Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Nuclear Power. In the best hands, it is dangerous. In the hands of Lex Luthor, it is pure evil. This is Superman’s greatest battle. And it is for all of us.

After a young schoolboy writes to Superman asking him to do something about the nuclear arms race, the Man of Steel decides to intervene and help his adopted planet. He gathers all of the nuclear weapons in the world and hurtles them into the sun, hoping that an era of world peace will follow. However what he doesn’t know was that Lex Luthor had acquired some of Superman’s hair from a raid on a museum and attaches it to one of the missiles. The resulting explosion creates Nuclear Man, a solar-powered android that is programmed to destroy the Earth and Superman.


Every big hitting film series has a franchise killer of some kind which usually kills dead any hope of further sequels. Superman met his franchise killer in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a film which is rightfully dubbed as one of the worst superhero films ever made but one which also gets unfair treatment. Beneath the silly, the sublime and the ridiculous that is Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, there were a lot of studio problems which inevitably have had a major impact on the final product we see.

After the studio got into financial trouble, the budget was slashed in half and it shows. The film also ended up ninety minutes long yet it was cut down drastically from its original running time of one hundred and thirty five minutes! That’s a heck of a lot of film to cut out and you just wonder whether any of it would have been beneficial to the final release. Unfortunately I can only review what is in front of me and deleted footage and director’s cuts don’t mean anything if I’m not watching it. So is the reputation for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace justified?

Forgetting the financial problems, the series was on it’s last legs at this point from a creative point of view and you can tell by just how much is recycled from the previous films. It’s the same familiar set-up: Lex Luther is once again the villain after escaping from prison yet Superman has many other villains to choose from. Lois Lane and Superman go for a romantic fly and she discovers his identity, only for him to use his memory-erasing kiss on her again (isn’t that technically ‘date rape’). Superman has to fight another enemy with the same abilities (he’s already fought three Kryptonians in Superman II and took on his evil self in Superman III). I guess making a superhero who only has one real weakness and almost limitless powers does have its creative drawbacks!

Thankfully the comedy aspects which dogged the last film and Richard Lester’s contributions to Superman II have been replaced with a more mature side in which Superman makes some poignant speeches to the UN. It sounds more like an anti-nuclear propaganda reel at times with Reeves’ (who co-wrote the film) passion about disarmament clear for all to see. The introduction of a rival being who could take on Superman should have led to a lot more than we get here. Nuclear Man is horrendous. Sporting a ridiculous outfit which makes Superman’s blue-and-red ensemble look like the highlight of fashion, Nuclear Man looks like an 80s hair metal guitarist. He doesn’t lay waste to cities or use his ‘nuclear’ aspect for any nefarious purpose. Nuclear Man is devoid of any personality or defining features, he’s merely a henchman for Luthor and is there solely to provide Superman with a super-opponent to battle against. For all of Luther’s intelligence and cunning, he is after all a man and therefore no physical match for Superman.

The budget was slashed for this third sequel and you can tell with the special effects. Never the most convincing of flyers anyway, Superman now looks like he’s being held up by wires and super-imposed on a rear-projected background. The final fight between Superman and Nuclear Man takes place across a variety of poorly made sets including the worst moon set you’re going to see any time soon and contains the destruction of the Great Wall of China. It’s a daft cross between cartoon mayhem and WWE wrestling and it doesn’t work.

Familiar faces on the acting side of the film certainly help Superman IV: The Quest for Peace to at least maintain continuity with the rest of the series. Christopher Reeve IS Superman and no amount of re-casting will ever be able to change that. His performances as the bumbling Clark Kent and the dashing Superman are still some of the best that anyone who has stepped into a superhero costume has ever produced. Reeve seems somewhat bored with the whole thing now but he’s still one of the only things on show that works. Quite what Gene Hackman is doing back is another matter. The two-time Oscar winning actor is the best thing on display here and tries to compensate for all of the silliness around him. Margot Kidder is back as Lois Lane although after the damage done to her character in the last one, it’s almost pointless for her to reprise her role. Superman gets another mild love interest in this one so Lane isn’t really needed anymore.

It’s a pity because one of the strengths of Superman and Superman II was the on-off relationship between Lois/Clark and Lois/Superman. Across the board, it’s clear to see that everyone had lost their spark and interest in this series at this point. Even the writers seem to have forgotten the boundaries of science and have one of the human characters breathing in outer space without assistance.


Superman IV: The Quest for Peace isn’t as bad as everyone makes out but it’s still a debacle from start to finish. It was pure Kryptonite to the series and effectively killed off the Man of Steel for nineteen years. What a way to go out, eh?





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