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Second Look: Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

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Written by Phyll Perrins

Now for a long time I’ve been thinking how to approach Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. See, some people like to blame Superman III for the franchise’s demise, which is far from the truth because that film made a lot of money at the box office and even more on home video rentals. This film has always interested me because of its production. A large amount of footage was cut from the film due to a poor test screening, reducing the running time from about 134 minutes to roughly 92 minutes. The Salkinds, who produced the first three Superman movies and Supergirl, sold the rights to Cannon Productions, and the film was given a £34 million budget with Cannon making various promises to Christopher Reeve to get him back into the suit. But the intended budget was slashed almost in half, and it was rumoured that a good chunk of the budget for Superman IV was actually given to another Cannon production, Masters of The Universe. And after paying for the cast and crew there wasn’t must left in the remainder of the budget and it clearly shows in the final piece.

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The film itself is all over the place, from the weak script and poor dialogue to immense plot holes due to all the extra footage left on the cutting room floor. Whilst at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent (Reeve) and the rest of his colleagues watch a message from the President of the United States on TV. The President says that America will be second to none in the nuclear arms race, with tension rising between the USA and the Soviet Union. We then cut to a school where a teacher asks her class what they would suggest should be done and one of the children in her class, Jeremy, says that Superman should destroy all the nuclear weapons and be the sole protector of Earth (interesting that this is the same plot they use in the pilot of the Justice League animated series, but to much better effect) and Jeremy then writes a letter to Superman telling him about his idea. This gets Superman thinking about what he should do. And for a while he mopes and confides in Lois Lane (played by a rather haggard looking Margot Kidder) who doesn’t really give advice just merely says “he’ll do the right thing.” This leads to the filmmakers ripping off the iconic flying sequence from the first Superman movie, this time done during the day and with poor special effects and green screen. Superman then makes an announcement to the United Nations saying that he is going to rid the world of nuclear weapons; surprisingly, no one objects. Supes throws all the nukes into a giant net and tosses them into the sun.

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Meanwhile Lex Luther (played effortlessly by Gene Hackman) escapes from prison with the help of his hipster douche bag nephew Lenny (Jon Cryer) and has a new diabolical plan on how to destroy Superman: place a lock of Superman’s hair into a nuclear missile and let Superman throw it into the sun, creating Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow). It’s pretty lame that they had to make up another villain for Superman to take on despite that fact that he has one hell of an impressive rogue gallery.

Because of the hack job in the editing room there are so many plot holes in the film like what happens to Jeremy after he meets Superman? Why is Nuclear Man so infatuated with the Daily Planet’s new Editor in Chief Lacy (Mariel Hemingway)? Also, the first Nuclear Man (Clive Mantel) was cut from the film completely, and this adds even more plot holes to the film, especially when concerning Lex Luther.

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After defeating Nuclear Man in the end, Superman delivers a final speech outside the Daily Plant (filmed outside Milton Keynes train station) about how the people of Earth will get peace when everyone is ready for it, ultimately becoming very preachy and political, a move which Christopher Reeve’s colleagues were generally against. I cannot stress enough how much of a mess this film ultimately ends up being. This was director Sidney J. Furie’s first big movie and Christopher Reeve and other cast members reportedly stated that he didnt know what he was doing or what he wanted out of scenes, every shot is centre of the frame as if it was being made for television, and Christopher Reeve took on the duty of Second Unit director. With the budget being cut, we get some really awful special effects, The first film made us believe a man could fly, whilst this made us believe Cannon didn’t put any effort into the film. Wires can clearly be seen during flying sequences, and the much re-used shot of Superman flying towards the camera becomes tiresome.

Despite all this, there isn’t one bad performance in the cast. Yes, Mark McClure as Jimmy Olson, Margot Kidder and Jackie Cooper all look too old for their parts, but they all give sincere performances. And Christopher Reeve gives his all in every single scene as Superman or Clark Kent and though I believe the aftermath of Superman IV harmed his career greatly, he is and always will be Superman.

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Reportedly after Superman IV, Cannon where going to cash in and release another Superman film using the footage they didn’t use in Superman IV but I’m glad for Christopher Reeve’s sake that they didn’t. If Superman III was the film no one wanted to see but made a lot of money in the process, then why did Superman IV fall flat on its face after trying to soar into the sky? This was the last time we saw Christopher Reeve don the cape, and was the last time we saw Superman on the big screen until 2006’s Superman Returns. Man of Steel is quickly approaching, and I have no doubt Henry Cavil will be a fantastic Superman, but to me and millions around the world, Christopher Reeve was, is and will always be Superman

About the author

Phyll Perrins

Hi, Phyll Perrins here, The Thinking Mans Fan Boy
My background is in Film Production, having worked on a few high and low budget movies, I know my way around a film set.
I'm also a massive comic book fan, ever since I was a little lad growing up in England dreaming about one day putting on that red cape, battling evil and saving the day.
I cant do that now (well at least not in the forseeable future) but I can write about it.