As fate would have it, by the summer of 2007, I had all of the Superman films in my position except for Superman IV. I don't know how that movie eluded me for so long (it was probably afraid about what would happen when I finally did see it) but, by the end of the year, I finally tracked it down and watched it for the first time in almost two decades. My first reaction upon seeing it was, "Actually, this isn't very good." And my opinion on it soured even more so with every viewing (which, trust me, hasn't been many) until finally, I watched it again for this review. When I first decided to do these Superman reviews, I wasn't exactly sure if this would be an entry of Movies That Suck or not but after seeing it again, I can safely that this movie is, indeed, a steaming pile of garbage. Superman III may not be a classic either but I can say that it's infinitely better than this. Almost nothing in this movie works. Not even Christopher Reeve could save this one and his performance is even lacking in spots. The cheapness really hurts it as well, the story is muddled beyond comprehension, and the film, overall, is just dull. Before we get started I really hope that you'll forgive me if I get some things wrong because, ultimately, the biggest problem with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is that it's instantly forgettable.
After learning that the Daily Planet has been taken over a tycoon who plans to make it as sleazy as the tabloids he owns, Clark Kent learns that tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union are increasing to the point where nuclear war may be imminent. After being conflicted about what to do when a schoolboy sends Superman a letter asking him to do something about it, he decides to rid the world of all nuclear weapons and immediately does so. In the midst of all this, Lex Luthor manages to escape from prison with the help of his nephew Lenny and devises a plant to create a being as powerful as Superman using a strand of the hero's hair that they stole from a museum in Metropolis. Luthor attaches the genetic matrix that he creates out of the hair to an American nuclear missile and when Superman throws said missile into the sun, he unknowingly aids in the creation of an evil being known as Nuclear Man. With the same powers as the Man of Steel as well as Luthor's contempt for human life, this creature could mean the end of Superman, leaving Luthor free to take control of the arms race.
Remember when I said that one problem with Superman III is that its story is a little cluttered? Well, Superman IV has that problem in spades. There are way too many subplots going on in this film, some of which are either not resolved in a satisfactory way or not at all (in fact, the very first one, Clark's reluctance to sell the now abandoned Kent farm to someone who would probably tear it down, is never touched on again). Superman having to deal with the threat of nuclear war that was prevalent around that time as well as a being that embodies that threat would have made for a good movie in and of itself but the screenwriters also had to shove in a bunch of other story threads like the Daily Planet being taken over and turned into a sleazy tabloid, Clark dealing with a woman who attempts to turn his attention away from Lois (again, it's a shame that Lana Lang isn't present to do so), a young kid asking for Superman's help in solving a national crisis, which makes him question what exactly his role is on Earth, and so on and so forth. Any one of those plots could have made for a good story but because they're all shoved in here, the final film feels disorganized and confused, like it's not sure what the story is it wants to tell. It's a shame too because it does feel like there were some good intentions behind making this film but they proved useless in the long run.
|Sidney J. Furie|
After Superman III, which he didn't like due to how comedic it was, Christopher Reeve announced that his days as Superman were behind him. He almost turned down Golan & Globus when they came to him about reprising the role for a fourth film but they made Reeve an offer that would have been foolish for him to pass up: not only did they promise him that Superman IV would not be a farce like III (which they didn't entirely deliver on, I might add) but they also would allow him input on the story and produce any other project that he wanted to do. There was even a rumor of him actually directing Superman V if that film ever came to fruition. Reeve accepted the offer and did the film Street Smart, where he acted alongside Morgan Freeman, before moving on to Superman IV. However, once Reeve started doing the film, it became apparent to him that it would not live up to expectations due to its low budget and so, he simply decided to power on through and do the best that he could despite knowing that the film would be terrible.
