Before watching the movie:
If you’ve heard of this film (and if you haven’t, this thing in front of you is called a computer and the blue thing above you that isn’t made of rock is called the sky), you’ve probably heard its reputation. It’s the movie that almost killed the Superman movie franchise, the last one with Christopher Reeve, and it has a heavy-handed disarmament message, as referenced by its subtitle (the only Superman movie subtitle that isn’t “The Movie,” I might add).
Beyond that, I don’t know what to expect out of it, other than finally having seen every Superman theatrical film. I liked Superman III well enough, but I can agree it was a bad film. From what the entire internet says, this is more of the same, plus an overbearing moral.
After the break, I watch more of the same.
During/After the movie:
Even in the opening sequence, I can see they’re keeping some things that worked. The original Superman theme in all its John Williams brilliance plays over titles that are basically an update of the titling that the first two films had. Unfortunately, it’s an ugly mix of yellow text and red or blue trails that has not aged well.
The peace theme enters early on, with Superman saving a cosmonaut that got knocked off his ship. Moral: Superman (Mr. Truth, Justice, and American Way) is for the world.
Lex Luthor is back for real this time. He was the only villain in the first movie, and tried to manipulate Zod in the second, but was completely gone in the third, replaced with another corrupt businessman (also Richard Pryor). His totally rad, possibly stoner nephew busts him out of jail so he can create a clone of Superman. Meanwhile at the Daily Planet, a fearmongering, bottom-line executive is making a lot of changes to the paper, and his daughter is putting her best moves on Clark.
Due to a nuclear scare, Superman decides that it’s his job to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and he does so. By force. And everyone but Lex Luthor and his small group of war profiteers cheers the biggest metahuman nanny ever. Luthor’s latest plan to kill Superman involves using Superman’s genetic material to create Bizarro Nuclear Man! With nearly infinite power, so long as someone doesn’t close the blinds. Can Superman stop this godlike foe, or will he never manage to get him inside?
Hopefully that’s not too much harder to follow than the mess presented onscreen. It doesn’t even begin to describe the jerkassery Clark gets up to in the name of maintaining his double life, the inanity of the love plot, or the critical breakdowns of not only suspension of disbelief, but logic and even common sense itself.
As a Superman villain, I can almost accept the concept of Nuclear Man. He’s a sun-powered half-clone that Superman is no match for without his Achilles heel. What I can’t accept is just about everything else. His costume looks more at home on Hercules than a nuclear-powered supervillain. His origin story is ludicrous, and only barely justifies his name (he’d be better called Solar Man, but solar power is our friend). His characterization varies wildly, especially in how smart and autonomous he is. For one glorious moment, it looked like he was going to trounce Luthor with a thought and become his own boss, but then he stepped out of the sunlight, and was Luthor’s toady forevermore.
As far as effects, I’m normally forgiving of bad visual effects in older movies. As long as the story gets told and I get the idea, it’s okay. This movie, however, has effects that range from mediocre to horrific, to the point that I’m taken completely out of the movie. One shot has Superman and Nuclear Man wrestling in space, and you can see the floor they’re standing on.
There is almost nothing I can recommend this movie on. Ordinarily, even a bad movie is so ludicrous I can enjoy it like a NASCAR fan watching wrecks. Superman IV is just a travesty on celluloid.
See this movie: if you bought the box set. Because if you don’t, that’s just wasteful.
Don’t see this movie: if you are a human being with an IQ above 40.