Up, up, and crash and burn!
After the critical failure of Superman III, no one wanted to do another Superman movie and the father/son production team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind went on to do the spinoff movie Supergirl. Remember, Supergirl was originally supposed to appear in the original story of Superman III but was dropped because well… Richard Pryor. But anyway, Supergirl ended up bombing horribly and it pretty much sucked anyways. No need for me to review that one.
After the failure of Supergirl, the Salkinds decided to relinquish their hold on the Superman franchise. Enter the Cannon Group. Remember all those schlocky 80’s action movies you saw as a kid? Chances are a good chunk of them were distributed by this organization. You may also recall that not many of those movies were box office hits and they were going bankrupt. So they decided that maybe producing a Superman movie would save their studio. And so they attempt to bring back the late Christopher Reeve, who by then had decided to move on from Superman to other things. So the Cannon Group offered Reeve an offer he could not refuse: If he returned as Superman in Superman IV then the Cannon Group would produce a pet project that Reeve was doing at the time: A movie called Street Smart, which in the end fared much better with the critics than Superman IV. That’s what happens when you have Morgan Freeman as your co-star in that movie. But getting ahead of myself. We’re supposed to be talking about Superman.
Well Reeve agreed to the deal with an added bonus: The producers gave him creative control over the movie. And so Reeve decided that the Man of Steel should tackle a real-world issue and what better issue for him to tackle than the Cold War, even though by 1987 the Cold War was pretty much over. The main dilemma is should Superman play God and disarm the world as far as nuclear weapons go. And this should result in a better movie than the last Superman movie, right? Nope. This one was much, much worse. It grossed a disgraceful 15 million dollars at the box office which is not even a third of what the last movie did and it currently holds a 9 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes which means it’s the lowest of the low. And Rotten Tomatoes is never wrong… apart from that 56 percent approval rating they gave Man of Steel. What the hell?
Well, I’ve said enough because I have a whole lot of territory to cover with this one. So let’s rip into the movie that not only killed the Superman franchise but slaughtered it: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
The movie begins with the opening credits back to flying at the screen except that the credits take place against the backdrop of the earth and it looks like it was edited by an amateur using Windows Movie Maker. Ah, the joy of budget cuts. Next we see a Russian spacecraft getting struck by a wayward satellite therefore causing it to careen out of control and sends one of its astronauts floating off into space… well at least until Superman shows up in a really bad visual effect shot of him flying at the screen. Get used to that image, people, you will be seeing that same crappy shot of Superman flying at the screen over and over and over again throughout the remainder of this movie. Again, budget cuts.
Time for backstory!
As I mentioned before, the Cannon Group had been in bankruptcy for years prior to the time of this movie and they have had a reputation for stealing budgets from other movies for other projects they were developing at the time. At the time, the Cannon Group had the rights to Marvel’s superhero line and they were planning to produce a Spider-Man movie and they needed a lot of money to make that film work. So they cut the budgets from two major summer blockbusters that were planned for the summer of 1987: This movie and the He-Man movie, Masters of the Universe. The original budget for Superman IV was 36 million dollars, which would have put it on par with the other three movies which were made for close to 40 million dollars apiece, which in those days were the equivalent to the 150-200 million dollar “blockbusters” that you see nowadays. However the budget for Superman IV was slashed down to a pathetic 17 million dollars which meant that a majority of the visual effects crews that worked on the other three films had to quit in protest, hence the bad visual effects.
But the visual effects weren’t the only thing in this movie that suffered from budget cuts. The story itself had to be trimmed down repeatedly. In fact the original running time for this movie was 2 hours and 15 minutes. As a result of the budget cuts, 45 minutes was cut from this movie bringing its final running time down to an hour and a half exactly. And from what I was told, none of those scenes really went anywhere anyway so whether or not any of the cut scenes would have helped improve the movie remains a debate to this day.
But anyway back to the movie. After Superman saves the Russian astronauts, he returns to the farm he grew up on in Smallville, Kansas where he finds a crystal hidden in the ship that brought him to Earth as a baby in the first movie that will play a key role later on. However the rest of the Smallville scenes were pointless. Next cut to Lex Luthor (played once again by Gene Hackman) who wound up on a chain gang after we last saw him in Superman II. Anyway he escapes with the help of his dim-witted nephew Lenny (played by Jon Cryer who at the time was capitalizing off his success in the teen comedy Pretty in Pink) and together they hatch another plot to destroy Superman and you guessed it, take over the world.
Meanwhile Clark returns to Metropolis to find out that the Daily Planet had been taken over by a Rupert Murdoch-wannabe who proceeds to turn the paper into a standard tabloid Fox News-type paper and makes his hot daughter Lacy the editor-in-chief. Lacy is played by Mariel Hemingway, the granddaughter of legendary author Ernest Hemingway and had a string of successful movies prior to this. Personality-wise, Lacy is the prototype of Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and basically every bad society girl that have been in the media in today’s society. And surprise, surprise: She’s got the hots for Clark, the “oldest living boy scout” as Lois Lane refers to him. Clark is obviously not interested but then again who could blame him? After all, he’s only been serious with one woman (the fling with the blonde bimbo in Superman III doesn’t count because he was in his Superdouche mode at the time) so it’s understandable that he doesn’t really want to go to a place where practically everyone’s been before, if you catch my meaning.
However, before the whole Clark/Lacy thing can play out, the main story starts to kick in therefore giving Clark his dilemma about disarming the world because of the whole arms race where both the US and Russia (back when it was known as the Soviet Union) each pledged to strive to be second to none. Now when he landed on Earth, Superman was forced to adhere to a non-interference policy in terms of the natural order of things here on Earth, an act that he boldly went against in the first movie where he reverses the orbit of the Earth to undo the earthquake damage and resuscitate Lois after she dies. So what does Supes do, after a bit of soul searching that includes a pointless and visual effects-challenged flight around the world with Lois that sort of rips off the first movie? He goes to the United Nations and makes a little speech where he says, “Even though I am not of your world, the Earth is my home too and I can’t stand by and watch it get destroyed. So I’m gonna get rid of all your nukes.” And the weird thing is that everyone applauds, which is very unrealistic.
Meantime, cut back to Lex Luthor because like it or not, he’s in this movie too. After getting out of jail and hearing about Superman’s goodwill mission to destroy all nukes, he breaks into a museum and steals a lock of Superman’s hair that he had on display propping up a thousand-pound weight using a pair of garden shears. Logic: This movie sucks at it. The reason why ol’ Lex is stealing a lock of Superman’s hair is because he wants to create a clone that is even more powerful than the Man of Steel himself.
“Um, excuse me, sir. The He-Man auditions are down the hall to your left.”
Another interlude: When this story was first conceived, Lex created two versions of the being that would come to be known as Nuclear Man. The Nuclear Man that made it into the final cut of the movie was actually the second Nuclear Man. Scenes featuring the first Nuclear Man were among the 45 minutes that were cut from the movie. And it was probably a good thing that they did that. Because the first Nuclear Man looked like a horribly deformed giant baby who fought Superman while making bell and whistle sound effects. I’m serious. Not that the Nuclear Man they ended up with was any better. The film’s Nuclear Man kinda looks like he got lost on his way to the He-Man auditions. In fact, they actually wanted Reeve to play Nuclear Man (being that he is a clone of Superman) but Reeve declined because, well… Superdouche in the last movie.
So Lex gets his genetic stew made and plops it on a nuclear warhead which Superman throws into the sun along with the rest of the world’s nukes. The explosion causes Nuclear Man to be born and that sequence is absolutely silly.
Cut back to the Clark/Lacy relationship. There were other scenes involving them going out to a nightclub that is interrupted by the first Nuclear Man. Unfortunately you won’t find the nightclub scene in the deleted scenes section of the DVD because it doesn’t exist anymore even though the scene with Clark and Lacy at the night club was featured in the film’s promotional campaign and in the comic adaptation. In the meantime, the scene with the two that the producers kept was the scene with them working out, primarily because they needed to have some comedy in this movie, not to mention a little sex appeal courtesy of Ms. Hemingway in sexy workout clothes. Boy, all that yoga must have paid off. To this day, she still looks the same as she did when she did this movie. And it’s also funny to see Clark get a little payback against one of Lacy’s douchebag ex-hookups (who made fun of him) by throwing a heavy barbell on him and saying “No pain, no gain.”