As much as she hated the film, Janet Moslin of the New York Times did note in her review that, "Christopher Reeve is still giving this character his all." (That's the only review that they could put on the back of the DVD and even then, it was only one of the few positive sections of an otherwise negative write-up.) I would agree with that... for the most part. Throughout a good chunk of the movie, Reeve does give the character the same honesty and goodness that he had instilled in him in the previous films. He still looks really good in the suit, projects a feeling of strength and purity, and is still lovably clumsy as Clark Kent. That said, though, there are moments in this film where you can detect disinterest on Reeve's part, where you can see that he's just going through the motions and that his heart isn't really in it. In fact, I would say that throughout the film, even in the sections where he is indeed giving it his all, there's an undercurrent of his knowing that this isn't working. It's hard to explain outright but if you see the film, I think you'll understand what I mean. Besides the low quality of the film, I think another reason why Reeve feels indifferent in parts is simply because he had already done everything he could do with the character. He had done Superman's introduction, his eventual desire for personal happiness which he simply can't reach as Earth's protector, and Clark reconnecting with his childhood as well as the emergence of Superman's dark side. What else could Reeve do with him? I think it's safe to say that he had reached the same point that George Reeves had after playing Superman on television for so many years. In fact, I would even go farther and say that not only is Reeve retreading the same well-worn ground but he's actually forced to regress a little bit, seeing as how Clark's clumsiness is back in full swing after it was pared down in the previous film. While it is nice to see Reeve as the character again, it's still painfully clear that the ship had sailed by this point.
Besides the performance, there are other things about Superman in this film that have always felt off to me. One that always bugs me is the suit. While the design is indeed the same as the suit in the previous film, the colors, especially the blue, look very faded. It's not the same deep blue from the other films that I always loved, and as for its color during the blue screen shots, forget it: the suit looks so turquoise there that it might as well just be green. Another thing about Superman that definitely gives you pause is when he starts displaying powers that he never used before, be it in the comics or in the films. Apparently Superman has telekinetic powers that come in the form of light blue eye-beams, which he uses to repair the Great Wall of China after Nuclear Man damages it. Moreover, he uses this ability again to lower some people whom Nuclear Man has sent flying up into the air safely to the ground. This power is so inexplicable that it makes you wonder why he's never used it before. Granted, General Zod did have a similar power but Superman himself never used it in either version of that film, which is odd since they were supposed to have the same powers. However, let's not get into that debate. And finally, during the painfully unfunny sequence where he keeps switching back and forth between the two identities, all unbeknownst to Lois and Lacy, there's a moment where Superman apparently uses these powers to make the doorbell ring to distract Lois so he can come back in as Clark. Supes can do a lot of amazing things but still, these powers feel out of place even for him. (But then again, Superman has often made his normal clothes as Clark disappear to reveal the super-suit in these films, so I guess it's all relative.)
If you want an example of somebody who's really going through the motions, though, you need look no further than Gene Hackman's return as Lex Luthor in this film. Hackman freely admits that he only did this movie for the money as well as because the Salkinds weren't involved. All I can say about him is that his performance here is a huge comedown from his entertaining portrayal in the first film and even in Superman II, where he was nothing more than a comedic foil for General Zod. He has none of the energy or wit that he originally instilled in the character and simply puts on a front which you can easily see right through to realize that he's bored with the whole thing. It also doesn't help that Hackman has noticeably aged in the ten years since he first played Luthor for Richard Donner and his appearance as well as his voice don't help him much either. And like Christopher Reeve, Hackman has nothing new to do with Luthor. He's still the same arrogant egomaniac who considers himself the greatest criminal mind of the 20th century and is still obsessed with destroying Superman and taking over. The only difference here is that he lacks the little hints of psychopathy that Hackman was able to sprinkle throughout his first performance which, combined with the actor's lack of enthusiasm, makes for a very bland and uninteresting villain. Hackman may have been a key ingredient of the first film's success but his indifference towards the role by this point made getting him back for this movie superfluous to say the least. And plus, the hairpieces he wears throughout this movie suck big time!
