Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Still. Okay, where were we? Oh yeah, this guy…
Nuclear Man, cloned from Superman’s DNA which was attached to a nuclear warhead thrown into the sun to give him some extra oomph! He heads for Earth.
Clark and Lacy are doing aerobics at a health club, and then Clark is bullied by some skinny douchebag. Seriously, Clark is way bigger than this guy. And I know that Clark is supposed to be a nerd, but why is he so covered up with a full tracksuit and a towel stuffed around his neck? Are we supposed to think he’s got his Superman suit on under there, just in case?
Anyway, besides lame comedy, the scene mainly exists so Lacy can invite Clark on a double-date with Lois and Superman. Awkward.
Nuclear Man descends to Metropolis to talk smack to Luthor, but Luthor knows his weakness: Nuclear Man must stay in direct sunlight or lose all his powers.
At the double-date, it’s all kind of tiresome and flaccid. Superman performs a few quick changes, and there’s a brief callback to the rooftop interview with Superman from the first film, but the strange thing is that Lois and Lacy have somehow become best friends or something. But just before Clark does another quick change to Superman, he hears Lex’s voice on a special frequency only he can hear (callback to Lex doing the same thing in the first film), and looks down to Times Square to see Lex’s face on a video billboard. And hey, look, Godfather’s Pizza.
I miss Godfather’s. Lex says “Look to your right,” because he somehow knows that Superman is in a vantage point overlooking Times Square? Seriously, how does he know that? Anyway, he threatens to blow the top off the Empire State Building, And just like in the first movie, it’s a lie to draw Superman into a trap–a blow-dried, blonde trap.
They fly into space to battle, then Nuclear Man blows up a section of the Great Wall of China, which Superman rebuilds with his Super-Rebuilding-Stuff-X-Ray-Vision or something. Back up into space, where Nuclear Man freezes Superman in a block of ice with his Freeze Breath, which seems like an odd form of attack from the super-solar burning-heat guy.
So while the frozen Superman is spinning away into space, Nuclear Man decides to wake up a dormant volcano, just for the hell of it. And here we have a pretty cool matte painting that I’m guessing was done by Peter Ellenshaw.
And the volcano effects here are old-school and low-budget, but not that bad. Superman escapes the ice cube and flies down to save the nearby town, cutting the top off a nearby mountain with his heat vision and using it to plug up the volcano. Impressive. Stupid, but impressive.
So Superman and Nuclear Man fly up into space again, where they battle in zero-G (while obviously being filmed standing on a bluescreen floor–you can even see a haze where Superman’s cape casts a shadow).
Nuclear Man flies back down to Metropolis, where he picks up the Statue of Liberty and drops it into downtown, and the effects in this scene are a big step down from the volcano scene.
Superman catches the statue and flies it back out to Liberty Island. But on the way, Nuclear Man scratches the back of Superman’s neck with his radioactive fingernails, causing Superman to grow weak and disoriented. He gets the Statue back in one piece, but then falls to the ground, helpless, where Nuclear Man boots him into the sky. All that’s left is his cape.
Which is what prompts Warfield to print a headline that Superman is dead, which is what prompts Lois to quit the Daily Planet. And BTW, Lacy is really worried about Clark.
Lois goes to Clark’s apartment, where he tells her he has the flu. So she gives him a pep talk and Superman’s cape, because maybe his Hypno-kisses aren’t working as well as he thinks they are.
Lex is on top of the world as he kicks out his former partners. He’s on the way to ruling the world. Meanwhile, Superman looks to be in the last throes of radiation sickness. His hair has turned white and is falling out, and he can barely stand. So he (finally) pulls out the Tube of New, Improved Prell.
At Lex’s house, the Nuclear Man notices the picture of Lacy on the front cover of her father’s British New York tabloid. Honestly, if we’re going to let foreigners make movies of an American icon like Superman, is it too much to ask for them to get American spellings right?
Nuclear Man flies out to the Daily Planet building, but instead of coming in the top-floor windows, he lands in the street outside, where he finds Superman blocking the door. So he threatens to hurt people until Superman tells where he has hidden Lacy. He blows up a few cars in a series of low-budget destruction shots that aren’t impressive, but not completely awful, given our reduced expectations at this point. Then Christopher Reeve goes all Shatner on us, emoting while delivering the deathless line, “Stop! Don’t do it! The people!” (which is a callback to a similar line he delivered almost as badly in Superman II, when Non and Ursa were threatening to throw the bus at him).
But Nuclear Man won’t be stopped. He zaps the arriving police and firemen as well as a SWAT team, which leads to hands-down the most idiotic shot in the whole movie, which is saying something. Or maybe it’s just me. But see, this guy right here…
What he’s got there is an anti-tank weapon, a disposable rocket launcher like a bazooka. When you fire it, a huge plume of exhaust blasts out the back, which is why you hold it on your shoulder instead of against your body like a rifle. If he fires it in that position, it will kill him. Fortunately for him, he can’t fire it in that pose because the trigger is on top, visible just in front of the rear sight, and neither hand is anywhere near it.
Okay, I’m done. Superman finally offers to take Nuclear Man to Lacy, but instead tricks him into the elevator, where he loses his powers. And by the way, we haven’t seen exactly what the Tube of Prell did to bring Superman back (shades of Superman II), or how he learned that Nuclear Man wanted Lacy. But at this point, we so desperately want it to be over that we don’t care.
Superman flies the elevator to the moon, where it’s dark (and if you look carefully at the background, you can see the black curtains intended to simulate the blackness of space).
But the rising sun slants in through a crack in the door and Nuclear Man escapes! Moon Battle! With wires! Nuclear Man pounds Superman into the ground and leaves him buried on the moon.
Back in Metropolis, Nuclear Man captures Lacy and flies her out into space, where she seems to have no trouble breathing.
Superman bursts out of the lunar ground and pushes the moon in front of the sun, creating an eclipse and blacking out Nuclear Man’s powers. He saves Lacy, then drops Nuclear Man down a nuclear reactor. Problem solved.
Afterward, we learn that Perry White, who’s been gone for most of the movie, has gotten a huge bank loan to finance a hostile takeover of the Daily Planet. Warfield is out, Perry is back in, and everyone’s happy. At least until they find out how much cash flow they’re going to need to keep the paper afloat with Perry’s huge debt load hanging over them.They’re all going to be out of a job in six months, and Perry will die broke and alone and eating cat food. But yay, they’re not a tabloid!
Superman takes Luthor back to prison (and just to show how far everything has changed, one of the convicts pronounces Luthor’s name correctly, and on the commentary, co-scripter Mark Rosenthal mentions that this mis-pronunciation is a callback to the way Otis used to say Luthor’s name–because over time, the mispronunciation has become the standard pronunciation and the old correct way is now the mistake). Superman gives a mawkish final speech, then we finally get a bit of reused footage from the Salkind movies as Superman gives his final smile to the camera.
What a sad reminder of how far the series has fallen at the end. Roll credits.
Yes, the credits reflect the relative cheapness of the film, a simple crawl with no enhancements other than a white glow.
And it’s finally over. The Superman movie franchise was dead after this. Superman’s adventures moved once again to television: the Salkinds’ Superboy series, Lois and Clark, Superman, the Animated Series, and Smallville.
But Superman did not appear on the big screen again until almost 20 years later, when director Bryan Singer, beloved of comics fans for his two X-Men movies, decided to take up the Superman legacy by starting a new franchise based on the old franchise.