I tried really, really hard to like the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, I promise I did. And I see why people do like him, and what he means for people. Even with Superman IV: Quest For Peace, I tried to give the movie the benefit of the doubt. Despite pretty much everyone involved in the movie regretting it, apparently, according to the Superman history book I’m reading.
But man, I just can’t get on board with a guy who forcibly disarms the world. Yes, I know, that sounds kind of like the exact sort of thing the bad guys in Superman IV would say, but hear me out:
By basically telling humanity that we’re not allowed to have nuclear weapons anymore, because he says so, this Superman denies all of humanity its right to choose a course for itself. By opening that door, Superman creates a world where he can cross that line again if he wants to. That world leads to bad, bad things. As much as I believe in and trust the idea of Superman, part of what I love about him is his restraint in dealing with humanity.
Sure, he could force us to be better, or to act better at least. But he doesn’t. He chooses to act as a good example of restraint, tolerance, love, and protective work for the good of others, and in so doing, give us a model to follow in choosing to be better ourselves.
By having Superman force the world to disarm its nuclear programs, this film flies in the face of all my favorite things about Superman. It doesn’t make sense to me, on a characterization level.
Additionally, everything else about the film’s writing feels like a rehash of previous films. Once again, Superman lets Lois Lane in on his secret only to take away her memory again mere minutes later. At times, Margot Kidder‘s Lois seems to “phone in” her performance, as well. The subplot involving a billionaire taking control of the Daily Planet pretty much functions as a way to add gags to a script that really maybe shouldn’t have them.
The whole tone of the movie feels at odds with the subject matter, too. Nuclear disarmament should be treated with more seriousness, in my view. While the fairly comedic tone does allow for some great moments, especially for Gene Hackman‘s Lex Luthor, I can’t help but wonder what could have happened if they’d treated the idea with some more gravitas.
Of course, that would mean creating actual conflict. The film seems fairly devoid of conflict that actually matters. My suspension of disbelief could not swallow the idea that governments just let Superman take their nukes, I’m sorry. All else aside, the smoothness with which Superman got that level of power and control honestly scared me a little.
Visually, the film feels lower quality than its predecessors, especially with the flight effects. The stunt choreography lacks both camp and actual skill, and every fight scene moves at a snail’s pace. I could barely get through the moon fight without trying to hit fast forward, to be honest.
My favorite part of the movie is Mariel Hemingway as Lacy Warfield. The character undergoes a great character arc as she starts to recognize the importance of non-sensationalized journalism. Also, I loved seeing Lois interacting with another woman extensively at long last. Plus, call me a stickler for good Clark Kent content, but I appreciate that Clark is the one Lacy likes.
Overall, Superman IV: Quest for Peace is definitely the weakest of the Reeve-era films. I don’t really recommend it to fans of the Welling/Cavill type Superman, but folks who prefer Hoechlin might enjoy Reeve, if they don’t already know Reeve’s Superman.