Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)PG

Half a capeTentTentHalf a tent

I once saw a brief capsule review of this in a weekly alternative newspaper, a summary written to act as a placeholder during the interval before they actually saw and reviewed the film, which said: “Produced by — oh, shit — Golan and Globus.” That “oh, shit” was right on the money. This formerly prestigious big-budget series has suddenly become cheap garbage, not just in the amateur-grade special effects and stunts but in the amateur-grade dialog and plotting as well. Every scene in the film is, in some greater or lesser way, just plain stupid. Every single scene, without exception!

Gene Hackman didn’t even shave his head to play Lex Luthor, or even cover it with a wig. And he says “nucular”. Perhaps that’s Gene’s little joke on the filmmakers. Or did he say it that way in Superman: The Movie? I can’t remember. He also said “nucular” in Crimson Tide...

(By the way, did you know that in his early comic book appearances, the mad scientist Luthor, not yet named Lex, wore a green dress over his pants? I think it was supposed to be some kind of archaic lab coat.)

Margot Kidder is back. She looks awful. Maybe this was about the time when she was ready to check into rehab.

Anyway, you know you’re in good hands right from the beginning, when Supes saves some Russian cosmonauts whose space station has been hit by an old stray satellite. Not only does the station rumble as it moves by, not only does his cape flap, not only does he take a deep breath in space... but he speaks aloud to a space-suited rescuee right out there in the vacuum, and mentions that he heard him singing! (I guess hearing the guy would explain how he knew the station was in trouble.) If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s a scene near the end where Mariel Hemingway breathes vacuum with no ill effects, just like Superman. It appears that the writers forgot completely about airlessness up there. It’s like nobody ever told them about it — they are consistent throughout the film in acting as if there’s air.

Don’t miss Superman’s new super power, “bricklayer vision”.

This Superman episode isn’t silly fluff like the last one... oh no, it’s very earnestly concerned about grave issues. To wit, the nuclear arms race. And unlike virtually all other Golan-Globus dreck, it takes an internationalist and anti-military point of view, because Christopher Reeve would only do the film if he controlled the story, and that’s the kind of story he wanted. Perhaps the Go-Go Boys felt a bit awkward or out of place doing a liberal-flavored film... and perhaps that helps explain, in some small way, how moronic the result is. Or maybe Reeve just sucks at screenwriting. But I don’t think it’s Reeve’s fault; he didn’t write the dialogue, but (as I understand it) just a broad story outline. And in outline, this story doesn’t really have anything wrong with it (by comic book standards); it can certainly be taken as seriously as anything in the earlier movies. Still, the core premise that the world’s nuclear powers would allow an extraterrestrial to disarm them is ridiculous. But the other parts, such as Lex Luthor creating his own evil superhero in the heat of the sun and having him fight Big Blue, are good plain meat-and-potatoes comic book fare. No, this movie’s failure is in the execution.

There is one thrilling battle of titans to witness on screen here. No, I don’t mean Superman vs. Solar Power Man — though ironically, the fight with Lex Luthor’s super-stooge is probably as close as they ever got in this series to the style of superfight you’d see in the source comics — I mean Superman IV vs. Supergirl: which movie is worse? And the winner is... well, it’s pretty close, but I think Supergirl retains the title. For the true bad movie fan, either film is a rewarding experience.

This time the theme music is handed off to Alexander Courage, who does it properly. He definitely deserved a bigger share of the ol' wealth and fame than he got.