SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE
Last-ditch attempt to cash-in on a dead franchise.
By Steve Biodrowski
This is easily the worst of the four feature films starring Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE shows the signs of being a last-ditch attempt to cash in on a once-valuable franchise: the budget is low; the look is threadbare; the story rehashes much that went before. In short, there is little special about the film; it is simply one more adventure featuring Superman in the hope that an audience would be willing to purchase tickets regardless of the diminished quality.
The premise actually has an interesting idea: instead of restricting himself to fighting crime, Superman decides to intervene in human affairs on a global scale, unilaterally destroying the world's nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, Earth's nations are neither ready nor willing to give up their H-Bombs, and soon Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) is resupplying them. Trying to prevent Superman from interfering, Luthor creates Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow), a blond-haired super-being with powers similar to Superman's. Superman defeats his opponent, but then addresses the United Nations, admitting he was wrong to interfere, that the world itself will have to make the decision to pursue peace.
One could read the film (especially decades later, after the invasion of Iraq) as a metaphor for unilateral U.S. intervention, the point being that no matter how well-intentioned and how powerful, a force for good must seek willing cooperation through diplomacy instead of simply imposing its will by might alone. Sadly, this idea is lost in the weak plotting, which basically features Luthor as a "fly in the ointment" who ruins Superman's grand scheme. How Luthor manages to develop nuclear weapons is never clear, and the countries who want to buy them (including, presumably, the United States) never come in for any chastising - it's all simply Luthor's fault, because that makes for an easy comic book villain without having to wrestle with the unpleasant complications.
Although it is always fun to see Hackman's Luthor, the shtick has grown a bit tired by this point, and it suggests a lack of imagination to rely on the familiar villain for the third time in four films. The rather absurd creation of Nuclear Man supplies SUPERMAN IV with another super villain (like the three in SUPERMAN II), but there is a desperate air to this strategy. The character is little more than a plot device, devoid of personality or interest, beyond the opportunity to stage a fight scene with the Man of Steel.
Equally distressing, the production has a slightly shabby feel, thanks to the diminished budget. The special effects are often weak, seldom even approaching the work in the previous films (which, although not always convincing, was usually at least fun to watch). In the end, it is hardly surprising that SUPERMAN IV put the final nail in the coffin of the Reeve-Superman franchise.
After SUPERMAN III, Christopher Reeve was quoted in interviews to the effect that he saw little potential for further Superman sequels, because there was nothing left to do with the character. He changed his mind because he thought the idea of having Superman deal with nuclear disarmament was worthy of an additional movie.
Reeve gets a co-story credit for the film's screenplay. This led to a lawsuit when two young screenwriters claimed Reeve had stolen the idea from a script they sent him. Reeve had received the screenplay but denied having read it in its entirety, claiming he only leafed through it during a phone conversation with the writers. The case was of interest because the writers had signed a then-standard submission agreement to the effect that, in exchange for having their material considered, they would not sue. Their lawyer argued that such agreements were inherently coercive and provided Hollywood filmmakers with a "license to steal."
Unlike the previous three films starring Christopher Reeve as Superman, SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE was not produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind. The Salkinds sold the rights to Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan, whose independent production company, Cannon Films, was renowned for churning out second-rate junk that aimed to emulate more expensive Hollywood studio productions. They originally budgeted the movie at over $30-million, then cut it to less than $20-million shortly before shooting began.