You’ll Believe a (Super)Man Can Flop, Part I

48 Scenes That Show Why Superman IV: The Quest for Peace Is a Solid Contender for the Title of Worst Superhero Movie Ever Made

1. You know you’re in for a long haul when you can’t even get past the opening credits without feeling some good old-fashioned rage.

“Christopher Reeve” — the name, not the actor, God rest his soul — goes sailing behind the Earth, followed closely by “Gene Hackman,” and then… “Superman motion picture series initiated by Alexander Salkind”…? Third billing to a dude whose only contribution to the film is not suing the producers’ asses? Before “Margot Kidder”? Before “Mariel Hemingway”? Before “Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster,” even? You suck, Warner Brothers. Also, “Story by Christopher Reeve and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal”… I never really understood the difference between “and” and ampersands in film credits, but three things I do know to be wary of: the Ides of March, extended-warranty offers and movies in which marquee names have had a hand in the script duties. RIP, Chris, you did a lot of good in your lifetime, but I’m just sayin’.

2. Wait, they produced Breakin’ AND Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo? But of course, we simply must give them carte blanche with one of America’s most cherished icons.
The producers of Superman IV were the legendary Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan, and I mean “legendary” in the same way that any random Jerry Springer episode is a “legendary” piece of television. Let’s face it, when your résumé lists such cinematic “gems” as Over the Top, Invasion USA, Nine Deaths of the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and both Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo… well, let’s just say theirs was an approach to filmmaking that was unencumbered by thoughts of nuance or good taste. And the cousins were infamous for their tight-fisted approach to movie project funding — something that didn’t normally matter with the usual shlock they put out, but it would become a problem when, for example…

3. Look, up in the sky, it’s a…. well, it might be a bird or a plane. Hard to tell, really.
The first scene opens in space where we hear bad singing in a distinctly non-English tongue before zooming in on a Soviet-era cosmonaut floating outside a space station. Cut to derelict satellite and foreboding orchestral ensemble spinning through space. The ensemble sails safely past the space station. The satellite? Not so much. The cosmonaut goes flying as his comrades roll helplessly inside their now-spinning capsule… of death! Or not. For faster than a speeding projectile through space comes… a really badly focused Man of Steel. It’s like someone took a shot of a flying George Reeves from the old Superman TV show, cut his outline out of the original celluloid, stuck his image atop a Popsicle stick and moved it by hand in front of a sheet of construction paper. The special effects are so crudely rendered they’re almost distracting me from other things that don’t seem quite right, like how is it Superman’s cape can flap in the vacuum of space or how in the holy hell a normal guy in a spacesuit can survive a head-on collision with a piece of metal the size (and comparable mileage) of a Lincoln Navigator traveling thousands of miles per hour above the Earth. Ah, crapulent comic-book movie science… you do have the cure for the daily blues.

4. Those continuity editors they picked up for cheap on the black market in some Third World slum? Worth every penny.
After Superman stops the station from spinning and assists the hapless cosmonaut back to an open airlock, he exchanges a few horrifically dubbed pleasantries with the guy — speaking flawless Russian whilst floating in the soundless vacuum of space, natch — and then streaks back home to Earth. The English subtitle has Superman saying “You’ll be safer singing in here” while he clearly says “das vidaniya” to the cosmonaut, a phrase equivalent to “goodbye” in English. So score one for the pissed-off temp in Warner Brothers’ captioning department.

5. Pay attention, this is some Grade-A foreshadowing that will be important later in the film.
Smallville. We know that’s where we are because that’s what it says on the screen for the benefit of the two people in the audience who might not know Superman’s hometown. Kent walks down a dusty road past a realtor’s sign proclaiming the place for sale. He enters the barn and lifts a trapdoor hidden under the hay. A greenish glow and soft hum emanate from below. The glow, thanks to Brando’s better judgment, speaks in a decidedly female voice. “Listen carefully, my son,” Susannah York intones in that classy British accent that seems de rigueur for all advanced alien races. “By now, Kal-El, you are entering the atmosphere of the planet known as Earth. I pray you have made a safe journey. The yellow sun of your new home will give you great physical powers, but it cannot console your spirit. Placed aboard this vessel is an energy module, all that remains of a once powerful civilization… Krypton [or, as she pronounces it, “Kriptin”]. It is my last gift to you. Once removed, the ship will grow cold and silent and you will be finally alone. The power in the module can be used but once. Use it wisely, my son.” What kind of power, you ask? Uhhhh… the really powerful kind. You know, the kind of power you use for, um… look, just trust me, it’ll come up later, okay?

