Oh man… here it is. Superman 4: The Quest For Peace. Words cannot describe just… well… everything. Which probably isn’t the best basis for a written review. But dammit, I’m gonna try my best. Superman 4 is the only one in the Christopher Reeve series to not be produced by the Salkinds. Unfortunately, for us, this film is produced by Cannon films. The studio that brought us Cyborg, the MIA series and Masters of the Universe. There’s a certain tone and style present in those films that isn’t quite in keeping with the scope and scale needed for a Superman film. That said, they did also make Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo so I guess all can be forgiven. Now, let’s see if I can describe just what it is about Superman 4 that makes it so… I’m gonna say special, but it’s special like that kid in school that ate the erasers. Click the link for the review.
Remember how stupid the plot, or lack thereof, for Superman 3 was? Superman 4 is double that stupid. At least. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman selling his soul) has escaped from jail with the help of his nephew Lenny Luthor (Jon Cryer). He plans to clone Superman (Christopher Reeve) by stealing a strand of his hair that he had donated to some exhibit thing that features the dumbest looking Superman statue I’ve ever seen. Meanwhile Superman has been guilt tripped into disarming the world of all its nuclear weaponry, which for some reason goes over fine with all the world leaders. You’d think if they were that happy for Superman to rid the world of nukes they would probably have been able to get rid of them without him. Still, in the process Lex hides a Superman DNA stew on one of the nukes that Supes throws into the sun which in turn creates Nuclear Man!!! Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow) has the power to only work in sunlight, to scratch people with long nails and to also growl a lot! Superman is doomed. DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOmed.
Now as you may have been aware when I mentioned this was made by Cannon films, production values aren’t the highest in the series. In fact this is the lowest budgeted Superman film by some way. Effects are plain shonky the whole way through. Superman is all discoloured while flying. They reuse the same shot of him flying towards the camera about 6 times. That shot is also a static zoom effect so there’s no actual appearance of perspective shifting as he flies past the camera. When Nuclear Man’s nails grow, honestly that is a power of his, we see a comically rubber looking hand with some plastic nails popping out. To add to this locations an sets are no where near the quality of the older films. The Daily Planet lacks the clutter and bustle that made it look like a working newspaper office. The exteriors of Metropolis city are clearly Milton Keynes with a few fire hydrants dotted around. The only location that ends up looking decent is the Kent farm. That said, Lex’ home set does have a bit of a James Bond villain’s lair feel to it.
So how does the story hold up despite its silly premise. Well, umm, not very well. Essentially you get about 30 minutes of Superman deciding if he should get rid of the nukes. A few random scenes between Lois (Margot Kidder), Clark and new love interest Lacy Warfield (Mariel Hemingway) that generally err more towards farce than romantic comedy. There’s even a scene where Lacy, Clark and Lois are meant to be interviewing Superman so Clark has to keep making excuses to vanish so Superman can appear. It’s kinda like the restaurant scene from Mrs Doubtfire except less funny. The last half hour of the film is pretty much Superman vs Nuclear man barring a brief break that makes no sense. For the first encounter they fly around a bit whilst Nuclear Man has a little fun. He basically causes disasters for Superman to fix. This leads to them fighting on the moon in that “we’re acting like we’re moving slowly” style that never looks stupid. Superman gets a scratch on his neck from Nuclear Man and so begins that brief break I just mentioned.
So here’s what happens scene by scene during the break in the action. Clark hasn’t turned up for work. Lacy’s shock headline making father, who now owns The Daily Planet prints a headline that reads “Superman Dead!”. Lois goes to visit Clark who is a little ill. Nuclear Man sees a picture of Lacy and decides that he’d like to hit dat. Clark suddenly has no hair, looks about 100 and is at deaths door when he picks out a Kryptonian crystal from the capsule he landed in and uses it to restore his powers. Nuclear Man arrives at the Daily Planet looking for Lacy, somehow Superman knows that is what he is there for based on the growling noises and blowing up of stuff that Nuclear Man has been doing. This whole sequence plays out in about 5 minutes and makes a much sense as it sounds. And then they fight some more.
I suppose its worth mentioning the other odd stuff that happens in this film. Superman collects the nukes as they’re being launched by the various countries. Why are they being launched? No idea. Maybe to help Superman round them up? Clark reveals his identity to Lois and goes flying with her, then drops her off and does the mind wipe kiss again. Apparently doing this helps him decide disarm the world’s nukes. Lex Luthor makes more money from his one nuclear arms business deal than the film did in its entire worldwide release. Lenny frees Luthor from prison by trapping the only two guards in the rock breaking quarry Lex is in inside his car and remote driving it off a cliff. They both survive. Did I mention that Metropolis is Milton Keynes? Lacy and Clark do aerobics together. Lacy can, apparently, survive being carried into space. Also, Superman somehow has to catch his breath on the Moon before straightening up the US flag. Lex grabs Superman’s attention by doing the old audio and visual frequency only he can hear thing, and somehow knows exactly where Superman is as he tells him to look to the left to see where his nefarious scheme will take place.
The whole film is a mess, more so than Superman 3 somehow. It feels like a film that has been cut to ribbons, most likely because it was. There was originally going to be a sort of proto-Nuclear Man that kind of resembled Bizarro… kind of. About half an hour of the film would have involved this bumbling comic monstrosity which would have put Nuclear Man’s first appearance at around 80 minutes into the film. Many more scenes were cut but I seriously doubt any of them made the film make any more sense. The film is an unmitigated disaster, although it may hold a little spark of that so bad it’s good vibe, but not enough to really save it. Thankfully there hasn’t been a Superman film this bad since. There has been a slightly boring one though, and that will be my next review.