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

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

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

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25. And here we come to the crux of the matter, or to put it another way, the biggest reason why this movie bites the big one.
Okay, here’s the thing. Let’s say there’s a super-strong guy in real life who is known to be an alien from another planet, but he’s got a pretty smile and he flies around saving nuns and schoolchildren, so everyone thinks he’s cool. Now, imagine him suddenly deciding that he should get rid of all the nuclear weapons just because some kid asked me to do it, and so he announces on live television he’s going to do just that. It’s not like he’s declaring war on cancer or crabgrass or something we can all agree is A Very Bad Thing But Is Really Nobody’s Fault. He’s basically saying to the rest of us, “You know what? I’ve decided none of you can be trusted with these weapons, so I’m taking them away.” Just how thrilled do you think the leaders of Russia, China, the USA and other nuclear powers are going to be about this new development? I know it’s the central conceit of this entire movie, but I have to call bull-puppies on this entire scene — given the state of world politics in 1987 (hell, given the state of them today), there is no. freakin’. way. this kind of unilateral announcement by a known non-Earthling would be greeted by anything other than massive pre-emptive strikes upside his invulnerable head. And for my money, a far more interesting movie might have resulted had the writers taken five minutes to consider the geopolitical impact Superman’s new proactive stance would have on the world. I mean, come on — a whole room of UN delegates, many of them representing countries with less-than-stellar human-rights records, applauding a guy who intends to take all their war toys away? As. Freakin’. If.

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26. My suggestion? Catch all the missiles in a giant fishnet stocking. It would only make this movie slightly less ludicrous.
Cut to scenes of missiles being launched from a Russian truck, from an American submarine, etc. (You know, I’ve always wondered why they would bother putting “CCCP” or “USA” on the sides of nuclear missiles: “Look, Ma, one of our own missiles must have gone off course. Well, thank God we’re gettin’ vaporized by an American-made warhead…”) Superman catches the missiles hurtling into space and gathers them in a (snicker) giant fishnet, all the better to swing them right into the side of that Russian space station. No, not really. He flings the whole thing off into the sun, where of course the entire payload is instantly disintegrated seconds later.

27. So let’s check in on the villains — no, not the screenwriters behind this movie. Good guess, though.
Lair o’ Luthor. At a meeting with some arms merchants and assorted military madmen, Luthor announces his intention to make the world safe for war profiteering. How? He plans to put his “genetic stew” on one of the missiles heading for the sun, where the sun’s intense heat and radiation will create a “nuclear man” whose sole purpose will be to defeat Superman. After that’s done? Hell, we’ll teach him macramé or something. Like I said. Kryptonite bullets. Amoral sniper. The dots, they are so easy to connect, and yet — are not. Later, in the Lab o’ Luthor, Lex and Lenny manhandle a giant gob of snot-colored goo and place it in a lunchbox-sized container. Last to go in: a small piece of fabric that will become the nuclear man’s costume and “maintain the high moral standards [Luthor has] always subscribed to.” Whatever. Because heaven forbid the little ones be subjected to the sight of a buck-naked nuclear man being spawned from the sun’s fiery bosom. I mean, that’s just silly.

28. Maybe blonde hair is a recessive gene on his mother’s side? Oh God, now I’m trying to rationalize plot points in Superman IV.
Sure enough, as “General” Luthor and one of his evil military partners-in-crime watch a missile with Luthor’s payload get launched from a missile silo, Superman throws it into the sun, a good 93 million miles away (or about eight minutes, if you’re traveling at the speed of light, which you can be sure the missile is not doing). Keeping with the theme of complete disregard for any scientific principle, the birth of our nuclear man takes place about five seconds after the payload hits its mark. Cheesey special effects barely above those used in the original Tron mark the birth of our nuclear nemesis who… wait a sec. Blonde hair? The hell? This was a clone created using Superman’s genetic material, right? And since no one else’s DNA was involved in that particular stew, shouldn’t we get a baddie who LOOKS JUST LIKE SUPERMAN? No time to ponder that, though, because next we have to figure out (1) how that miniscule scrap of fabric turned into the campiest black-and-gold-lamé superhero outfit this side of Adam West’s closet and (2) how he knows the way back to Earth, much less knows where on our tiny blue marble to find his “father.”

29. Pointless scene alert! (as opposed to all the other scenes here that are vitally necessary to understand what’s going on…)
Speaking of Earth. Lacey has taken Kent to a gym for an aerobics class, ’80s style! Pointless flirting and monkeyshines with a weight machine as some musclehead tries to impress Lacey by making Kent look like a wimp. Which Kent plays along with until Lacey isn’t looking, at which point he shows up said musclehead. Was there a point to this scene? Not really. But Reeve looked like he was having fun, so good for him.