6. Hey, look! Someone made a joke about Superman’s home that’s, like, ironic and stuff.
As the ship’s pre-recorded message fades to black, Kent X-rays through the barn wall to see a pickup truck rolling in. It’s Hornsby, the real estate agent, who apparently had an appointment with Kent regarding the sale of his parents’ homestead. He tells Kent he has an offer to buy the farm sight unseen, but Kent makes it clear he will only sell to another farmer who plans to use the land for farming. “I don’t think we need another shopping centre,” he says. (Hey, speak for yourself, Mr. I-Can-Squeeze-Diamond-Earrings-From-Charcoal-Whenever-I-Feel-Like-It.) Some mild exasperation on the part of the realtor ensues, followed by an allegedly humorous sight gag of a baby’s crib with a hole punched out the end. Kent then gives him an old ball and glove to give to his grandkids, setting up a totally extraneous scene wherein Hornsby challenges him to a quick game, throwing an easy pitch that Kent deliberately misses by a country mile (and nearly trips over himself trying, to boot). “You be careful when you get back to Metropolis, Clark,” Hornsby says. “It’s a long, long way from where you were born.” Get it?

7. Yeah, as if the other prisoners wouldn’t have shoved a shiv right through his ascot a long time ago.
Next scene shifts to a rock pit in an unspecified state where prison chain gangs are still dressed in those black-and-white striped uniforms that only exist in comic books and Three Stooges films. As we hear someone whistling the first notes of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, a prisoner picks a flower and places it in his lapel. Yes, it’s Convict #6412, the criminal genius known as Lex Luthor, looking for the perfect posy to go with his superior demeanor and let-me-garrote-you-in-the-exercise-yard neckwear. “What is that godawful noise you’re making?” bellows one swarthy fellow who should, like, chill, dude, it’s just one guy whistling amidst a gang of pickaxe-clanking prisoners. “Mozart, my lowbrowed friend,” Luthor replies. “Even this wretched pit can’t diminish the spirit of true genius.” The same spirit that moved you to sign up for this turkey, Mr. Hackman? “Life itself started in a murky pit like this. A true genius like myself learns to seize the moment. You are the first to know I have plans to re-create life itself.” Well, thank goodness for that; I haven’t had a decent magazine to read since Tina Brown’s Talk went under. Oh, wait, you mean life life. Meh, whatever.

8. Wait a second — the guy nearly sinks California and escapes from prison in a hot-air balloon and betrays the human race when super-powered alien conquerors come knocking… and he’s on a chain gang? The hell?
For real. Can anyone with legal experience explain how it is that a supposed criminal genius who nearly destroyed California and allied himself with three world conquerors in his two previous movie outings isn’t getting the Hannibal Lecter Suite somewhere in our judicial system? It’s like in the old comic books where the prison warden figures, gosh, Luthor might be an evil criminal scientist, but he sure has been acting been so good lately and maybe he just needs some time alone in the prison workshop to see the error of his ways… and then the next page shows a giant robot tearing a robot-sized hole through the outer prison wall with Luthor cackling inside the robot’s transparent cranium. Two words, people: He’s a frickin’. Criminal. Genius. He makes MacGyver look like Paris Hilton trying to figure out the tip on a $23.87 bar tab. This is a guy who could craft plastique explosives out of used Hubba Bubba and the wrapper it came in, so we can only begin to imagine what kind of fiendishly clever escape plan he has up his nefarious…