Margot Kidder appears as Lois Lane for the fourth and final time, having a much larger presence here than in Superman III... but that's not saying much since she's not given a lot to do. Like everyone else, she can't really do anything with the character of Lois that she hasn't already done except what was implied at the end of the last film: that she would become rather jealous of Clark having another woman in his life. While that is played with a little bit here with the character of Lacy, it ultimately goes nowhere and Lois' actions make it unclear whether she's jealous of Lacy or wants to help her impress Clark. And, again, it really makes you wish that they had brought back Lana Lang to indeed fulfill what was hinted at towards the end of Superman III but, alas, that never happened. In any case, even though she can't do much new with Lois here, Kidder is still pretty good at doing what Lois always did: being head over heels for Superman, acting as a supporter for Clark when it comes to things that he's naive about, and, as usual, having a feisty personality and being quite good-looking. Indeed, Kidder still looked pretty good at this point, although, that said, you can begin to see age slightly creeping up on her. (I don't get why she's a brunette in this film either.) Unfortunately, as good as Kidder is, even she can't keep her performance from having the feeling of, "Been there, done that," and she's not involved in the actual story of the film at all. Moreover, there's a plothole about Lois here that is never explained, like how, after Clark reveals himself to be Superman to her, she tells him that she remembered when he had revealed his true identity to her before, even after he had given her that amnesia kiss. We'll just ignore all the plotholes that in and of itself creates (like why she acted so horrified when he jumped off the building with her if she did indeed know the truth) and move on to how, even after Superman wipes her memory again here, she still seems to know who he is since she goes to Clark and pours her heart out to him about her feelings for Superman when it's rumored that he's been killed. I know she and Clark are close friends and all but why would she do that with him? And why so earnestly, for that matter? It makes no sense and is just one of the many problems with this movie.
I do like that they give Jackie Cooper a little more depth and respectability to add to his final appearance as Perry White. Throughout these films, we've seen Perry characterized as a hot-headed but loveable editor who's always on the hunt for a good story for his paper. Here, we learn that, despite that eagerness for stories, he does have integrity and is appalled when the rich owner of a number of sleazy tabloids buys the Daily Planet with the intention of turning it into one as well. It's a nice build on that line in the first film when he tells Lois that the story she's going for is a bunch of, "tabloid garbage," and that the Planet has an honorable tradition. Despite his position, Perry can do nothing to stop the paper from being purchased and turned into what he hates. It sickens him to the point that he refuses to work for this kind of paper and, to that end, manages to secure enough funds from the bank at the end of the film to buy back the Planet and turn it back into the respectable newspaper that it was. I really like this angle and it shows us what we've known all along: that despite his bluster and short fuse, Perry is a great, stand-up guy whom you'd be happy to work for despite how demanding he is. And while we're on the subject, Marc McClure does come back one last time as Jimmy Olsen but he does nothing substantial and, therefore, is not even really worth mentioning.
|It's the only thing she's good for in this movie.|
Jeremy (Damian McLawhorn), the schoolboy who sends a letter to Superman asking him to do something about the impending crisis of possible nuclear war, is another character that has so little screentime that, like Jimmy Olsen, he's almost not even worth mentioning. His role simply amounts to writing the letter, apparently getting snubbed by Superman (though, the new tabloid-like Daily Planet really played that angle up and made it out to be worse than it really was), and then sporadically appears near the UN building which he walks to with Superman. And after Superman's big speech, he's never seen again. Well, his story accomplished a lot! In addition to the return of Lex Luthor, we also have a stand-in for Otis: Jon Cryer as Luthor's nephew, Lenny, who breaks him out of jail at the beginning of the film. The first time I saw this movie, I was bracing myself because I was sure that Lenny was going to be one of those insufferable comic relief characters that you just want to smack the living crap out of, particularly after I heard the voice that Cryer was using for this performance. However, Lenny does and says so little here that I can't say that I hate him. When he speaks, he does say some really bad lines like, "The Dude of Steel! Boy, are you gonna get it!" or, when Nuclear Man first appears at Luthor's hideout, "Yeah, you're just an experiment, freako!" (which was really stupid on his part) but that's very rare and therefore, I'm not raging about how annoying Lenny was. He's no Otis, though, that's for sure. I know there are some who don't like Otis but at least he was memorable and did some amusing stuff, unlike Lenny. And before we move on, I have to briefly mention Robert Beatty as the President, who appears in one part of the movie when he appears on TV to announce the crisis that's brewing. While there's nothing special about the performance, I have to wonder how old this guy was when he got elected because as it is, he looks very old and gaunt, like he's about to keel over right there. Does the DC universe have no age limit when it comes to the President of the United States? Or maybe I'm just ignorant. (Oddly enough, Beatty actually played President Reagan in the docu-drama, Breakthrough at Reykjavik, the same year and he was quite good from what I hear.)
