Movie Review: An unfortunate step in the wrong direction, but "Superman IV - The Quest For Peace" is not horrible
Summary: 3 Stars
The "Superman" movie series really starts to show wear and tear with this fourth installment, but Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Marc McClure, Jackie Cooper and even Gene Hackman are back one more time. That alone saves this movie from being a complete disaster. Fortunately, it also has some other good points, as well.
"Superman IV - The Quest for Peace" tries very hard to be good, but only manages somewhere between mediocre and not bad. Sadly, a key problem is the script, a real-world-meets-fantasy mishmash that has Superman destroying the world's nuclear weapons. Christopher Reeve himself had the idea for the script, and it was even a key sticking point in negotiations for him to return for a fourth time. He wanted Superman to face a real world problem, but the movie still faces the issue of being an appropriate fantasy. Thus, Nuclear Man is born, a golden-haired supervillain who gets his power from solar energy. Played by an actor by the name of Mark Pillow, Nuclear Man is appropriately destructive but idiotic and loud. Ultimately, the character is lacking the fully formed personality and motivations to make him truly compelling. However, he and Superman have occasional battles on the moon that are a high point of this movie. Nuclear Man is also indirectly responsible for a key tender moment between a very sick Clark Kent and a shaken Lois Lane.
Two other new characters turn up in this movie and they are each entertaining. Mariel Hemingway plays Lacey Warfield, the daughter of a corporate raider who takes over the Daily Planet. The character is an interesting counterpoint to Lois Lane, something of a PG-rated temptress who sets her sights on Clark Kent. Additionally, Jon Cryer(T.V.'s "Two and a Half Men") plays Lenny Luthor, Lex's stereotypically dimwitted cool-boy nephew. The character is genuine comic relief, and it's interesting to watch Mr. Cryer play off of Gene Hackman. The actors have a genuine rapport. The movie benefits greatly from Hackman's presence and dry wit.
This is not at all a great movie, and it's hardly even a good movie. It represents a tremendous drop in quality from the lofty classic that is "Superman - The Movie." It falls short of the anti-nuclear message Christopher Reeve wanted to convey because it tries to be everything with this goal and almost ends up being nothing. Despite all of this, it's a great 'so bad it's good' movie. I give it extra points for the simple fact of Christopher Reeve staying in the role for four movies.
Christopher Reeve not only dons the title hero's cape for the fourth time but also helped develop the movie's provocative theme: nuclear disarmament. "For me, it's the most personal of the entire series," Reeve said. "It directly reflects what Superman should be, and should be doing." Superman does a lot this time around. To make the world safe for nuclear arms merchants, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) creates a new being to challenge the Man of Steel: the radiation-charged Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow). The two foes clash in an explosive extravaganza that sees Superman save the Statue of Liberty, plug a volcanic eruption of Mount Etna and rebuild the demolished Great Wall of China. Your quest for excitement is over!
The law of diminishing returns: It's the law--obey it! Someone should have posted that sign on the set of this, the third sequel to the film based on the DC Comics superhero. The "IV" in the title refers to medical supplies needed to resuscitate this anemic retread. This one reportedly was a pet project of actor Christopher Reeve, whose career seemed to flounder whenever he tried a role minus the blue underwear and red cape. Before agreeing to don the suit one more time, he insisted on a script that preached nuclear disarmament. So, in this film, Superman rounds up all the missiles and warheads and flings them into outer space. Which still leaves him to contend with Lex Luthor, who has a secret weapon: Nuclear Man. Yawn. Having pushed the envelope of special effects in the first film, it seemed as if the filmmakers simply stopped trying with this one. --Marshall Fine