Okay. This one is a legendary turkey of Superman movies and of movies in general, but I enjoyed it. The worst I can say about the film is that the flying stunts weren’t always as impressive as the other three films. There’s also the possibility that it was recut for DVD. Although DVD and digital restoration make all of these films better looking. So, I’m not sure that can be used as a rationalization. In any case, what I saw I enjoyed.
Christopher Reeve’s dual performance is consistently astonishing, and he has more screen time with Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder, who for some reason got short-sheeted in terms of marketing. She’s a very good Lois Lane, and because the clarity of DVD allows you to appreciate the nuances of expression more, you notice subtlety in Kidder’s performance.
Superman reveals his identity to Lois again, and he pulls his memory-loss kiss on her again. At first, this bothered me, but as the story plays on there’s the strong implication that deep down inside Lois knows and always will know Clark is Superman. That allowed me to consider that what Superman is doing is telepathic hypnosis not outright mind-wiping. When he reveals his identity, she even states: “I remember everything.” He suggests Lois forgets his identity, and she doesn’t want to remember. She doesn’t want to accept that Clark is Superman. She’s however much warmer to Clark, and they’ve grown as friends.
This also synchs up nicely with Superman Returns. Clearly Lois and Superman made love at some point after Superman IV, and again, he had to hypnotize her into forgetting his dual identity. What he didn’t know, because the idea of Superman being a deadbeat Dad is impossible, is that Lois had a son out of that union.
The filmmakers add a complication in Superman IV in the appealing form of Mariel Hemmingway, who portrays Lacy Warfield, the daughter of the new owner of The Daily Planet. She falls for Clark. By the end of the movie, Lacy changes. Clark’s goodness taps into a nice personality that was corrupted by greed and la dolce vita. It’s a fulfilling character arc.
All of these characterizations surround the core of the plot. Talks have failed between nations. Nuclear armament increases, and a boy named Jeremy writes to Superman to take care of things. The boy who plays Jeremy is fairly annoying, but he has little screen time.
Now, I’ve seen reviews that Superman IV is simple-minded with its premise of Superman taking nuclear missiles away from every nation and hurling them into the sun. I’m not sure if hurling them into the sun is a good idea–it would be better to dump them on Venus, but the actual confiscation isn’t childish at all.
Superman questions the ethics of such action before deciding to take these drastic measures, and again Christopher Reeve’s performance, perhaps not fully appreciable on the big screen in an era of shoddy video technology, brings gravitas to the situation. That Lex would twist Superman’s good deed to his own ends is pure genius. It’s a brilliant twist in the script.
Lex uses Superman to create his own demise, and he makes a tidy profit by re-arming the nations. This has always been an issue for critics. The nations would make more nuclear weapons to replace the ones Superman confiscated. Would they? Would they spend billions of dollars knowing full well that Superman would simply come back and take their new missiles? Possibly, but I see this as a really clever Catch-22. A nation could continue to spend billions on arms, knowing full well Superman would be there. They could say that they are strong on defense, but there’s simply no defense against Superman. That way, they look good in front of the warhawks, and they maintain the peace.
Gene Hackman is brilliant again as Lex Luthor, and I love the repartee between he and Christopher Reeve. Their hero/villain chemistry is superb. There’s even a great scene where Lex acknowledges that Superman isn’t just powerful, he’s his near equal: “You know, Muscles, I’m going to miss these little chats. You were the only one who could keep up with me.”
Now, we come to the sticking point for many critics: The Nuclear Man. Luthor uses Superman’s DNA to create a less than perfect duplicate. Looking at the deleted scenes, there was a comedy creation before the Nuclear Man that acts very much like Bizarro. The Nuclear Man however is lethal. He looks a little dodgy, although the actor is fine in the role. His costume isn’t the best I’ve seen, but you know, he’s not in the film too long. Superman takes care of him in the second round. The fight between the two is ambitious, but the effects of the day fail the filmmakers.
I’m honestly not quite sure that cgi would be convincing either, but when the effects and acting combine, this is a Superman film. The opener for instance defines Superman. A piece of space junk knocks a Soviet Cosmonaut off a space station now out of control. Superman fixes things, and he rescues the Cosmonaut. It’s sort of a reversal of what happens in You Only Live Twice, in which there is no Superman, and thanks to SPECTRE an astronaut dies in the chill of outer space.
The deleted scenes indicate what was cut out of the movie, and while I agree with most of the cuts, the scene where Lacy and Clark say good-bye is something that should have been kept in. Otherwise, this character appears to have just disappeared. This is one of a few caveats in an otherwise good, enjoyable Superman film, perhaps not as good as the other three but certainly better than crap like Batman Forever or the deeply flawed Daredevil.