Movie Review: "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" (1987)
Admittedly, "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" is not as bad as "Superman III" or worse than "Supergirl", it could have actually been decent if it weren't for cheaply-made special effects (more on that later). Let's get to the bottom of this: The only reason that "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" was made is because of the Cold War and that's it. This movie really has no other reason to exist. If it weren't for the Cold War, then the only fourth 'Superman' movie we would be getting is "Superman Returns" (which is actually not that better anyway).
"Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" is yet another example in cinematic history that points to the 'Curse of the 4th Movie'. And let me tell you, the curse is real! Is it any coincidence that "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" and "Jaws: The Revenge" were both released in the same year and sucked? It's pretty clear that after watching this movie that the magic which was present in the first two 'Superman' films has disappeared.
You would expect that by the fourth movie, any franchise would be making some evolutionary progress from a cinematic standpoint. We're dealing with the same old villains plus a made-up one who isn't any different than the ones we've already seen, the film's message is treading on a topic that is years and years old. So now it's time to examine the elements that made it crumble and what they could have done to save it.
1. Cold War References -- Turn On The Hot Water Already!
One type of film that ran rampant in the 80's were films that had the ongoing Cold War at the time as a major running theme. The 80's movies that did something creative with this theme were films like "War Games" and "Red Dawn" for starters. However, most of these movies went the other route and became overly preachy on the subject. Cold War movies like this which come to mind are "Rocky IV", "2010: The Year We Made Contact", and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace".
One big difference you may notice between the first two movies that I mentioned and the last three is that movies like "War Games" and "Red Dawn" had political and military oriented plots assigned to them so the subject matter tended to seem a little more natural whereas in movies like "Rocky IV" and "Superman IV", it feels more like the subject was shoehorned into the script to incorporate a worthy message.
Mind you, these aren't the type of movies you would expect to have a Cold War theme or message in it. I mean "Rocky IV"!? Are you kidding me? It's a god-darn boxing movie, not some Jack Ryan thriller, for Christ's sake. Well, it's the same problem with "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace". The Cold War is the sole motivation behind this script.
They make this pretty obvious from the opening scene in which Superman saves a Russian astronaut in space and then speaks to him in Russian. Did they really have to shoehorn this stupid scene into the movie? God almighty, can this film get any worse? In short, the answer is yes. But I will say one good thing about this -- We get a very decent scene with Superman giving a speech in the United Nations building.
2. Lex Luthor? Raincheck!
Haven't we seen enough of Lex Luthor already in these "Superman" movies? He was the main villain in "Superman", then he was like a secondary villain in "Superman II" because we had General Zod and his two goons, we had a clone of him in "Superman III", and now he's the main villain once more in "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace". By this point, it's gotten way out of hand.
Aside from Lex Luthor, there's a secondary villain called Nuclear Man who is more or less a clone of Bizarro or should I say Evil Superman from "Superman III". They just made this guy up, he wasn't even in Superman's rogues gallery until they made this movie. The fighting bits between Nuclear Man and Superman here feel like a badly done extension of the junkyard battle in "Superman III".
With all the villains in Superman's rogues gallery to choose from, they decided to go with Lex Luthor for the thousandth time as well as create their own secondary villain whom is basically a clone of someone from Superman's rogues gallery to begin with. I mean what is this, some kind of backward thought process that the filmmakers were using when putting this sequel together?
How about Brainiac for a change? We almost got him for the fifth film, "Superman Returns", but that's another story for another review. On a separate note, am I the only one who thinks Lex Luthor's escape in this movie is one of the laziest scenes ever written?
3. Special DEfects
With the stupid plot and the horrible script, the worst next thing that could happen to this movie is having embarrassingly bad special effects. Well, it unfortunately went that route it seems. But this aspect is really not the director's fault though, you see, the movie's budget got slashed and went to 1987's "Masters of the Universe" instead (which is why that movie has better effects than this one). Therefore we could all thank Cannon Films (which no longer exists, thankfully) for the finished product.
These low-grade special effects are especially noticeable during the Superman vs. Nuclear Man fight sequences (there's only a couple of them but they're pretty extensive). Superman and Nuclear Man duke it out from the skyline of Metropolis to space to the surface of the Moon itself.
There's a volcano eruption, a falling statue of liberty, fighting in space, and they even have Superman's latest love interest (played by Mariel Hemmingway) taken hostage in space with no protection whatsoever and she's able to breathe and talk as if she's behind held up above land on Earth. Now that doesn't make one lick of sense. Bottom line though, the special effects are downright humiliating for this franchise, considering what we have seen in the previous "Superman" movies.
4. What Should Have Been Done
The solution is quite simple -- "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" should have never been made to begin with, it's simply a side-effect of the disaster that was "Superman III". Lex Luthor should have been in "Superman III" instead of that idiot who is like him to begin with and Bizarro/Evil Superman should have been a more prominent secondary villain who eventually met his demise in the junkyard at the hands of Clark Kent. Forget Nuclear Man.
As for the Cold War, how about setting the story after the Cold War has ended? That would break some new ground for its time, a time when almost every movie coming out has some annoying reference to the darn Cold War.
- Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) - IMDb
Directed by Sidney J. Furie. With Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper.
- Employed at the Flick 1980: 'Superman II' & Life
A young man's recollections on the life and films he saw such as Superman II, Coal Miner's Daughter, Friday the 13th, Urban Cowboy and Raging Bull and others in a 1980 movie cinema called the Flick.