Eye For Film >> Movies >> Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987) Film Review
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace
Reviewed by: Stephen Carty
According to Jon Cryer, Christopher Reeve took him aside just before the release and told him it was going to be terrible. Boy, was he right. Though Superman IV carries the sub-moniker of ‘The Quest For Peace’, it’s more accurate to describe it as ‘The Death Of A Series’. And yet, whilst it’s a surprisingly poor outing to go out on, the Kryptonian writing was always on the wall.
The story sees Superman (Reeve), inspired by a schoolboy's letter, deciding to rid the world of nuclear weapons. However, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) has broken out of prison with the help of his nephew (Jon Cryer) and uses the Man of Steel's DNA to create a solar-powered nemesis (Mark Pillow) in order to kill him. Meanwhile, tabloid magnate David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker) turns the Daily Planet into a sleazy rag while his daughter Lacy (Mariel Hemingway) takes a shine to Clark.
After the epic first by Richard Donner (who knew how to do a Superman movie), the second was a muddled mix (European producers the Salkinds replaced Donner with Richard Lester midway through filming) and third had Richard Pryor on skies (the result of giving Lester his own movie). So, following the critical and box-office failure of Supergirl, the Salkinds finally decided to cut their ties with the last son of Krypton and sell the rights to Golan-Globus’s collapsing production company Canon.
The result is an obviously cheap mess. With Canon in financial troubles and too many projects on the go simultaneously, director Sidney J Furie’s budget was slashed by about $17 million - you can see it. The effects for the fighting scenes are often poor, the back-projection flying is easily inferior to the first three (although the wire work is still decent) and the cutbacks even result in the same shots being used twice (see Supes flying towards us in the first five minutes).
Worst of all though, as Reeve notes in his autobiography, Still Me, when you compare it to the grandeur of the original it just seems so small-scale: "[There is] a scene in which Superman lands on 42nd Street and walks down the double yellow lines to the United Nations, where he gives a speech. If that had been a scene in Superman I, we would actually have shot it on 42nd Street. Dick Donner would have choreographed hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles and cut to people gawking out of office windows at the sight of Superman walking down the street like the Pied Piper. Instead, we had to shoot at an industrial park in England in the rain with about a hundred extras, not a car in sight, and a dozen pigeons thrown in for atmosphere.”
Still, big Chris is decent regardless and there are a handful of decent scenes. Clark at the gym is playful and fun (“no pain, no gain”), the journey back to the Kent farm early doors is suitably poignant and the Daily Planet takeover results in some nice lines (“Why are there no air travel expenses here for you Mr Kent?”). Then there’s a wonderful simple moment where Reeve stares out the window pondering what to do.
Sadly, these small glimmers of quality are too few and far between. With our lead rightly feeling disappointed with Superman III, he only agreed to return if he could have some story input. While his idea to make things more ‘socially relevant’ isn’t awful, the rest of the plot is still iffy regarding our hero’s powers (he rebuilds the Great Wall Of China by looking at it…huh?) while re-hashing old elements (flying with Lois, Luthor escaping from prison, the memory-erasing kiss) and frequently forgetting about logic. For example, at the end Lacey is flown into space… despite the fact there is no oxygen.
As for the cast, while Golan-Globus successfully negotiated all the major stars back (Jackie Cooper as Perry White, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, Marc McLure as Jimmy Olsen), the new additions are questionable, at best. Hemingway is just kind of there, Pillow’s Nuclear Man is just a bad idea and Jon Cryer is so woefully out of place he makes Otis look like Shaft. As for Hackman, he tries but there’s no way to get past all the sillyness.
Until the brilliant Superman Returns was released 19 years later (which makes Superman’s “see you in 20” parting message to Luthor quietly ironic), this seemed to be a tragic end to a series that started so brightly.Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2009