Superman IV: The Quest for Peace Retrospective

After watching Superman III for the first time in years, I was on a roll and rewatched  the often lambasted Superman IV! If III has a bad rap, you’d better believe IV’s is even worse, and rightfully so. Considering the movie was done on a mere $17 million budget, it definitely shows. One YouTube video I recently came across called the movie “not just one of the worst superhero movies of all time, but one of the worst movies of all time, period.” With aging stars, a lame bad guy and nonsensical plot, to name a few, there’s no way I could have enjoyed it…

Could I?

Much to my surprise, I actually… kinda liked this movie. Maybe it’s because I was expecting the worst movie of all time, and even remembered enough from first watching it thirty years ago to expect epic awfulness. And yet, there was a charm and a heart about this movie that appealed to me very much. The premise of Superman ridding the world of nuclear weapons is actually a very noble goal, and one that only he could get away with (then again, “Superman: Peace on Earth” is one of my favorite Superman stories of all time, so maybe I’m just a sucker for stuff like this). By the time Christopher Reeve was standing at the center of the United Nations giving an impassioned speech, I was hooked.

In any Superman story, one looks for the inclusion of the supporting cast, and thankfully, they’re all here again. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is a full guest star throughout, unlike her mere cameo in Superman III. Jimmy and Perry are present as well, still played by Marc Maclure and Jackie Cooper, respectively. Included as well are new characters at the Daily Planet and Kryptonian memory holograms in Superman’s fortress. Even Gene Hackman is back as Lex Luthor, and this time isn’t ridiculous (or… at least not as ridiculous). They all have a good amount of balance around Clark, more or less, and even though they are a good ten years older than their appearances in Richard Donner’s Superman, I found them to be refreshing and welcome.

Lex Luthor is again the main antagonist in this film, after being broken out of prison by his ’80s punk rocker nephew, Lenny Luthor (whom the less said about, the better). Lex hatches a new plot to kill the Man of Steel by cloning him using a strand of his hair. The experiment goes awry, however, and as a result the Nuclear Man is created, a bad guy who can go toe to toe with Supes, just like Zod, Ursa, and Non in Superman II. Nuclear Man, of course, isn’t in the film only for his brute strength, but to also be a personification of Superman’s obstacle in the story. He is a Bizarro-ish bad guy, in the same vein as the Brainiac-ish supercomputer in Superman III. Nevertheless, all of the above actually make for a pretty decent plot, even if Nuclear Man’s creation or powers make no sense (because sparkly fingernails and Lex Luthor’s voice, natch!).

Luthor in this is actually not that bad, which strengthens the movie a great deal. Lenny is still miles better than Ned Beatty’s Otis in the first two movies, in that he’s seen less, doesn’t talk as much, and is in general less annoying. Lex also lives on top of a skyscraper instead of an underground ninja turtle-esque lair, and actually feels like a rich tycoon, likely taking his tone from the Byrne reboot Lex Luthor, which at this point had become the norm in the comics. I didn’t hate his character in this movie like I did in the first film, and that is a huge improvement! The stronger the villain, the stronger the story.

Christopher Reeve is far and away the strength of this movie, as he was each time he donned the red cape and boots. Quest for Peace was meant to be his baby and a sort of personal project for him, as the plot to eliminate nuclear weapons was his idea (he even received a co-writing credit). The special effects are far poorer in this film though, and so we do see stock clips of him, recycled flying footage and even strings in some scenes a la a 50s B-movie, which doesn’t do him any favors. Still, whenever Reeve is on screen, he is Superman to me, not an actor playing Superman. We were blessed to have him as the Man of Steel for four films, and should be thankful that we at least got that much.

Did this movie have cheesy lines? Absolutely. Did its science make no sense? Yes. Did it have a visibly slashed budget from the other three movies? Yes again. I could keep going, but you get my point. This was not a perfect film, far from it. I mean, “Canon” is all you have to say for someone to get it, for crying out loud. But it still had enough to be enjoyable, and was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting.

Was it because I’m so starved for a Superman movie that I didn’t care what it was?  Maybe. But at this point, like Superman III, I’ll take whatever I can get. Good stuff!

Do I dare watch Supergirl next…?

Thanks for reading!  In researching for this article I found the below fan video and thought it was pretty cool. Enjoy!

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