And this leads to a humorous double date between her, Clark, Lois and Superman. All this does is provide more comedy that is humorous enough to avoid duplicating the mistakes that Superman III made with the slapstick humor. After all, the movie’s already bad enough on its own. Thankfully, Lex interrupts the goofiness by inviting Superman over to meet Nuclear Man, leading to a really stupid round-the-world brawl that involves the destruction of the Great Wall of China and Superman rebuilding it with his rebuilding vision? The hell? There were also scenes where Nuclear Man causes a tornado in Smallville and an attempt to nuke the Russian government heads with a nuclear missile inserted into the mix but like everything else, it was cut from the movie even though producers wanted to save the latter scene in case they made a fifth Superman movie. However it all ends in Metropolis when Nuclear Man threatens to drop the Statue of Liberty on innocent bystanders. (How very 9/11 of you.) But of course Superman prevents this from happening but Nuclear Man breaks out his radioactive manicure and scratches our hero in the back of his neck and then is kicked into space while his cape comes off and lands on top of the Statue of Liberty’s torch.
So anyway, Superman has been defeated by Nuclear Man and is presumed dead by everyone. Lois finds out that he actually is home sick with the flu or what could be cancer brought on by that radioactive scratch and it also ages him rapidly until he digs out that crystal that we saw earlier in the Smallville scene which restores him for some pointless romping and stomping with Nuclear Man which climaxes on the Moon. And how Supes defeats Nuclear Man here you will have to see to believe and yes it is extremely stupid.
Oh, yeah and there is one more thing I forgot to mention here. Nuclear Man also has a weakness. While Superman’s primary weakness is Kryptonite, Nuclear Man’s is total darkness. You put him in a room away from direct contact with sunlight and he drops dead where he is. Kinda stupid but makes sense unlike a lot of stuff in this movie.
So will Superman triumph in the end? Well, you know the answer to that one.
Admit it, this scene was the only reason you plunked down money on this thing, didn’t you?
As far as the acting goes, Christopher Reeve gave his all as can be expected but not even he could save this movie. And I feel really bad for him because the Cannon Group really screwed him over with this movie both creatively, professionally and practically everything else under the sun. Gene Hackman plays Lex for laughs and is still not menacing enough to be taken seriously. We’ll have to wait until Unforgiven for that. The rest of the supporting cast has next to nothing to do here, probably to give Mariel Hemingway more screen time. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane got a more expanded role from the last movie but her being in the movie was kinda pointless. At least Mariel is actually trying to give a decent performance and to her credit actually plays the Kim Kardashian-ditzy rich girl role pretty well. Not to mention looks good doing it.
As far as everything else goes, I’ve already covered the really bad visual effects so no need to go back to that. A lot of the story doesn’t make sense. Its heart is in the right place but even that is hampered by the corporate greed of the company that produced it. And it was made to end the Cold War even though another fictional character did a much better job ending it than Superman did. That fictional character’s name was Rocky Balboa and the movie was Rocky IV. Yes folks. Rocky Balboa ended the Cold War. So that makes the morals and the purpose of this movie completely null and void.
“Look, Ma! I’m breathing in space!”
So as far as what happened after this movie. Well we all know what happened to Christopher Reeve. Margot Kidder ended up getting a little cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs back in the late 90’s, and the guy that played Nuclear Man never acted in Hollywood again. So apparently the ones who get out of this train wreck unscathed are Gene Hackman, who again went on to win an Oscar for Unforgiven, Jon Cryer… well, we all know what happened to him because of Two and a Half Men and Mariel Hemingway is still doing well with her yoga DVD’s. But still, I’m sure they’re still haunted by this movie. And last but not least, when Superman tells Lex Luthor that he’ll see him in twenty, he wasn’t that far off because this movie was so bad that there would not be another Superman movie for another 19 years! And last but not least, the Cannon Group is now an extinct production company, even though Golan and Globus are still in the business.
Congratulations, Cannon Group. You did the one thing that Lex Luthor, General Zod, and Richard Pryor could not do: You killed Superman. You delivered a movie that is so horrible that no one, not Superman, hell not even Mariel Hemingway in sexy workout gear could save this movie. THIS MOVIE SUCKS!
That is all.