Following his usual saving the world endeavors as Superman, Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) returns to the Daily Planet to discover it has been taken over by tabloid tycoon David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker), who has fired long-time editor-in-chief Perry White (Jackie Cooper). When news that the United States and Soviet Union may possibly engage in war, Clark becomes conflicted on how much he should intervene as Superman. After some advice from Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and reading a letter from a concerned school-boy, he decides to take action through the United Nations. How does he do that? By fish-netting all the nuclear weapons and hurling them into the sun. So exciting!
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) escapes from prison again, with the help of his nephew Lenny (Jon Cryer). Together, the two manage to steal a strand of Superman’s hair from a museum and create a genetic matrix, which Lex attaches to a U.S. Nuclear missile. Superman deflects the missile into the sun, but he unwittingly creates a monstrous superhuman with the same powers of Kal-El, Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow).
And what a supervillain he is! “I will hurt people!” Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is the Batman & Robin of the Superman film franchise. The difference is Batman & Robin somehow managed to make nearly $250 million at the box office, while Superman IV made $15.6 million, effectively killing off the franchise until 2006 when Bryan Singer brought back the Man of Steel with Superman Returns.
Only to kill it off once again. This film is bad. Really bad. The type of bad that sets standards for other future bad films to follow (refer back to Batman & Robin). The type of bad that makes you dead certain Kryptonite isn’t Superman’s weakness, director Sidney J. Furie is. It, by some sort of miracle, actually makes Superman III watchable. And that, my friends, is quite an accomplishment. Of course, when your film is so incredibly cheesy it makes Superman III look like a Jim Jarmusch film, maybe it’s as easy as a walk in the park?
The fourth film in the Superman film series, Superman IV manages to pack in more story than all of the previous three films combined. Clark’s dealing with land developers wanting to buy the Smallville homestead, while working out his love triangle dilemma between Lois and Lacy. The Daily Planet’s having its fair share of drama as its turned into a haven for tabloid journalism. Superman’s going “We Are the World” against nuclear arms, and Lex Luthor and his idiot nephew create a Stryper cover band frontman clone to dispose of Superman.
The whole “Superman fights nuclear arms” was actually a passion project for Christopher Reeve. However, what started as his passion project turned into Warner Bros. wanting to pinch pennies at every available opportunity. From the studios standpoint, that was understandable. Superman III grossed $70 million worldwide on just a $40 million budget, but that was still considerably less than what Superman ($300 million worldwide) and Superman II ($108 million domestic) made. Following Superman III was Supergirl, which – well… yeah. A downward trajectory like that means the studio’s gonna cut costs like crazy, and boy, is it ever evident here.
Ironically, Jon Cryer reportedly said, later on, that Reeve went up to him during filming and said (or prophesied) this movie would be horrible.
What could it be? The special effects so horribly cheesy they would’ve seemed dated even for the Silent Era? The giant net Superman used to cast all the nuclear bombs into the sun (even for a comic book film that’s stretching the bounds of plausibility)? The once heartfelt and dynamic chemistry between Reeve and Kidder now reduced to nothing? Nuclear Man, or Gene Hackman hamming it up with Jon Cryer (in the dumbest, most superfluous character ever to grace a Superman film) and phoning it in so much, I’m surprised he wasn’t counting the bills to his paycheck while onscreen?
Actually, come to think of it, there is a scene that involves Lex Luthor counting a mound of cash somewhere in the billions. I’m convinced a similar event took place at his contract signing.
Speaking of Hackman, who was so much fun in the first film, and the second one as well, even though General Zod was the primary villain for Superman II, what exactly was it that drew him to this film? It had to be his career was in the dumps at the time and he would’ve taken any film offer. Then again, I checked his filmography and just prior to this film he did No Way Out (1987), Hoosiers (1986) and Power (1986), so that can’t be it. Oh, yes, that’s it. Warner Bros. kissed his ass and apologized for giving Richard Donner the shaft during the making of the first two (the reason Hackman refused to come back for Superman III) and then offered him an ungodly sum of money. Out of the $17 million dollar budget, Hackman probably received $16,999,999.96, while the remaining 4 cents went toward the film production.
It doesn’t end there with him. He also voices Nuclear Man, physically played by Mark Pillow. I guess playing just Lex Luthor here wasn’t enough. He must’ve been so amped up to be back, he had to also supply the voice for one of the most hysterically bad villains in film. “I will hurt people!”
Mark Pillow – and all his bouffant-mulleted glory – who, when not appearing onscreen was probably fulfilling his roadie duties for Winger, goes all out for us. He probably figured since his voice wasn’t gonna be heard he was gonna overcompensate by snarling and gnashing his teeth like there’s no tomorrow, as if this would be the last film he’d ever appear in. Oh, imagine that.
His fame reached heights so high, when I entered his name in wikipedia, it redirected me to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
“I will hurt people!” Yet, you proceed to destroy cars, vendor stands, fire hydrants and anything else that isn’t human.
The cherry on top though is in the final showdown between Superman and Nuclear Man when Nukes kidnaps Lacy Warfield and takes her into outer space, where she can somehow still breathe. For all the people that have bitched and moaned about how Superman turning back time in the first film couldn’t happen in real life (’cause you know, a story about an alien being from Krypton being sent to Earth is as grounded in reality as any story can get), that’s Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation compared to a human being able to breathe in outer space. Even as a kid, I was calling bull shit on that one.
I will say, though, that if it turns out to be true that you can in fact breathe in space like this film clearly believes, then NASA really has been pissing money down the drain for decades now.
Horrible dialogue, cheesy effects, acting either wooden or over-the-top – Superman IV: The Quest for Peace had to be Joel Schumacher’s ultimate inspiration for getting into comic book films. You’ll laugh (unintentionally), you’ll cry (intentionally), you’ll certainly try to reverse time by circumnavigating the globe at warp speed after seeing it. One thing’s for sure: Richard Donner probably has this film encased on his mantle as a reminder that apparently the head honchos at Warner Bros. felt he wasn’t good enough to direct two.