30. Why not create something really useless, Lex, like a super-villain whose powers only work during Jewish holidays?
Back to Lair o’ Luthor. Lex is dancing with some tarted-up Marie Antoinette lookalike (wait… what?) while Lenny bangs on his drums in the corner. Nuke arrives and Luthor welcomes him by lighting a cigar off his warm form. Nuke oddly — again, despite sharing the EXACT GENETIC MATERIAL AS ONE KAL-EL, SON OF JOR-EL, OF KRYPTON — speaks in Hackman’s own (albeit echo-y) voice (legend has it the actor playing Nuke didn’t know his voice would get dubbed over by Hackman’s and was plenty pissed about it; feel free to thank me if this tidbit ever turns up on a future SAT exam). And speaking of Superman’s genetics, or lack of relation thereof, somehow Nuke has powers Superman doesn’t; when Lenny gets lippy, Nuke just points at him to make him float off the floor and spin in midair. Luthor has a handle on the situation, though, and gets Nuke to agree on his mission: “Destroy Superman now.” As they walk and talk, we discover Nuke’s powers only work when he is in direct sunlight; once he steps inside the room, away from the window, he powers down and crumples to the floor. You know, for a criminal genius, Luthor isn’t doing too great here. He creates a super-villain using the genetic material of the world’s greatest hero, and his pride-and-joy Franken-weenie can be defeated by a generous dose of Coppertone…?

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31. And now here’s a little something for all you cats who miss the wacky hijinks of Three’s Company. Discuss: Which of Superman’s powers do you think Jack Tripper would want first?
Dinner party! Lois is wearing the satin pink jacket with shoulder pads that should only be attempted by linebackers or Dynasty cast members; Lacey is slightly less revolting in a sparkly black bustier and green jacket. For no apparent reason other than a fiendish desire to totally yank their chains (the cad), Kent decides to show up for dinner as both Kent and Superman, ensuring his two identities are never in the room at the same time by pulling stunts like using his heat vision to burn the duck in the oven. Why is this scene here? Are we supposed to raise a glass to Superman’s playfulness, or just drink enough to make us forget the whole damn scene? Anyway, as Kent is in the kitchen, he hears a high-pitched sound and sees an image of Luthor projected on the side of a nearby building. Only Superman can see and hear this message, Luthor says, and he just wanted Superman to know he plans to blow 20 stories off a nearby building unless he comes running right now… and the two women still don’t put two and two together when Clark is nowhere to be found after Superman leaves. Dolts.

32. Common knowledge? Like, did Luthor put that information in his eHarmony profile? “Turn-ons: moonlight walks, power tools, world domination. Turn-offs: children, animals, uppity space aliens.”  
Lair o’ Luthor. Introductions are made, Lenny meeting “the dude of steel” for the first time. Like, gag me with a spoon. Small talk is exchanged, Luthor suggests Superman get a hobby, maybe raise a puppy. “You’re a workaholic,” he tells Big Boy Blue. I gotta hand it to Hackman: Regardless of what he must’ve thought of this script, he’s earning his new boathouse with this gig, or whatever he bought with the money they paid him for classing up the joint. Superman: “It’s common knowledge you hate children and animals, Luthor. What are you doing in Metropolis?” Heh. Luthor: “I just wanted to introduce you to the new kid on the block.” And no, he ain’t talking Mark Wahlberg’s brother. Blah blah blah the end is nigh, you helped create your own enemy, let’s get to the main event.

33. Annnnnnd….. DING! Or “GNID,” since we’re apparently running our stock footage in reverse.
Nuke: “First, I have fun.” Good, good — you want a guy who knows how to enjoy his work. First punch goes to Nuke, who sends both of them flying off the balcony in the fakiest freefall ever faked. They end up in space, and land in China. Specifically, they land near the Great Wall, where Nuke uses his nuclear hand-blasts to blow giant chunks out of the wall as throngs of wall-walkers run willy-nilly. Momentarily stopping Nuke’s rampage, Superman then… um, looks the bricks back into place? Seriously, he… just stands there looking at the walls and the bricks reappear back in place courtesy of his never-before-seen Super-Spackle-Vision. Legend has it Superman was supposed to rebuild the wall with his two hands using super-speed, a story backed up by the Superman IV comic adaptation showing Superman doing that… but the film’s FX budget got cut before they could get to that scene, so they just rewound film of a wall getting disassembled brick by brick interspersed with images of Reeve squinting. Makes you long for the technological wizardry of Plan 9 from Outer Space, doesn’t it?

supermanIV-supedown34. You know what might be funny? Watching an astronomer, a biologist and a geologist try to get through this movie without exploding in rage.
Back in space. Superman grabs Nuke’s legs from behind, which seems… kinda girly, actually. Nuke then super-blows Superman away (using the air from… where, exactly?) and flash-freezes him in a block of ice (again, with water vapor from where, exactly?) before flying back to Earth to… revive a volcano? So he can recharge his batteries? Seriously, what is this guy doing? He’s solely created to kill Superman and so he leaves him floating frozen in space while he go takes a magma dip? