Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

superman4_1Starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Mariel Hemingway, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Jon Cryer, Sam Wanamaker, Mark Pillow, Damian McLawhorn, William Hootkins, Jim Broadbent

Directed by Sidney J. Furie

Expectations: I’m so excited.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


People don’t like this movie? Really? Please tell me why in the comments, because I just don’t understand it. The budget is definitely smaller here, and some of the flying looks noticeably bad. The story is a little jumpy, moving from one thing to the next somewhat haphazardly. And Superman’s adversary is Nuclear Man, a construct created by Lex Luthor from a strand of Superman’s hair who does a lot of yelling and acts like a pro-wrestler. Perhaps some of those reasons are your issues with the film? I’m still at a loss, because each and every one of those factors contribute to the stew of B-Movie awesome that is Superman IV: The Quest for Peace!

It’s the ’80s and the nuclear arms race around the globe is reaching critical levels. A schoolboy writes a letter to Superman, asking him to rid the world of its nuclear weapons, effectively disarming the world and the escalating situation. That might make the film sound like a really simplified call for world peace, but the film is much more concerned with entertainment than heavy-handed political messages. And besides, I’ve always enjoyed when comic characters are written into real world situations so I loved this aspect of the film. C’mon, Supes collects the nukes in a gigantic net in space and throws them into the sun for God’s sake! I don’t care what your political beliefs are, that’s thrilling cinema.

superman4_2But to put aside the B-Movie thrills for a second, I want to discuss how Superman IV does a fantastic job of bringing the series back to its roots. Where Supergirl completely went off the rails, and Superman III went full slapstick, Superman IV actually attempts to have something of a similar tone to the Donner films. It’s a very campy B-Movie version of that tone, but it’s much more reserved and respectful of the original two films than any of the other sequels. There’s a lot of little touches, too. Bringing Clark back to the Kent farm (which looked remarkably similar to the location in Superman), recreating the Daily Planet sets strikingly well, the return of Lex Luthor and Gene Hackman, involving Lois Lane again and skillfully acknowledging their past relationship long-forgotten by Lois due to magic kiss; all of these aspects do a fantastic job of making Superman IV feel like a worthy and respectful sequel to the legacy Donner created.

Where this begins to fall apart is that with only 85 minutes to tell its story (and an original cut over two hours), Superman IV‘s story is a bit choppy. This holds it back considerably from being the movie it could have been, although I would argue that for this particular film, the shorter cut is better. Why? Because for all intents and purposes, Superman IV is a B-Movie. It was produced by Cannon Films, masters of the B-movie craft. I had no idea that they had made the film until just a couple of weeks before watching it, and I gotta say it lives up to the personal hype that this knowledge built up inside me. Cannon is a name synonymous with entertainment, having created some of the greatest low-budget action films of all time, and — for me — Superman IV is pure entertainment.

Superman4_3Every time the Nuclear Man is on-screen he’s bathed in orange ’80s electricity! And most of the time he’s yelling like a primal savage and making something explode! He has long fingernails that extend! The list goes on… While some of the film’s first half is slow at times, the arrival of Nuclear Man brings with it nothing but entertainment. But as much as I enjoyed the sprinkles of Nuclear Man throughout the film, they are nothing compared to his finale battle around the world with Superman. Dialogue falls by the wayside and is replaced by non-stop visual entertainment. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I was howling with laughter at how badass the on-screen fight was. Sure, it’s all very campy, but this is a comic book movie, so as long as you buy into the fantasy of what’s occurring on-screen, it’s a goldmine of entertainment. I realize that many are unable to look past the smaller budget of the film, as it creates moments that may take you out of it, but I wish you could see it through my eyes because this fight is ridiculously entertaining if you just roll with it.

As I mentioned in my previous Superman reviews, I saw this one a lot when I was growing up. But I want to make it clear that this viewing was in no way informed by those experiences. I didn’t remember much of anything about the film, only vaguely recognizing certain scenes (like the nuclear weapons being thrown into the sun). So this love and pure enjoyment is free of nostalgia. I often find that the only difference between big-budget summer blockbusters and B-Movies is their budget, and Superman IV is a great example of this. If this had the same budget as the first movie, I’m positive that people would’ve been much more accepting of it. I’m sure there would still be detractors citing the nuclear disarmament storyline as being preachy, and thus dismissing the film. But whatever… their loss.

Superman IV is campy while also being respectful of the previous legacy, and it largely avoids the slapstick comedy that plagues Superman III. I really don’t understand why this one has such a bad reputation; Superman IV is a hoot.

8 comments to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

  • Cam

    I’ve been ragging on this movie for years, even though I haven’t seen it since it came out! I may have to check it out again.

    • I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid, and I thought it was ridiculously entertaining. I think loving B-Movies is sorta required to enjoy it as much as I did, though. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  • Hi Will! Great defense for one of the most ridiculed superhero movies ever. I didn’t hate this one as much as most people do (because for one, I just LOVE Reeve as Supes). It does fall short of the first two films but still better than the 3rd I think, and there are some fun parts like you mentioned here. Even the whole silly double dates thing w/ Mariel & Margot’s characters are pretty fun to watch. The production values are pretty bad though, even Reeve himself admitted it later on, and Nuclear Man is well, the less said about him the better, ahah.

    • Thanks, Ruth! Reeve is so perfect as Superman, just in every way. I hope the new guy lives up! I’d say this is definitely better than 3 because it tries its best to bring the series away from the slapstick comedy. I like the double date thing too, but I can see why people don’t like it. I really enjoyed the production, though. Being a fan of Cannon films, it was a supreme joy to see them take on Superman. And I don’t care what anybody says, I loved Nuclear Man!

  • Doesn’t matter how you look at it, this film is shit. Wrap it in candy, sprinkle gold dust on it and call it fine dining, but it’s still filled with shit.

    As you know, I’m no fan of crappy B-movie’s, but there’s no way Superman should have been handed to a studio famed for low-budget stuff like this. No way. It’s a crime that the worlds greatest hero was given such slap-dash, mediocre treatment. The story is pretty cool, I guess, with the disarmament of the world’s nuclear weapons, but Nuclear Man deserved better – hell, WE deserved better, than this miasma of a movie.

    This is goddam Superman. He should be treated with more respect. Considering this is the same franchise that made us believe a man could fly back in ’79, it’s a shame Warners let their star property go in this direction.

    • Boo. Disagree. In terms of shitty movies this is far, far away from the pure shit end of the spectrum.

      I also can’t believe that the Superman license found its way to Cannon, but you have to admit that they went out and gave it their all. It could have been a lot more grounded and low-budget, they fight around the world and on the Moon! The blame really has to fall on the Salkinds for not trusting and working with Donner on his vision for the series. If they had let him finish part 2, it would’ve been a totally different series. They actually pushed for the comedy, and if Donner wasn’t involved, the first film would’ve been closer to part 3. So actually, by involving Cannon, who actually made great strides towards removing the overt slapstick and tried to deliver their best Donner-esque Superman movie, this is easily a step-up from part 3 and one of the best of the original series. I hope Man of Steel lives through your harsh criticism of previous Superman films!

      • I have faith that Man Of Steel will make all other Superman films look like an Adam Sandler film.

        Expectations much? LOL!!

        • Hahaha, well I hope it lives up to the hype. I have no faith in Snyder, but I liked the first trailer enough to re-watch all these after 20 or so years, so that says something. I’ve been on media blackout ever since, although I did mistakenly hear a few things unfortunately. When does it release in Australia?

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