Friday, July 12, 2013

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Directed by Sidney J. Furie.
1987. Rated PG, 90 minutes.
Christopher Reeve
Margot Kidder
Mariel Hemingway
Jon Cryer
Jackie Cooper
Marc McClure
Sam Wanamaker
Mark Pillow
Robert Beatty
Jim Broadbent

Knowing when to say when is an important quality in life. We all struggle with it from time to time. For me, it’s often whether or not to watch one more movie before heading off to bed. After all, this one is only ninety minutes long. And I don’t feel tired. And I promised myself I’d rewatch the entire catalog of Superman’s cinematic live-action, feature-length films. Press play.

For Warner Bros., its caped star, and his cast mates, drunk off the riches of three box office hits, the all-important question was whether or not to make said movie, a fourth Superman. Pushing away is often impossible for slovens, particularly when the behavior in which they’re engaging seems to be bringing them happiness in the form of millions of dollars.Thus, we have Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

During the 1980s, the arms race between the United States and Russia was a huge deal. Seemingly every night, there was talk of newer, better nuclear missiles and defense systems that both sides were working on and/or stockpiling. With the Cold War raging, many felt full-scale combat was near and would include those missiles. The end of the world felt imminent. Our fears showed up in films such as The Day After (made-for-TV), and none other than the fourth chapter in the saga of Krypton’s favorite son.

If it feels like I’ve been stalling, it’s because I have. However, since this a review, I guess I’m obligated to actually talk about the movie. Here goes nothing. Sigh.

Superman (Reeve) is going about his normal day-saving routine. His employers at his side-job, The Daily Planet, are hemmoraghing money and the paper is being taken over by media mogul David Warfield (Wanamaker). His daughter, Lacy (Hemingway), is smitten with Clark. Despite repeated warnings from Lois (Kidder) that she isn’t Clark’s type, she press on trying to seduce him in the most PG manner possible. Meanwhile, Supes’ arch-enemy Lex Luthor (Hackman) busts out of prison, yet again. This time, he does so with the help of his nephew Lenny, played by future Two and a Half Men star Jon Cryer. Sadly, Otis and Miss Teschmacher are nowhere to be found. Anyhoo, Lex gets back to the business of figuring out how to kill Superman. Finally, the world grows disenchanted with our hero when a little boy asks him to rid the world of nuclear weapons and he doesn't respond.

Rest assured, after some soulful contemplation because, you know, he’s not supposed to interfere with human affairs even though that’s exactly what he always does, Superman decides that he will indeed remove every nuclear weapon from Planet Earth. He simply gathers them all up in a gigantic net, flies them out to space and hurls them into the sun. The end. I wish. By the way, for some strange reason, after he’s made a public announcement at the U.N. and has already started getting rid of them, everyone keeps testing missiles, including the United States, and are surprised when he snatches them up. Really?

Anyhoo, what our hero doesn't know is that hidden in one of these missiles is a test-tube baby Lex created by using the DNA he extracted from a strand of Superman’s hair which he stole from a museum using a not-so-heavy duty cutting tool. I wouldn't feel the need to mention that if this strand wasn't literally holding up a 1,000 pound weight by itself. Well, once this missile reaches its destination, the sun incubates it and spits back a fully grown and costumed Neanderthal Lex christens Nuclear Man (Pillow). Of course, Lex is sure his bouncing baby boy will destroy Superman, once and for all.

If you can’t already tell, or don’t already know, what’s happened so far and what’s to come are both stupid as all get out. The story, which star Christopher Reeve helped write, is beyond heavy-handed, the jokes are unfunny and the dialog is way worse than terrible. For the most part, Lex just regurgitates everything he said in the first two movies (he’s not in Superman III), but to much lesser effect. Nuclear Man quite literally behaves like a caveman, but not in any enjoyable sense whatsoever. His fights with the Man of Steel are lame. And just wait til you get a hold of his weakness. The most interesting scene in the entire movie is watching our hero try to pull a double-date with Lacy dating Clark while Lois interviews Superman in the next room. They could’ve just made a corny rom-com completely out of that premise and had a better movie.

Still, all of these flaws could be forgiven, or at least concealed, if the action is well handled. Unfortunately, it is not. Everything is cheap looking. Somehow, flying sequences here, in a 1987 movie, look worse than they did in the 1978 film. This is especially sad because there’s a lot of flying with Supes guiding all those missiles way from Earth one at a time. Plus, Nuclear Man flies. As mentioned, their fights with one another are less than thrilling. Predictably, one of them involves a damsel in distress. In this case, it’s Lacy. Flying in face of all logic and science, bad pun intended, this includes Nuclear Man taking her into outer space without so much as a helmet. And she’s perfectly fine. This can’t be serious, can it? Maybe, just maybe, the filmmakers have outwitted us all and weren't actually making a genuine attempt at a Superman flick. Maybe they went all-out spoof and the joke is on us, though I seriously doubt it.

Dear reader, I’m not of the popular opinion that Superman III was a total abomination. Even though I find it somewhat enjoyable, I fully understand it pales in comparison to the two movies before it. However, it is a movie that practically had to be made. Superman II was a huge success that many feel is better than its predecessor. The world clamored for more. If nothing else, it’s promised to us at the end of Part II. Part III made money but was widely loathed. Therefore, Part IV didn’t have to be.

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