“Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”. There are few films that are as universally reviled, and for good reason. There are few redeeming qualities about the film. It’s a poorly-written mess with cheap production values and its failure at the box office is responsible for the Superman film franchise being shelved for 20 years. The only positive about the film is Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of the Man of Steel. Though the quality of the Superman films diminishes as the series goes on, you can see Reeve always gave it his all. Everything else about this film is awful.
For starters, the story is weak. It’s a shame, because a story about Superman dealing with his place in the world during the Cold War has the potential to be awesome. Where are his lines, and when should he cross them? At what point should we expect him to intervene? Does he have the right to intervene? Unfortunately, the film doesn’t allow for any of those questions to be considered as Superman decides to exercise his authority as a superhero and make the decision to destroy all nuclear weapons immediately. Of course, world peace is the goal, but having him use his authority as Superman feels wrong and authoritarian.
Then there’s the matter of the special effects. They’re cheap. The harness work for flying sequences alone is subpar at best. Gone are the days of dynamic flight shots like those in “Superman: The Movie”. Gone are the days of convincing composite shots! The VFX team doesn’t even bother to try matching the lighting on the actors to the lighting in the background footage they were going to be blue screened into. They did, however, decide to bless us by reusing the same shot of Superman flying towards the camera about five times.
Speaking of recycled elements, they decided to give us a watered down, joyless version of the “Can You Read My Mind?” scene from the first film. I think I understand what they were trying to do with Superman and Lois’ relationship by including it, but the scene rings hollow. The beauty and wonder of the original flight scene is lost, tarnished by amateur visual effects and the knowledge that it’s been done before and better.
The whole film is a cheap, inferior product. I’m glad audiences saw through it in 1987. There’s a fantastic documentary about Golan-Globus and Cannon Films called “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films”. The failure of “Superman IV” directly lies with them. The original budget of $36 million was cut down to $17 million. That doesn’t mean the rest of the production team is off the hook. The script is still terrible, the effects look half completed, and a majority of the performances are hardly better than local theater. Sure, the full $36 million may have resulted in a better looking film, but that’s about it. You could make a movie for $185 million and not a single dollar would make it a better film if the script is lousy. Unfortunately for Superman, slashed budgets and filmmaking incompetence were what killed the franchise. And despite the film’s tremendous failings, we still watch for Christopher.
I remember how excited I was when “Superman II” was announced. “Superman: The Movie” changed the world for me so I waited with bated breath for the second movie which was promised at the very end of the post credits. Now it was here. I poured over every magazine I could find for information on what to expect. At 11 I had no idea about the backstage shenanigans that went on between Richard Donner and the Salkinds. Nor would I care. I was getting a sequel to my favorite movie. And the experience was just as exhilarating as I hoped it would be. Now on to “Superman III”. Um, okay. I remember seeing the preview in theaters at the time. Richard Pryor? I mean I love Richard Pryor but really? I was a lot less excited about that one. And when I saw it I was less exhilarated than before. I enjoy this movie with all its Bronze Age goofiness. I even think Christopher Reeve gave one of his better performances of the three movies. But still less exhilarated. So when mention of “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” was announced… I could have cared less. I’d already heard about the buzz on this one. Put out by the Cannon Group who had a less then stellar reputation. The budget was cut. The movie cut down from over two hours to an hour and a half. Wow! I got bad vibes. Needless to say I didn’t see this one until it was out on video for awhile. I sighed from beginning to end. And not a happy sigh. Still there was something I enjoyed about it. Just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Without getting in to the whole plot (Superman getting rid of all nuclear weapons, Luthor creating an anti-Superman) on subsequent viewings I came to realize I actually like the movie. Oh the effects are atrocious. Truly. And there were some moments that I can’t forgive. Lacey in space?. The same continuous shot of Superman flying. It almost looked like those shots were pasted on. Literally. And yet… The first thing I come away with as far as the movie itself is it has a lot of heart. The plot may be ridiculous but there’s hope. Superman walking to the United Nations and standing before the delagation, while not powerful, seemed very sincere. The Lois/Lacey/Clark triangle was fun and culminated in a great scene where Clark and Lacey are having lunch at the same time as Lois and Superman. Christopher Reeve switching back and forth was a lot of fun. Gene Hackman can never give a bad performance so obviously he’s great as Luthor. He seems to be having fun. Lenny Luthor was a bit annoying but he grows on you. Nuclear Man was a bit misguided but Superman fighting a “Superman ” can be fun. And while Lois doesn’t have a lot to do I felt her relationship with Clark in this movie showed how much she really cares for him. There even seems to be a little hint that she may actually know Clark’s secret. The scene where she shows up at Clark’s apartment worrying about him is a great scene and I just get the sense deep inside she knows. I also like the scenes with Perry and his attempt to save the Daily Planet. Jackie Cooper gets to play a different side to Perry. Yes, I like this movie. Whish we got to see the movie uncut. Though some of those scenes wouldn’t make the movie better it would make more sense. I never bought the comic adaptation because at the time I didn’t care but I know it showed the movie as it was meant to be. Hard to find that book now.
This movie is silly and goofy not unlike a typical Bronze Age story but it does have heart. I don’t cringe when I watch this as some people say they do. People even say this is the worst movie ever made. Come on people it’s not very good but it ain’t that bad. I would still rank this under “Superman III” but by no means is it a truly bad Superman movie. I like it and will stand by my opinion. You know I just may go watch it now.