|Yeah, this guy came from Christopher Reeve's DNA.|
When people talk about how much Superman IV sucks, they typically go straight for its cheapness and how laughable the effects look. While that certainly is a major problem and, believe me, we'll get into that presently, there are many other flaws present as well. Besides the aforementioned myriad of subplots and how uninspired the acting is, the topics in the film are presented and discussed in such a simple and nonsensical way that it makes you wonder if the script was written by a third grader. Let's start with the film's main focus: the threat of nuclear war. Now, I'm well aware that the threat of the U.S. and the Soviet Union blowing each other up was very prevalent around that time and, therefore, it was a given that there would eventually be a Superman movie dealing with it. Rocky, Rambo, Godzilla, and Patrick Swayze had already taken on the subject of the Cold War, so why not the Man of Steel? Too bad the film's politics are completely screwed up. Now, I will freely admit that I'm a complete moron when it comes to this topic. I flunked politics and American government all throughout school (both high school and college) simply because I don't get it and I'm also just not interested in it. Therefore, I'm hardly the type of person who can criticize a movie for not being too smart about it. But even I just shake my head at the scene in the UN when Superman announces that he's going to rid the world of all nuclear weapons and not only do none of the representatives from the various countries attempt to debate with him on this but he gets a standing ovation. Okay, as ignorant as I am about this subject, I'm sure that it's much more complicated than that. I don't think all the countries of the world would just fire their nuclear missiles up into space so Superman could dispose of them. Heck, if they were all that willing to get rid of them, wouldn't they have already done that? And furthermore, if everyone agrees with Superman that nuclear weapons are evil and the cause of all wars, then why in the hell would they have ever developed them to begin with? In addition, once Superman disposes of all the nuclear weapons, everyone acts as if world peace has finally been attained. Even Lex Luthor, when he meets with a group of arms dealers with his plan to create Nuclear Man, acts as if everything is all hunky-dory in the world now and he promises them that he can get it back to the way it was before. Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't there other types of warfare besides nuclear? Moreover, now that the US and Russia don't have to worry about annihilating the planet, wouldn't they proceed to engage in conventional warfare, with typical weapons and so forth? Do you see the problem yet? These screenwriters (and I'm hoping that this tripe wasn't in Christopher Reeve's original story either) did not do their homework and felt that nuclear weapons were the cause of all the world's international tensions when it's much more complex than that. Going with that logic, you have to wonder why Superman tells Luthor at the end of the film that the world is once again on the brink, "...with good fighting evil." How could that be? Since all of the nuclear weapons are gone, shouldn't there still be world peace? Durr! And I realize that Superman's speech at the end of the film is taken from a speech that President Eisenhower gave but his summation that there will be peace one day when everyone wants it so badly is really dumb as well. You mean people didn't want it back then? And I guess, following that logic, that all of the stuff with Iraq and Afghanistan happened simply because we still didn't want peace hard enough.
|I love the look on Supes' face and how he's like, "Yeah, this is really|
One cardinal sin of bad movies that Superman IV commits many times over is reminding you of better movies that you could be watching at the moment. This film rehashes many aspects and scenes of the previous films, particularly the first two and not only is it lazy writing but it makes me wish that I was watching those movies instead. First, we get the green crystal that Superman later uses to cure himself of Nuclear Man's infliction of radiation sickness, which is identical to the way Clark got his powers back in the theatrical version of Superman II. However, you have to wonder what this crystal is since, although it resembles it (and he also found it in the husk of the space-pod he arrived in), it's obviously not the one that built the Fortress of Solitude, and why he's never used it before. Speaking of Superman II, his mother Lara is once again the parent who gives him advice and tells him to think hard about what he's going to do before he does it. You don't see a manifestation of Lara here but you do hear her (it is Susannah York's voice, incidentally), although I'm not sure if it's meant to be a recording or her actual spirit. The most blatant callback to one of the previous films is the recreation of the flying scene from the first film that occurs when Lois comes to take Clark to a press conference and instead, he inexplicably leaps off the building with her and reveals that he's Superman. Remember how magical and romantic that sequence was in the original? Yeah, that's not how this feels at all. Not only are the effects bad but the scene is so similar that it feels more appropriate to call it an out and out rip-off. And, like I said, the wonderful feeling the scene in the first film gave you is not here at all. It just feels soulless and empty, like the act of plagiarism it is. And yes, after they get back, Superman once again wipes Lois' memory again with that kiss from Superman II. I'm worried if he keeps doing that, the woman's not going to have many brain cells left. We also have Lex Luthor putting on a disguise in order to put his ultimate plan in motion, just like in the first Superman. Also just like in that film, Luthor gets Superman's attention by creating a signal that only he can sense (in this case, a video signal) and lures him to his hideout by threatening to kill innocent people. And I for one can't help but think of the ending to that first film when Superman flies Luthor back to prison here. You could also say that the way Supes defeats Nuclear Man is akin to how he ultimately defeated General Zod in the second film: he discovered that simply fighting him wasn't going to work and he decided to use a more crafty approach to bring him down. While it's true that finally defeating Nuclear Man took more effort than it did with Zod, the idea is still the same. While it's okay to subtly make references to past films in a series, it's generally a bad idea to do so many to the point where it makes you wish you were watching those movies instead. Plus, doing so in a movie as poor as this makes it even worse.
