How the mighty did fall.
It seems the only peace Superman 4 secured was the release of no more Superman movies for quite some time afterwards. After the downward trajectory initiated by Superman 3 and a whole bunch of budget cuts to this movie’s production, it’s no wonder.
And, to be honest, paper-thin and poorly written as most of the plot and dialogue are, the budget restraints might have been the ultimate downfall of this film. Even if the bad plot was still there, a decent budget – like that of Superman 2 or 3’s – could have secured this movie as a so bad it’s good type of film. But the truth is more of it is bad than laughably bad.
That’s not to say I didn’t get some laughs. For example, this movie has like three different shots of Superman flying towards the camera that it reuses again, and again and again whenever he takes flight. Hell, it uses it at least twice in the opening sequence just so you get a feeling for the type of film you’re watching. There’s also a scene where Nuclear Man (more on him in a moment) uses the force to push some police cars away. But the way this is depicted is by reversing already used footage of the police arriving and the abruptly cutting to a fiery explosion when the footage slows down.
The whole film isn’t laughable, though. Most of it is just boring. Somehow they took Lois Lane and Clark Kent and made them boring. Margot Kidder feels like she’s phoning in her performance and I don’t blame her. Of everyone in the film she easily has the worst material to work with. Her sassy, busy Lois Lane character is reduced to nothing but desperately hoping Superman, a guy she only canonically remembers having met three times after having her memory wiped in Superman 2, will fall in love with her. Christopher Reeve obviously does good, but his performance still isn’t great on account of the material more than anything. This is especially a shame as this movie credits Reeve for the story and antinuclear themes.
Somehow they got Gene Hackman to return as Lex Luthor after his absence in Superman 3. He either got 90% of the film’s remaining budget or just really liked making Superman films. It’s lucky they got him because he is easily the best part of this film. His character, much like Lois Lane, has been assassinated by being stripped down to the bare essentials, but Hackman’s performance carries most of the film.
The plot goes that Superman doesn’t want nuclear war to happen so he declares to the UN that he’s going to confiscate all their nuclear bombs. He doesn’t offer. He declares that he will. Seems kinda dictatorial to me, but he gets applause all around. He throws every nuke on Earth into the sun but, little does he know, Lex Luthor has put a piece of Superman’s hair on one of the nukes and so, when it collides with the sun, it births the villain known as Nuclear Man. Luthor remains the main villain with Nuclear Man just being his buff henchman for Superman to fight.
As is tradition with these movies, Superman invents new superpowers in his fight with Nuclear Man like rebuilding the Great Wall of China with his eyes and using telekinesis to lower people out of the air safely. That was kind of fun but most of it is really lame and lacking compared to the fight scenes in Superman 2 and 3. Also a new love interest for Superman, Lacy (Mariel Hemingway), invents the superpower to breathe in space and scream as though she too is a super person (she’s not). The best part of the film is easily the fight on the moon, if only because Superman defeats his foe by blocking the sun with the moon, thus rendering him powerless, and probably causing massive ecological disasters to occur all across the globe.
I would not recommend Superman 4. There are one or two faint flickers of what this series used to be in Reeve’s and Hackman’s performances, but it’s ultimately more just bad than it is comically bad and thus not even worth watching to see what the fuss is about. A part of me finds the B-movie budget endeering and pleasant, but the resg leaves me with the ick. I can see why people would watch Superman 3; it’s a huge step-down but it still has the same spirit as the two films before it. By contrast, Superman 4 seems to just forget what it is.