Sidewinder’s View: Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)

From 1987, one of this past week’s movies, a Wal-Mart Blu-ray Dump Bin find.

I’d never seen this Superman movie before. Way back in ’83, I’d been severely underwhelmed by Superman III, so my interest in the series took a huge nosedive by the time IV hit theaters.

I do remember when IV arrived in the summer of 1987. I was 17 and eager to catch mainly the new R-rated flicks, like Predator, Extreme Prejudice, Lethal Weapon, etc. Superman, to me, was ‘kids’ stuff’, a character I’d outgrown before I reached high school. Plus, the new Superman movie snagged some really scathing reviews. A lot of them. Next thing I knew, it was on video store shelves being rapidly forgotten.

Flash forward to nearly 30 years later. I’m watching the fascinating Mark Hartley documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story Of Cannon Films, in which the ill-fated, failed sequel receives a notable mention, specifically as it relates to Cannon’s financial downfall not long after Superman IV‘s theatrical release.

The clips from Superman IV shown in the documentary– the horrifyingly cheap-looking visual effects, the film’s laughably silly, roaring villain ‘Nuclear Man’– were so jarringly inept compared to the quality and imagination on display in the first two Superman movies…that I simply had to (finally, after all these years) seek this movie out, if only to determine for myself that it really was that horrible.

It’s bad, but not nearly as bad as those clips led me to believe. It’s the Superman movie with the shortest running time (90 minutes), and there are certainly a few holes in the plot, thanks to some last-minute cutting by the film’s distributor, Warner Bros. That being said, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace never bored me. The pace of the 1978 Superman: The Movie, my wife and I recently discovered upon revisiting it, dragged quite a bit, particularly during the first hour or so.

Superman IV has a lot of problems, though. Most of the sequel’s deleted scenes are available as a special feature on the Blu-ray. On the audio commentary, the sequel’s screenwriter, when not trashing the finished film, muses that the movie could have been something fantastic if only Cannon hadn’t slashed the movie’s budget, requiring script revisions that shrunk the scale of the story, and if Warners hadn’t hacked those 45 minutes’ worth of deleted scenes out of the finished film.

I don’t buy it. I believe Superman IV was a doomed project from the get-go, even without Cannon’s and Warners’ creative intrusions. The tone alternates awkwardly between campy and preachy. Attempts at humor seem aimed at a narrow demographic, specifically very young children. The movie plays like a slightly more ambitious episode of Shazam!, one of my 1970s Saturday Morning kids’ show favorites…when I was six.

Mariel Hemingway’s performance as the love interest for Clark Kent is shockingly flat and unenthusiastic (even back then, I never understood her appeal as a screen presence; her performances always seemed to be on auto-pilot, no matter what character she was playing).

And the plot concept of Superman deciding to rid the world of its nuclear weapons– not ‘nuclear power’, as the poster states, but, specifically, nuclear warheads– by flying them, one at a time, into outer space and stashing them inside a big net, created more questions that the movie, so bogged down under the weight of its good intentions, didn’t begin to explore:

With all the nukes gone, do the world’s superpowers revert to pre-Hiroshima/Nagasaki warfare, i.e. conventional bombs and bullets? Is Superman going to have to collect and deposit all the world’s munitions into outer space, as well? And then turn his attention to arrows and blades, after global weaponry reverts to the pre-gunpowder era?

Intelligent as he’s supposed to be, Superman, in this sequel, hasn’t quite figured out that it’s not the insidious tools mankind has at its disposal which determine war and peace. It’s the imperfect nature of mankind itself which leads to conflicts, both large and small.

There’s always going to be somebody, whether in a large group or among individuals, scheming for new ways to take what somebody else has, by force or by stealth. Sad, but true.

Utopia, the earthly embodiment of mankind’s perfection, is simply not attainable. Superman is merely Superman, not God. At the end of the movie, Superman sort of realizes that, but not really.

At its heart, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is an amusingly naive, thinly developed potboiler with little to recommend it apart from its glaring flaws and noble intentions.

It did provide me with some food for thought, though. Well worth the $7.99 I forked over to rescue the disc from the dump bin.Superman IV The Quest For Utopia