When Superman IV was first put into production, Cannon intended to give it a healthy budget of $36 million, which would have been a few million dollars more than what Superman III cost. But, with so many other projects in the works as well as a slew of financial problems that they were having at the time, the budget was whittled down to a pathetic $17 million, which is not an effective budget for this kind of film at all (a similar situation had occurred two years prior with King Kong Lives over at DEG) and the result is a film that looks and feels as cheap as it was. The very look of the film itself gives away just how low budget it is. I don't know what kind of film stock cinematographer Ernest Day was forced to shoot with but it doesn't have that lush, bright feel that the previous films had; instead, it looks like a bargain bin version of those films. This is another thing that's hard to explain but you'll know what I mean if you've seen the movie. As for the production design by John Graysmark, it's fair for the most part. The brief bit at the Kent farm at the beginning, the look of Metropolis, the Superman museum, and the apartments of Lois and Clark all serve their purpose nicely. The interior of the Daily Planet looks okay but it's obvious that it's not the same set that was used in the previous films and that can be hard to get used to. The Fortress of Solitude doesn't look that bad, both in terms of the outside and the inside, but you can tell that it's a cheaper version of the amazing set that John Barry designed in the first film. The prison-yard where we first see Lex Luthor and where he's returned to at the end of the movie by Superman is nothing special, just a white, rocky pit (it's so white that could at first mistake it for snow) but that's a lot better to me than his hideout. That place just looks lame to me. Nothing about it is original. Not the design, not the layout, not the wardrobe that his female servants wear, nothing. (And what was up with that one random woman who was wearing a Renaissance-style dress?) I don't find it as cool as his underground lair in the first film and, if you think about it, Luthor probably shouldn't have made his hideout in one of the top floors of a big building in the middle of the city anyway. By this point, everybody should know that he's escaped from prison and, therefore, it might not have been a good idea to hold up there as well as have meetings with arms dealers there.
There are two locations in particular where the film's low budget really hurts their credibility. One is the scene where Superman walks to the United Nations building with Jeremy and a bunch of other people. If you know anything about New York, then you'd realize that location looks nothing like it and it certainly doesn't look like it leads to the UN either. The filmmakers realized this and begged Cannon to allow them to actually go to New York and shoot in front of the real UN building but they refused and were forced to shoot at Milton Keynes park in England, which doesn't fit the bill. I may have never been to New York but I've seen enough of it to know what it looks like and that wasn't it. The building they walked to looks nothing like the UN either but, instead, like some auditorium, which is what it was apparently. But, as bad as that is, nothing compares to the surface of the moon where Superman and Nuclear Man continue their battle. That is pathetic. Remember that moonscape set that you briefly see in the Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever? That looks more realistic than this, and that really was meant to be just a set in the context of the film!. Not only is it clearly inside of a darkened studio but if you look closely in some shots, you can see the curtains in the background that are meant to be the blackness of space move! It also doesn't help that we already had a sequence on the moon in Superman II that looked infinitely more realistic than this. At least there, they had the money to put stars and the sun into the background. All they could manage here was a brief shot of the sun coming over the horizon.
