Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
I don’t know that I ever watched “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” when it first came out in the ’80s. It is hard to believe that I didn’t, but in watching it with my friend Ron last night, there wasn’t much of any of it that I remembered. It seems like that was a good thing, because damn, is this movie bad. Of course, the most obvious culprit has been a limited budget that was afforded the film by producers Cannon Films, but would more money really have made the story of Superman vs. nuclear disarmament any more compelling to watch? Christopher Reeve, who donned the cape for the fourth time, and helped break the story for the film, later regretted making the movie, and it’s not hard to see why. As it’s his final time playing Superman, though, it’s important to consider in the annals of superhero filmmaking, if only for what NOT to do.
By the time the film came out in 1987, the Cold War was thawing, and nuclear disarmament was an imperative for many people, but it was still a concern that could be made fodder for Hollywood. So Reeve and screenwriters Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal broke a story where tensions between the United States and Soviet Union come to a head, and nuclear war appears inevitable. Would Superman be able to help the world in this capacity, or is he to not interfere in the course of human events? He already did the latter to save Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), and still feels some tension for having to wipe her memory of the knowledge that Superman is actually Clark Kent, the mild mannered reporter she works with at The Daily Planet. As you can imagine, though, Superman does help rid the world of nuclear weapons, but his old foe Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) has a trick up his sleeve to harness nuclear energy for nefarious purposes anyway when his nephew Lenny (Jon Cryer, in a quite embarrassing performance) breaks him out of prison. Hence the rise of a new enemy…Nuclear Man. Yes, that’s his real name, and he has the all the imagination of a hair metal lead singer of the time to go with him.
It is truly hard, if not impossible, to see this working in any respect. I believe that Reeve had a sincere belief in this story, and that more money would have resulted in a better made movie, but when there’s a needless sideplot of the Daily Planet being sold to an outside party, and turned into a gossip rag, as part of the dramatic “tension” of the film, it feels like, even given the mistakes of “Superman III,” sleeping dogs should have been left to lie with this franchise. “The Quest for Peace” is shabbily made and uninspired; even Reeve looks bored by the film, and he was one of the ones who spearheaded it! The series had fallen hard since the heyday of Richard Donner’s truly wonderful first film. Unfortunately, it’s been a mixed bag for the Man of Steel on the big screen ever since, but there is some hope for a more promising future, even after the mediocre likes of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” made it’s own mistakes. That may be because Henry Cavill has forged his own path in the role Christopher Reeve made famous rather than merely standing in his shadows. I think the late actor would be proud of that legacy, even if he wasn’t about how his time in the role ended.