.  It just fills me with sadness.  I’m not mad at how terrible this movie turned out.  I’m disappointed because of what could have (and should have) been.  This film gets a score of 4 out of 10.

Aaron Nicewonger




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