But what everybody talks about are the effects and there's a good reason for that. As I said in my review of the other movies, I do feel that those effects are a bit dated by today's standards but were undoubtedly groundbreaking for the times and also, they weren't so dated that I couldn't still enjoy those movies overall. The effects in this movie are a completely different story. As much as I understand and sympathize with the plight of the filmmakers during the production, that doesn't negate just how bad these effects are and the impact that they have on watching the film. The action scenes, especially the battles between Superman and Nuclear Man, become tedious and awkward instead of fun and exciting and it's impossible to pay attention to the story or the gravity of what's happening because of how noticeably bad the effects are. I know I've said many times before how I enjoy a lot of bad films but the point I'm trying to make here is that when your film is a bad entry in a franchise that's usually known for being of high quality and the technical aspects are so consistently poor that they're distracting you from the movie itself, you're in big trouble. That's why Superman IV is a prime example of a movie that's so bad that it's unbearable instead of being fun. The shoddy effects get tiresome after a while and become boring, making it impossible to enjoy what should be an exciting comic book movie.
The cheapness of the film is evident right from the opening credits. Superman had those awesome blue credits that fire right at the screen and Superman II had that epic sequence with the credits flying through space interspersed with a recap of the events of the first movie, all while a great rendition of the John Williams theme plays. Here, we get an underwhelming sequence that takes place in a shot of the Earth from space, an S symbol that looks like a tomato in my opinion, and involves the credits flying into frame and then immediately going behind the planet. These lackluster credits that look like something you could create with Windows Movie Maker (I know it was the 1980's but that's what they look like), combined with a really bad version of the theme, do not get you pumped for the movie at all. Now, the question is whether I like these credits or the ones for Superman III better. I don't know. They're both pretty bad. On the one hand, you don't have any stupid slapstick going on behind the credits and you at least have some rendition of the Superman theme instead of that silly music Ken Thorne composed. So, at least this does feel like the opening sequence to a Superman movie, albeit a very poor one. On the other hand the actual credits for Superman III looked better in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, their placement was horrendous and they go by in a way that could cause you to miss the actual title but they do look more appropriate with their Star Wars-like way of crawling upwards. If those had been placed in a shot of space, they would have worked just fine to me. In conclusion, if I had my druthers, I think I'd do a hybrid where we have a shot of space as we do here but use the crawling credits and definitely get a better rendition of the theme than what's in this movie. But if I couldn't do that, I'd probably go with Superman IV but not by much, believe me.
After the opening credits, we get our first bit of Superman action where Supes saves a Russian space station that's sent spiraling out of control and a cosmonaut who was outside of the station and was knocked into space by the impact. While the model effects on the station itself are fair, our first look at Superman here as he flies towards the screen is indicative of what's to come. Not only is that shot terribly rotoscoped but it's used over and over again in this film, just with different background plates like the Metropolis skyline or a clear blue sky. It's one of the major examples of Cannon's cost-cutting methods. It's a shame that there are so many flying sequences in the film, for that matter, because they all look like crap, with terrible blue screen matting and so forth. The scene where Superman and Lois fly around the country? Crap. Supes getting rid of all the nuclear weapons by throwing them into the sun? Really bad. (This and the aforementioned scene with Lois are where his suit's colors are off.) The mid-air battles between him and Nuclear Man? Awkward when they should be exciting. The list just goes on. The only flying scene that looks good is the ending scene of Superman flying above the Earth and that's from the first film! Besides the matting problems, you can also make out the wires in many of the flying scenes as well. They're particularly noticeable in shots of Superman coming in for landing and even if you can't see them, you can still tell that he is in a flying harness like Peter Pan because of the larger red shorts that he wears over it. While this was the case in all the films, the bigger pair of shorts were concealed beforehand by various means, either through the use of camera angles, quick cutting, or just the cape. Here, there's no hiding it at all and it makes it look as if Christopher Reeve had gained weight!