supermanIV-joncryer9. Oh, sweet Jesus in a Cuisinart. My eyes.
Immediately after a prison guard threatens to throw Luthor to the wolves (seriously, that’s what he said), we see a car pull up that can only be described as what Colonel Sanders might have owned if he had gone into pimping instead of chickens. In a very huge, very white Cadillac convertible with four old-time hearing-aid horns welded to the doors comes Lenny (or, as the sides of said vehicle proclaim, “LENNYZZ”), a way pre-Two and a Half Men Jon Cryer decked out like the bastard love child of Ziggy Stardust and Foghorn Leghorn. He asks the guards, in the worst “duuude” accent ever, the way to Cedar City, but the guards are more interested in the “very fine” (snicker) sound system in his car (a sound system blaring Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” — a choice that could have been a sly reference to Luthor’s seismological shenanigans in the first Superman movie, were I willing to give the screenwriters that much credit for cleverness). He invites the two guards — apparently the only two guards, I hasten to add, keeping watch over this whole chain gang (do I even have to mention one of them is actually named “Bubba”?) — to hop in and experience the customized SurroundSound up close and personal. That they do, only to find themselves locked inside the car and promptly pitched into the quarry (the car being controlled, you see, by Lenny, who is using his supposed Walkman — remember those? — as the remote-control unit).

10. Remember when we watched The A-Team as kids, and we’d laugh at how nobody ever got hurt from all the bullets and explosions and trucks flying through the air? Good times.
Hey, look at that. Somehow, Uncle Lex managed to get the Pimpmobile of Death into his nephew Lenny’s hands and set this whole escape plan in motion well ahead of his current incarceration. File under “criminal genius,” I guess. As Lenny cuts Luthor’s leg chains with a hilariously humongous set of bolt-cutters, Uncle Lex utters the one and only line in the movie that I hope to one day say to one of my own younger relatives when the time is right: “Lenny, I’ve always considered you the Dutch Elm disease in my family tree, but this time you did just fine.” Then, because we wouldn’t want impressionable kiddies to think those guards could be, like, killed by something as innocent as A CAR CAREENING OVER THE EDGE OF A QUARRY AND ERUPTING IN A FIERY EXPLOSION WE JUST SAW TWO SECONDS AGO, we see a shot of the two of them popping up over the crater’s edge with mirrored sunglasses askew and uniforms slightly dusted, looking only slightly bewildered by their RIDE OVER A CLIFF IN AN EXPLODING CAR.

11. No disrespect towards Gene Hackman, but did they really need him this badly for the film? Couldn’t we have gotten one of Superman’s other villains to play the main villain role?
Two things here and then I’ll shut up about them forever. One, I am definitely one of those comic nerds who can honestly say he will always prefer the latter-day, smooth-talking, Evil Industrialist Lex over the earlier-model, cuckoo-crazy Mad Scientist Lex. It never made sense to me that, if he really were a criminal scientific genius, he would choose to spend all his free time building giant robots and crazy gizmos that would, I dunno, make Superman dance the can-can against his will just because Luthor had personal issues. From a thematic point of view, it just makes sense for Luthor to be an incredibly successful and ruthless businessman who guns for Superman because (a) Superman’s Boy Scout routine is bad for business and (b) Superman’s appearance on the scene drew away some of the love and attention Metropolis once festooned upon Luthor himself. The other thing is, regardless of which version of Luthor you’re talking about, the one defining characteristic of the man is that he. Has. No. Effin’. HAIR! Geez, for all the cash it must have taken to get Hackman to sign up for this turkey, couldn’t someone convince him to shave his head, or at least wear one of those fake bald caps for the couple of days he was on the set? Thank God Spacey didn’t pull this kind of crap when it was his turn, is all I can say.

12. Seriously. We KNOW where he lives, all right???
“Metropolis.” We know that because the word is superimposed on a shot of a major metropolitan area in big white letters. We also know it’s Metropolis because even illiterate blind children living in undiscovered Amazon tribes know that’s where Superman keeps his cape, so, y’know, thanks for coming out, extremely extraneous caption writers.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

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