The Good: Moments of concept, The acting is not homogenously bad
The Bad: Atrocious special effects, No real character development, Plot takes a pathetic turn, Some gut-wrenchingly bad acting, Daily Planet buy-out subplot, Time spent maintaining the Clark Kent/Superman conceit.
The Basics: After a decent start, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace falls completely apart, earning its status as one of the worst films of all time.
Sometimes, a good concept is just ahead of its time. Sometimes, however, a concept is just plain bad. I sat down to Superman IV: The Quest For Peace after hearing for years just how terrible a film it was. But when the movie began, I quickly began to construct in my head a positive review of the movie. After all, there was a greater sense of the entire world almost immediately presented (Superman is not simply an alien refugee who has adopted American culture – he helps the Russians, Chinese, and others in the film) and the basic concept of the movie is not a bad one.
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is not, as some would like to call it, homogenously bad. In fact, even with its ridiculous sense of idealism and public service messages early in the movie – save the family farms, subway travel is safe and reliable, mega corporations buying out independent newspapers is bad news - Superman IV: The Quest For Peace has its moments. But, just like Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (reviewed here!) is fine up until the first explicit mention of god, the moment the movie shifts from Superman succumbing to peer pressure from a child to end the nuclear arms race to Lex Luthor’s plot to create Nuclear Man, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace takes a downturn into absolutely horrible.
Opening in space, Superman rescues some cosmonauts from an out of orbit satellite. Back on Earth, Clark Kent has to sell the Kent family farm, but insists on selling it to someone who wants a family farm. Lex Luthor, still in prison, is rescued by his dimwitted nephew, Lenny. With the nuclear arms race between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. heating up, a child writes to Superman to ask him to do away with all of the world’s nuclear weapons. Superman has to seriously think about that and in his time of deliberations, Clark Kent is hit on by the newspaper’s new owner’s daughter and Superman reveals himself once again to Lois Lane (and wipes her memory clean again).
But Superman’s good deed of ridding the world of nuclear weapons only creates a market opportunity for Lex Luthor, who starts selling weapons to the three biggest buyers on the planet. At the same time, he creates a villain based on Superman’s genetic material who is powered by the sun (and in a terrifically cheesy special effect, born in it) whom he intends to use to dispatch Superman once and for all. But, despite a prolonged fight on the moon, Nuclear Man and Superman fight to an obvious resolution and Superman does not fundamentally change.
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace succeeds for a few moments when it dares to ask the question of what limits a super hero ought to impose on the world that depends upon them. For sure, Superman’s life would be a lot easier if he did not have to constantly worry about how he might save the world from a nuclear missile barrage from any one hostile nation against any of the others. But, his moralizing leads him to question how much influence over the lives of the humans he ought exert. That can be a very compelling character conflict, but in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace it is not. Ultimately, Superman just succumbs to a child’s annoying pleas and the media backlash against him to make the decision.
Even so, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace manages to have Superman deliver a fine speech to the U.N. on why he is deciding to act before the movie becomes fully unhinged. And the film does come unhinged then. From the ridiculous net in space special effect to the terrible performance by Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man to the prolonged WWF-style fight on the moon between Nuclear Man and Superman, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace just becomes unmentionably bad. And while some might belabor the special effects (wires pulling flying characters, like Nuclear Man as he flies through the floors of the Daily Planet Building, remaining visible), I just see that as the fetid icing on the rancid cake. The film is pretty lousy without taking into account the special effects.
For one thing, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace wastes an inordinate amount of time on a scene wherein Superman and Clark Kent are expected to be at the same place at the same time. While Superman IV: The Quest For Peace does not make the audience groan by using the time travel card (based on the resolution to Superman - reviewed here! – Superman could technically go back in time and if he did that, he could theoretically go to dinner with Lois and Lacy as Clark and then again as Superman, occupying the same time and place in two bodies, one who was older and had already experienced the events), the audience groans and then spends several more minutes bored as the contrivance of Superman leaving Lois and Clark leaving Lacy happens back and forth as he juggles . . . for no particular reason than neither Clark nor Superman finds a way to decline coming to the dinner in the first place.
Christopher Reeve is frequently overshadowed for non-fighting screentime in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace by Margot Kidder. Even so, Kidder seems to be going through the motions as Lois Lane in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace and she is herself undermined on-screen by the way director Sidney J. Furie focuses on Mariel Hemmingway’s Lacy at every possible opportunity. Gene Hackman’s return to the franchise as Lex Luthor is not worth noting, nor is Jon Cryer’s appearance as Lenny.
In short, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is a lackluster continuation of the franchise that nearly buried it. If only the makers of Batman & Robin (reviewed here!) had learned from the Superman franchise’s errors!
For other films with Jim Broadbent, be sure to check out my takes on:
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe
Gangs Of New York
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Smilla’s Sense Of Snow
Blackadder’s Christmas Carol
For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all my film reviews!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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