I know I've stated several times already how the special effects ruin the battles between Superman and Nuclear Man but, again, these are meant to be the film's big action scenes, what it's been building up to and yet, you're more likely to find yourself groaning at how awful the effects are rather than being exhilarated by what's going on. In fact, I would go on to say that there are other, less technical reasons why these scenes don't work. One is that, the bad effects aside, there's no energy to these scenes at all. Instead of a big, epic battle like when Superman fought General Zod and his cronies, all he and Nuclear Man do is awkwardly grapple in mid-air with bad blue screen effects behind them, play tag as Supes chases Nuclear Man all over the world and repairs damage that he does, and it ends when Nuclear Man gets a cheap shot on Supes while he's fixing the damage that he's done to the Statue of Liberty (incidentally, look how messed up the perspective is on that shot of Supes carrying the statue through the city). Their second fight on the surface of the moon isn't much better. It feels sluggish and dull with all the bad wire effects used to make them fly across the moonscape at each other and the way he ultimately defeats Nuclear Man by moving the moon to cause an eclipse that will de-power him leaves a lot to be desired for and so does his dropping him into a nuclear reactor. However, I think the major reason why these scenes don't work, aside from the effects, is that there's no build-up to Nuclear Man or the damage that he can do. Due to the film's jumbled storyline, Nuclear Man is just one element in a cluttered mess instead of being the focus of the entire film. When he's created about forty minutes into the film, it doesn't have any impact because there's barely been any talk about Lex Luthor's plan to create him and so, when he and Superman start fighting, you just don't care. Yes, while he does manage to severely injure Superman, that's taken care of right away. If there had been a stretch of the movie where Superman was out of the picture and Metropolis was at the mercy of Luthor and his deadly creation, it would have been much more of an impact. In fact, if that was done, the point where Superman's cape is found and brought to the Daily Planet would have also been more powerful. But, the only real hint of any of this that we get is Luthor getting a bunch of money now that he's eliminated Superman. That doesn't cut it at all. So the lesson here is, bad special effects aside, you can't expect a villain and the damage that he does to have an impact if you don't build up what a threat he is.
All of this talking about how bad the effects are aside, there are some effects that are passable in my opinion. These mainly come in the form of animation that's used to bring Superman's powers to life, like his laser eye-beams, super-breath, and X-ray vision. They may look crude by today's standards but given what we have to put up with throughout most of the movie, they look like ILM by comparison! I also don't mind the animated bolts of electricity that you see when Superman stops the runaway subway train at the beginning of the movie or the orange ones that constantly spark off of Nuclear Man. Again, primitive, but I can't help but smile at them, mainly because they remind me of a time before 98% of special effects were all done digitally. The same goes for the actual birth of Nuclear Man. I've heard some rip on that effect but I think that's a very cool bit of animation where you see him start out as a glowing red fetus then quickly develop into a more full-grown size before finally morphing into the live action Mark Pillow. I like that effect because at least there I can say that it seemed like they were trying. There are some really good practical explosive effects that occur when Nuclear Man is trashing downtown Metropolis to force Superman to take him to Lacy, as well as during the little scuffle inside the Daily Planet building, and nothing beats some good old stop-motion animation, which you see when Superman uses those telekinetic powers to repair the Great Wall of China. That ability may be inexplicable but I always like seeing stop-motion (for the most part, anyway) and this film, despite how bad it is, is no exception. But, as much as I can say enjoy these sporadic effects, I ultimately feel that the majority of the technical work in Superman IV deserves all the jeers that it gets.
I read one review that said that, despite how bad the movie was overall, Sidney J. Furie was able to capture some of the feeling that Richard Donner tried to bring to the first film. I don't see that at all myself. I get what the guy means, that this movie isn't as overly goofy and slapsticky as the previous one was, but I don't feel even the slightest hint of that verisimilitude that Donner brought to the first film. A part of it may be because this film just looks so cheap and doesn't have the impeccable production values that Donner had to work with and another part of it could be because Donner had a better script as well and while I know that's an unfair comparison, I just can't get past it. Plus, while the film does try to be serious for the most part, there's still some over the top comedy present that I could totally see Richard Lester doing. While Luthor's escape from prison and the scene with Clark and Lacy at the gym with Clark having to deal with a dickish trainer are pretty silly and unnecessary (you could have easily cut that latter scene out), the sequence that I'm thinking of is the one where Lois and Lacy are expecting to meet both Clark and Superman at Lois' apartment for an interview with the Man of Steel and he keeps switching between both identities and using his powers to make excuses for why they never wind up in the room together. This whole thing feels like it's right out of a sitcom, and a really bad one for that matter. Not one part of it is amusing or enjoyable and it just goes on and on, far overstaying its welcome. Plus, we have some hi-larious slapstick with Clark getting "caught" on a luggage cart as well as him clumsily knocking some dishes over at one point up in the apartment. This stuff must have made Christopher Reeve groan because I heard that he enjoyed getting to make Clark less clumsy in the previous film and here, he's regressed horribly. It's simply not funny and makes an already intolerable movie all the more so.
