Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Mariel Hemingway, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper, Mark McClure, Jon Cryer, Sam Wanamaker, Mark Pillow
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Screenplay: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
It shouldn't have been this bad.
Superman portrayer, Christopher Reeve (Rear Window, The Remains of the Day), had a vision to make a statement with the fourth film in the series, only to find that budgetary issues would kill his dream in the end. First, the production moved to Cannon Films, which was in dire straits financially at the time and couldn't afford to spend money on a big budget release that wasn't guaranteed a profit. The budget for Superman IV was gutted, with less than $20 million to spend. Obviously, this cut into the most crucial aspect of the film, the special effects, which now seem very low-tech, even for the times. Then, once the two hour and ten minute film was in the can, test audiences weren't feeling it. Cannon did what many studios do when a potential turkey is on their hands -- they reduce the film to 90 minutes so that they could get extra showings every day, and hopefully, recoup some of its money. The result is a film that looks cheesy, often makes little sense, and inevitably killed the franchise once and for all.
It's a shame too, because Superman IV, for all of its foibles, is an extremely likable movie, even if it isn't up to the standards laid out in the first Superman. Reeve is excellent, Hackman (Crimson Tide, Unforgiven) is back as Luthor, and for the first time, Kidder looks like she is enjoying playing Lois Lane again. The awful humor is kept to the right proportions (mostly supplied by Jon "Ducky" Cryer as Luthor's nephew, and who is excruciating), and this time, there is a heartfelt message behind the intent. It was the right movie to get Superman back on his feet, but just the wrong time for the wrong studio.
In this one, Superman confronts a moral dilemma. He is sworn to not meddle into the affairs of Earth, but only he has the power to stop the problems associated with the nuclear build-up, and in a gut-wrenching decision, he decides to rid the planet of all nuclear weapons. His arch nemesis, Lex Luthor, senses an opportunity to make some money by concocting a way to stop Superman. Using Superman's DNA, he sets about creating his own super powered villain, one who is equally as powerful.
All things considered, it seems a miracle that the film was actually able to get made, and I respect the fact that a low budget film like this would actually be able to supply a few good moments, like the destruction of the Great Wall of China, and the abduction of the Statue of Liberty. Still, it's easy to see that this has but a fraction of the previous efforts' budgets, with any of the shots of Superman flying obviously done with blue screens and false backgrounds.
Alas, we'll never know if Superman IV ever had a chance to revive the franchise, as it was dead before it ever left the gate. Perhaps one day we'll be able to view the extra 40 minutes which were sliced out, but given the state of the production that we can see, and the rather weak script, a return to glory seems too much to ask for. But still -- it shouldn't have been this bad.
©2004 Vince Leo