Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
Written by: Christopher Reeve and Lawrence Konner
Genre: Comic book action
Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent
Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor
Margot Kidder as Lois Lane
Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is the final installment of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Lex Luthor escapes from a prison chain gang with the help of his nephew, and is soon plotting a way to destroy Superman again. Meanwhile the Daily Planet gets taken over by an unscrupulous new owner who plans to turn it into a sensationalistic tabloid. While all this is going on, the nations of the world can't seem to come to an agreement on what to do about all their nuclear missiles, so they start stockpiling again.
Soon, news of the failure to come to an agreement about nuclear arms prompts a child to write a letter to Superman to fix the problem for us. After much soul-searching and asking of advice, Superman eventually decides to go ahead and get rid of all the world's nuclear weapons. When he announces his decision to the United Nations, he's met with thunderous applause, because of course everyone trusts Superman not to get rid of everyone's weapons except the US's, and small nuclear powers with hostile neighbors like Israel and Pakistan can get along just fine without them.
Luthor somehow sees his chance to get rid of Superman in this announcement, and simultaneously a way to make himself wealthy beyond belief. It turns out a museum has a strand of Superman's hair, holding up a 1/2-ton weight. Sneaking in disguised as a tourist, he breaks into the display, cuts the hair with bolt cutters, and gets away with a sample of Kal-El's DNA. Since Superman is throwing all the world's nuclear missiles into the sun, he can use this DNA sample, hidden in a nuclear warhead, to clone Superman with the sun's energy. Somehow he knows that the resulting Nuclear Man will be under his control, and that he can make Superman sick by scratching him. I don't follow this train of logic, but that's why he's Lex Luthor.
Anyway, it works, and Luthor soon arranges a meeting between Superman and Nuclear Man. Inevitably, it comes to fisticuffs in a fight near most of the world's most recognizable monuments, occasionally poking out into space for some zero-G fun. Nuclear Man eventually gets his claws into Superman's shoulder, and as Luthor predicted, this takes him down for the count for reasons that are never explained.
While Superman is out, Luthor reveals the second half of his plan. With Superman no longer available as the world's friendliest nuclear deterrent, he'd organized the manufacture and sale of new nuclear weapons to replace the old ones. You see there's good money in the threat of complete global annihilation, and after the first steps have been taken he uses Nuclear Man to take complete control of the arms sales.
Fortunately, Superman took a plot device out of his (apparently deceased) parents' old farmhouse in the form of another one of those Kryptonian crystals that his rocket ship to Earth was apparently just jam-packed with. Although it's implied that this is the last one, it hardly matters since it's the last Superman movie in this series anyway (a part V was planned, but the box office sales had other ideas). He uses the crystal to heal himself and heads out again to tackle Nuclear Man.
Superman finds out that Nuclear Man is solar powered... to such a degree that even standing in the shade is detrimental to his health. So he traps Nuclear Man in a sealed elevator and brings it to the moon where he can never hurt anyone again. Except the elevator has a crack in it sunlight could bleed through and the rather uninspired fight is on again.
Finally Superman gets the bright idea to push the moon out of its orbit to block the sun from Nuclear Man, robbing him of his power instantly. To finish him off once and for all, Superman drops Nuclear Man into the cooling tower of a nuclear power plant, which somehow increases its power output despite the fact that a cooling tower has nothing to do with the actual nuclear reactor itself. If anything would happen at all, the cooling tower would become superheated and no longer effectively cool the power plant's cooling water, which should shut down the generator.
But I digress.
Superman wins, brings Luthor back to prison, and tells the UN that he was wrong to try to save us from our nuclear crisis, although I can't figure out what exactly made him decide that. According to the movie the only bad thing that came out of it was Luthor creating Nuclear Man, which could only happen once anyway.
The Daily Planet meanwhile buys itself back from the unscrupulous tabloid journalist, although since the fact that the paper was hemorrhaging money was the reason it could have been bought out in the first place, I'm not sure how this happened.
I think all four of the Superman movies have been called the worst one at one point or another, but to me, this one's clearly the second worst of the lot after Superman III, which I think some people only don't consider the worst because they're suffering selective amnesia to remove it from their brains. The Superman movies were probably a big part of the reason nobody thought a good comic book movie could get made until Tim Burton's 1989 Batman finally blew the doors off that prejudice and cleared the way for 2000's X-Men, 2002's Spider-man, and 2004's Catwoman (okay, two out of three ain't bad).
The fight scenes between two superhumans were uninspired (even compared to Superman II), characters seem to mysteriously know enough of the plot to keep it moving, and the comic relief falls completely flat. Luthor's idiot nephew was an ancestor of 1999's Jar Jar Binks. The daughter (Lacy Warfield) of the man who bought out the Daily Planet had a crush on Clark Kent, leading to many "ha-ha, isn't Clark such a klutz" moments and a Three's Company style "scheduled two dates at the same time" scene when Clark Kent and Superman are supposed to see Lacy and Lois at the same time.
Even the special effects were unconvincing at best. At worst you could clearly see the bluescreen glare and wirework. Some of the worst ones were used to invent new one-shot powers for the already-overpowered Superman, which has been an annoying staple of the four Superman movies.
Finally, although it tried its very best, the movie failed to make any sort of coherent argument against irresponsible journalism, nuclear proliferation, or vandalizing national monuments. We're just supposed to accept that they're bad because the characters in the movie didn't like them.
Two stars out of five. Barely watchable, it promises more than it can deliver.
For a far, far more comprehensive review, complete with background about the production, some discussion about 45 minutes that were cut from the original version, and a right-wing criticism of the movie's blatant liberal bias, you can see Ken Begg's review at Jabtootu's Bad Movie Dimension: