Wednesday, June 12, 2013
It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's... Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Countdown to Man of Steel, Part 5, in which Superman shares shelf space with such luminaries as Enter the Ninja and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo…
THE SUPER-FILM: After the disappointing returns on Superman III (and the spinoff Supergirl), the Salkinds decided they had taken the Man of Steel just about as far they could, and sold the rights to B-movie mavens Menahem Golan and Yorem Globus, then-heads of Cannon Films. Golan and Globus still saw potential in the franchise, and brought back all the main players from before (including Gene Hackman) to right the ship set way off course by III. Sadly, their bargain-basement approach to filmmaking didn’t mesh well with the Superman series, resulting in the absolute worst installment of the franchise.
Christopher Reeve was at this point tiring of the role, which he felt was especially played out after the previous disappointing installment. But he was lured back by Golan and Globus by the two offering to produce his passion project, Street Smart, as well as having story input on Superman IV, with the option of directing a fifth if the series were successful enough to continue. The story Reeve came up with involved Superman disarming the world of all its nuclear weapons, only to then be faced with his own nuclear-powered clone, The, uh, Nuclear Man.
Reeve is Reeve throughout, so comfortable in the glasses and the tights by this point it seemed to come to him almost as a second nature. It’s impressive that - no matter how dismal the films around him get - Reeve always manages to shine; the definitive portrayal of Superman of the 20th century. Margot Kidder returns to leading role status after her glorified cameo in the last one, fighting with the rest of the Daily Planet staff against their new owner, David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker). It’s nice to have her back, although in some scenes she comes across as being under heavy sleeping medication. Also returning in a big way is Gene Hackman, once again playing Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. He plays the role more or less the same as before, with Luthor as an egotistical goofball, although Hackman looks very, very tired this time out. Luthor’s scheme involves pitting Superman against The Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow), the first true super-villain of the series; which is nice, I suppose, but surely they could have come up with something better than this bleach-blonde, silver finger-nailed loser. The scenes of the two of them going at are admittedly fun in a low-rent kind of way, but the lack of urgency to the plot and the general lameness of Nuclear Man suck the life right out of the movie.
Also joining the main cast is Mariel Hemingway as Warfield’s daughter, Lacy, who immediately takes a liking to Clark; resulting in one of the film’s truly inspired scenes as Superman and Clark have a double date with Lois and Lacy, with Superman making excuses and rushing to-and-fro to keep up appearances. Having a love triangle seemed to be something the previous installment was getting at (speaking of which, what the hell happened to Lana Lang? She ended the previous film as Perry White‘s secretary), and is a welcome dynamic to the franchise, but again here is hampered by the script. There are several idiotic turns in the film - most egregiously the scene where Lois gets her memory back from Superman II, only to then have it super-kissed away all over again. The ideas are all solid - especially the Daily Planet being under new management - but the execution and the rather ham-fisted approach to nuclear warfare doesn’t mesh well at all.
The film ends with the same pair of shots that ended all the previous entries, with Superman taking off in orbit and smiling at the camera before flying out of frame - a painful reminder of just how far the series had fallen.
SUPER-THOUGHTS: Jackie Cooper’s Perry White seemed to always get short shrift in these films (along with Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen), so it’s nice he gets a bit more to do here, as White fights to keep control of his newspaper. He even gets to save the Planet at the end, which is about as clever as this film gets.
Is there some kind of clause that every Superman villain must have some dopey sidekick? IV probably has the worst one of the bunch: Lenny Luthor, Lex’s teenage nephew played by Jon Cryer. Mercifully, he’s only in a handful of scenes.
Ever since Superman II, the series has played pretty fast and loose with Superman’s powers; reaching its zenith here, as Superman rebuilds the Great Wall of China with what looks to be telekinesis.
Keep an eye out for Jim Broadbent, who plays one of the crime lords that Luthor swindles.
Superman IV has possibly the strangest credit I’ve ever seen: “SUPERMAN Motion Picture Series Initiated by Alexander Salkind.”
BEST USE OF POWERS: Nothing can top the batshit lunacy of Superman gathering all the nuclear missiles of the world in a giant net and hurling them into the sun.
THE LAST WORD: Christopher Reeve’s last outing in the role that made him famous ends his franchise with a whimper; a swan song that was far less than all the involved parties deserved.