Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Genre: Superhero Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

Release Date: July 24th, 1987 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Sidney J. Furie Actors: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Jon Cryer, Sam Wanamaker, Mariel Hemingway, Mark Pillow, Jim Broadbent

 


 

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uperman’s (Christopher Reeve) policing of Earth has now extended to outer space, where he saves Russian cosmonauts from a space debris mishap. Apparently, no one dies on his watch, even though that would be a truly impossible feat (and an unwanted complication, if overpopulation was a concern). It also interferes with his inherent sentimentality, which pushes him to frequently revisit the Smallville farm where he grew up. And though he previously got a taste for the future with his bout against an annihilative super-computer (in the prior film), he’s insistent on selling the property only to someone interested in maintaining a rural lifestyle, rather than making way for a mall or other modern structure.

“I now have plans to recreate life itself.” In another part of the country, while doing hard labor as part of his prison sentence, criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) hatches a new scheme. With the help of his punk nephew Lenny (Jon Cryer), Luthor escapes (it helps that the shotgun-toting guards are ludicrously inept), steals one of Superman’s hairs (housed in a museum), and sets in motion fresh plans to dominate the world (anything less just wouldn’t be an apt challenge).

Playing up to the ongoing arms race with Russia, the story, written in part by Reeve himself, tackles contemporary political woes – ones too complex even for Superman to solve with any hint of realism. Fortunately, as he weighs the implications of getting involved in man’s petty predilection for nuclear self-destruction, his alter ego, Clark Kent (the “oldest living Boy Scout”), revisits his romance with fellow reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), a welcome return of a familiar persona. And it creates something of a love triangle with Lacy (Mariel Hemingway; “All men like me; I’m very, very rich”), the daughter of sleazy tabloid tycoon – and Daily Planet owner – David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker).

“You’ll do the right thing. You always have.” Solving America’s conflict with the Soviet Union is a hopelessly dull issue for the likes of an invincible superhuman, which makes it all that much more important for the script to invent additional predicaments. Sadly, the film opts for a bizarre, nonsensical nemesis in Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow), spawned from the power of the sun – unstoppable in its rays yet impotent in the shade (an outrageously stupid conception).

From the dialogue to the characters to the the various subplots (including a slapstick sketch in which Clark and Superman are on a double-date with Lois and Lacy), it’s obvious that comedy is still the priority. No situation is safe from the unwarranted, intrusive nature of this series’ instantaneous humor; everyone provides their own comic relief, while no dilemma feels formidable. After the last theatrical chapter, it should have been clear that something about the formula needed to change, yet the filmmakers have insisted upon preserving the abundance of unnecessary supporting roles (chiefly sidekicks), the repetition of Superman’s solutions to unimpressively destructive forces (he has a convenient out no matter the quandary), and special-effects-heavy action sequences for which the available technology struggles to present sufficient visual excitement. And, worst of all, these scenes uphold the incessant sense of silliness.

In a curious twist, however, the most entertaining aspect of this last of the Christopher Reeve entries is the smattering of romantic follies; none of it is serious or heartfelt, but it’s lightly amusing. And though Nuclear Man isn’t nearly as earnest as General Zod and his minions, at least physical fights arise, allowing for the two he-men to engage in explosive showdowns – and for Superman to devise a quick fix to victory almost as creative as spinning around the Earth to reverse time. As if marginally aware that these mediocre episodes can’t continue on much longer (or at all), this fourth outing (or fifth, if counting “Supergirl”) is the simplest and briefest of the bunch, running more than half-an-hour less than its predecessors – which is actually a suitable modification.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10