“I am an experiment? I am a freak-o?”

Christopher Reeve returns for his fourth go as the Man of Steel, and this time he’s taking the fight to nuclear power – both in the form of missiles and a new threat created by arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. And the Daily Planet has a new owner, which leads to a new suitor for Clark Kent, which leads to wacky hi-jinx!

Superman IV: The Quest For Peace
Directed by Sidney Furie
Story by Christopher Reeve & Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal
Screenplay by Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal

I would say this is in the running for worst comic book movie ever made, but I’m not sure there’s anything that even comes close to SUPERMAN IV. Some of it is situational. The studio that produced the fourth Christopher Reeve Superman film – Cannon Films and Golan-Globus Productions – was on the verge of going belly-up and was counting on a hit to save them. But the budget for the film got slashed and a lot of the plans for the film were scrapped.

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet Movie Database, there are a number of “what could have been” scenarios that just never happened, like Wes Craven being linked to direct the film before having creative differences with Reeve, or Reeve pushing the studio to get Ron Howard to direct.

Not that the I think that any of that would have saved this film, by any means. The story is a mess and everything about the movie was played for laughs, even with a serious subject like nuclear proliferation and the threat of the end of all existence.

The best comic book stories are escapist fantasies, freeing us from the concerns of the real world, but Christopher Reeve decided that to make the fourth Superman movie more powerful, he would set the Man of Steel against a problem much larger than himself. Having Superman decide to ignore the directive of his biological parents on Krypton – to not interfere in the greater course of human history – and end the nuclear threat SOUNDS like something Superman would do, but the script gets Kal-El there in maybe the dumbest way possible.

A young boy writes a letter to Superman, via the Daily Planet, asking him to take care of all the nukes. Before he can make a decision, the Daily Planet – turned from a respected broadsheet newspaper a la the New York Times to a tabloid rag under a new owner in order to sell more copies – lambasts him, basically shaming Superman into going along with this kid’s ridiculous pipe dream. Superman struggles with his role on Earth and whether he should step up to end the threat, and he only makes his final decision after having a heart-to-heart with his closest confidant, Lois Lane.

Instead of having a spirited and impactful debate on the topic with Lois, though, Superman once again reveals himself as Clark Kent, flies her around the country and then gives her another Super-kiss to make her forget it ever happened, like he did at the end of SUPERMAN II. The playfulness and glee with which he does this makes it clear that this is a common occurrence for him; that whenever he has a crisis of confidence, he turns to Lois, opens himself up and then completely screws with her short-term memory with no regard to what it might do to her brain. It’s not like she’s an award-winning reporter who needs critical thinking skills to get through her day or anything.

Superman is a dick.

So “our hero” decides to end the threat of nuclear war, and he goes to the United Nations – thank God it was in session that day – and announces that he’s going to invade every nation that has a nuclear weapon and disarm them, likely in violation of dozens, if not hundreds, of international treaties. And every U.N. ambassador from all over the world stands and cheers this clear act of alien aggression.

As he reduces the world’s nuclear arsenal down to nothing, his arch-enemy Lex Luthor decides to take a break from ridiculous schemes to illegally ACQUIRE LAND and turns to science to try and kill the Man of Steel. He takes a strand of Superman’s hair from a museum, somehow turns it into protoplasm and gets it attached to an American nuke. When Superman throws the nuke into the sun, the hair and protoplasm become NUCLEAR MAN, a being made of pure energy powered by the sun who Luthor plans to use to kill Superman. The Nuclear Man scratches Superman, giving him a weird allergic reaction which is quickly cured with a crystal from the Fortress and Superman sets to defeating his new nuclear-powered threat by… dropping him into a nuclear reactor, which seems to super-charge whatever city it was connected to.

I don’t think that’s how science works. But it may be better than uploading a computer virus to an alien civilization using a 1996 MACBOOK

The Luthor-Nuclear Man threat feels like an afterthought, tacked on because there was absolutely no action in the movie otherwise. Superman’s decision to get rid of the nukes is given a lot more weight. And Luthor’s creation even takes a backseat to wacky hi-jinx. The daughter of the new owner of the Daily Planet, played by Mariel Hemingway, takes an interest in Clark Kent – not Superman – and convinces him to do lifestyle features for the new tabloid version of the paper. So we’re treated to scenes of Clark and Lacy doing a Jazzercise class and hitting a gym.

The coup de grace, though, is when Lacy convinces Lois to turn a one-on-one interview with Superman about the nuclear weapons into a double date with Lacy and Clark. We’re subjected to way-too-long a scene of a tired sitcom trope of Superman switching back and forth to Clark to ensure that no one figures out they’re the same person. Not like it matters if he slips up, he can just give them the Super-mickie kiss and give them both another case of brain damage!

Everything about this movie is terrible. Because it’s a movie about my FAVORITE comic book character, I want there to be redeeming qualities. I want to have something – ANYTHING – that I can attach myself to. But there’s nothing there. From the opening scene of Superman saving some Cosmonauts to the recycled ending of Superman flying around the Earth, every minute of this movie is horrible. I’m not even going to touch the ridiculous way that Perry White ends up getting control of the Daily Planet back. That scene alone almost gave me an aneurysm.

SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE not only helped to kill Cannon Films, but it killed the Superman film franchise for almost 20 years. What a piece of crap.