YesterMovies Rewind: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace


Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Cannon Films 1987.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Cannon Films 1987.

Five years ago this month, Yesterday’s Movies officially began. To celebrate half a decade of movie reviews, I’m rewatching some of the highlights and giving them second-look reviews. This week I’m taking another look at the worst movie I ever reviewed, Superman IV.

I remember this being a completely irredeemable movie. The acting phoned in, the story misguided and nonsensical, and the special effects being too terrible to forgive. The only time I couldn’t recommend anyone watch it. So I’m gonna watch it again!

I’m really hoping I’ll find something good about it that I missed the first time. The story is what it is because Christopher Reeve believed in its message, so hopefully I’ll find at least him to be fully committed to the result.

After rewatching the movie:

With cold war tensions mounting, a grade-school kid believes that the only person who can help is Superman, and he writes him a letter. While Superman has sworn to the ghosts of Kryptonian elders that he won’t interfere with human affairs, he decides that he cannot stand by while war causes people to suffer, and declares to the UN that he’s making it his mission to confiscate and destroy all nuclear arms. Lex Luthor, newly broken out of prison, crafts a plan to partner with the arms dealers financially hurt by Superman’s efforts to harness the nuclear power of the sun to create Nuclear Man, a solar-powered Greek god more powerful than Superman, with the pesky shortcoming that he collapses in a heap if he’s ever out of direct sunlight. Meanwhile, the Daily Planet has been bought out by a businessman more interested in selling papers than reporting the news, he’s put his daughter in charge of the paper, and she’s got her eye on Clark.

Going in with a familiarity with how bad the movie is actually improved it greatly. Without any surprise nadirs, I could just enjoy the cheese and notice the positives. Of course the plot is half-baked. The attempt to give nuclear weapons a personification Superman could grapple with was probably misguided, and it’s completely short-circuited by Nuclear Man’s crippling allergy to darkness, which makes him, if anything, the personification of solar power. But I also noticed all the ways the story brought Superman to a global scale, instead of just saving America or Metropolis. And the arc of Lacy, the businessman’s daughter, coming to respect journalism through knowing Clark was much better than the overt love triangle I recalled.

I also found the effects less insulting than I recalled. Maybe I was looking away when the shot of the superpowered beings wrestling in space on what is clearly a bluescreen floor happened, but I’ve seen worse compositing otherwise. There’s an over reliance on what is obviously hand-drawn effects animation, but what the effects needed to accomplish was actually pretty ambitious for the era and budget. Ultimately, the effects tell the story, and being prepared for them to be significantly less than realistic, they distracted me less this time around.

The first time I reviewed this, I mentioned pretty much every silly thing that bothered me about it (though I seem to have overlooked Superman’s “rebuild the Great Wall of China vision”), and I still have most of those complaints, just not to the degree of revulsion I did at the time. While I’m against the idea of Superman meddling in worldwide sovereignty, I have to admit that his speech about why he had to was fairly convincing, and it is the logical end of his brand of superpowered vigilantism, if not tempered with humility and a responsibility to leave humanity to a degree of self-determination. However, I don’t think the plot is nearly complicated enough to justify a four-paragraph summary. It was very early days, I think I was still on a biweekly schedule, so I hadn’t had time to find my format, but that’s still far more detail than needed.

While I found this movie an insult to moviegoers initially, now I think it’s almost as cleanly in the “So bad it’s good” category as Batman and Robin was. I don’t think I’ll want to revisit it as often as B&R, but there are worse things to do with an hour and a half.

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