Welcome to a new segment here on The Robot’s Pajamas called Was It THAT Bad? The basic premise is that I, your friendly neighborhood Rev. Ron, take a look at past comic book films that have been widely panned by both audiences and critics, re-watch them, and then ask the question: Was it that bad? To kick off this maiden voyage, I am re-visiting Christopher Reeve’s fourth time he slapped on the cape and “S” and am taking a look at Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
After Superman III was met with mixed reviews, it was almost a sure thing that we wouldn’t see another film in this franchise. But after the property was sold to those B-movie masters at Cannon Films, The Quest for Peace was produced and done so on a small budget. The basic premise is that Superman (Christopher Reeves) decides, after being double-doggy dared by a child, that he is going to rid the world of nuclear weapons. However, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) is going to have none of that and uses all the powers that bad movie science can muster. So, he takes a piece of Superman’s hair and attaches it to a device of his own making and slaps that stuff to a nuclear missile. He sends the missile to the sun and it gives birth to a new villain called Nuclear Man! And then Superman has to come in and save the day. That’s the basics of it all.
So, was it THAT bad?
Short answer: Yes. Oh dear god, yes it was.
Where do you really begin with this one because it is overloaded with issues? The performances, for one, are terrible because pretty much everyone—with a few exceptions—look like they just don’t care. Sure, even at his clearly decreased enthusiasm for the project, Christopher Reeves is still fairly great as the iconic superhero and Gene Hackman is still looking like he’s having a ball in the role of Luthor. However, you are also treated to Margot Kidder who can’t even hide the fact that she is in complete contempt of the film. Finally, you have the really hammy performance of Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man—and he’s only the face of the role because the voice belongs to Gene Hackman (it’s all a part of the movie science in the story). It’s actually impressive that he can eat up that much scenery without saying a single word.
(Editor’s note: Christopher Reeves was convinced to come back because they let him come up with the plot.)
Next up is the mess of a story and plot that this film features. So little of what is happening makes any logical sense and too many scenes are obvious setups for later in the film. Introducing plot elements to be used later is essential in storytelling but Superman IV introduces them in such an obvious way that you nearly expect the characters to look at the camera with a nod and a wink. There’s a whole plot point of a Kryptonian energy module that Superman, for no real reason, finds in the ship that brought him to Earth. This element could be a plot point that could provide deep storytelling about Superman’s people and could play an impact on his future…Oooor it could just be used to help him overcome a terribly written obstacle that was forcefully shoved into this jumbled up mess of a story.
Ultimately, though, the worst part about this movie is its leaps in logic. Movies and stories require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief but sometimes a movie asks too much of us. The Quest for Peace is one of those and it all stems from the lazy and underfunded production. Say what you will about how bloated and boring Batman v Superman is but at least in the film the country didn’t blindly worship the alien super-being. There was actually debate about whether or not he’s a threat. In Superman IV, he flies to the UN and just declares he is going to basically invade every country and take their weapons and no one argues with him—they just openly support him for taking it upon himself to dictate to the world his order. This is literally a god-like alien taking over the decision-making processes of our planet and no one bats a single damn eye.
However, this was a different time for superhero films and Superman taking our nukes can be forgiven and just accepted. It was a more innocent time with our heroes and dark and gritty were never even elements we ever considered with our comic book adaptations. Unfortunately, adding new superpowers to the man because you couldn’t afford to create a sequence that utilized the character’s already established powers isn’t just hard to watch, it’s literally a neon sign screaming how they had no money to make the film. During the film’s overly drawn out, planet-wide battle between Nuclear Man and Superman, the Great Wall of China is partially demolished—but, don’t fret because Superman rebuilds it thanks to his new power of wall building. Yes, the film literally reverses the footage so the wall is fixed. We can only hope that this long dormant wall building power will finally be seen in the new DC Rebirth titles.
Add all these elements to the fact the action was dreadfully boring, the antagonist doesn’t really have any defined powers that scream “nuclear” (he basically has Superman’s powers, long claws and orange lightning constantly dancing around him) and the fact that the special effects, when compared to the rest of the franchise and the technology at the time, were absolutely abysmal.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is the lowest point of the franchise and is something that truly was that bad.