Normally, I don't talk about deleted scenes but since there was over forty minutes of footage cut from Superman IV, I think I should mention at least a little bit of it. The deleted material that everybody talks about is the stuff involving a prototype Nuclear Man that Luthor creates before coming up with the one that appears in the final film. A reason that's often given for why this section of the film was deleted is because when the movie was shown before a test audience, they pointed out a bunch of bad special effects. As opposed to all of the great effects that are in the rest of the movie? I, however, would guess that if there's any real reason why that subplot was deleted, it was probably because they realized how stupid it was. The sight of that thing with spiky black hair and a dopey expression on his face acting like a big child makes me cringe, especially when he's first created and stumbles around Luthor's lair completely naked save for some object strapped to his waist that blocks his privates. I think if they had shot this in a more serious manner, had the first Nuclear Man be evil but not quite as aggressive as the final one, and filmed the scene in the script where he becomes attracted to Lacy, which would have explained the second Nuclear Man's inexplicable desire for her later on, it would have worked a lot better. Speaking of the second Nuclear Man, they took out some stuff that made him seem much more dangerous than he is in the final cut, including a sequence where he flies to Smallville and causes a tornado. Not only does the tornado destroy a farmhouse but it also sucks up a little girl whom Superman has to save. That shows a more lethal side to Nuclear Man than him simply blowing some holes in the Great Wall of China and starting a little lava flow in a volcano in Italy that threatens a small group of people. Speaking of which, they also deleted a scene near the end of the movie where Nuclear Man nearly causes World War III and Superman has to use Lacy to distract and stop him. Again, it's a sign that Nuclear Man isn't one to be messed with and that he's so unstable that his idea of "fun" is causing mass death and destruction. If they had been able to finish the special effects in these scenes (as good as this effects team could have possibly done, anyway), I think it would have added a little more meat to the film and would have given a sense that the sequence where he was causing damage across the globe was only a taste of how truly destructive he is. They also cut out a little more of Superman suffering from the radiation sickness that Nuclear Man inflicts upon him and, again, this would have shown just how dangerous a villain he is and how careful Superman needs to be when he confronts him again after healing himself. One final scene I definitely think they should have left in is early in the movie when Superman tells Jeremy why he can't do what he asked him to in his letter. If they had left that in, I think the Daily Planet's lying about how Superman told the kid to, "drop dead," would have had more of a punch, would have shown what a sleazy and disrespectful newspaper Warfield has made the Planet into, and, ultimately, it would have been more incentive for Superman to do what he eventually does and not make Jeremy feel so useless. Plus, the scene where he flies with Superman over the world and they notice how all the countries seem to merge into one could have been left in and, again, would have made the story a bit more effective. All in all, while I don't think these scenes would have made Superman IV a great movie, I think leaving some in and tweaking others would have made it a lot better than it was and, at the very least, the good intentions that went into the movie would not have gone completely to waste.
The opening credits would like you to think that John Williams did the score for this movie but, in fact, most of the composing was done by a friend and collaborator of his named Alexander Courage. Williams apparently did create three new themes for the characters of Lacy, Jeremy, and Nuclear Man but he must have been really distracted because they're absolutely unmemorable and I cannot even begin to tell you what they sounded like (to be fair, though, it seems as though the cutting down of the film pretty much destroyed Jeremy's theme). Courage also composed some new music of his own for the Russians and whenever nuclear missiles are discussed but, again, I don't remember at all. I can tell you that his rendition of the Superman theme sucks. Ken Thorne's version may not have been as good as the original by Williams but it still sounded heroic and appropriate. This sounds, like everything else in the movie, very cheap, like a high school band is playing it. The other cues from the previous scores that return here, like the love theme for Superman and Lois, sound okay but this version of the theme is pathetic. It's kind of appropriate, actually, because this entire movie is a nickel and dime version of the greatness of the original films in the same way that this version of the theme is to John Williams' great composition.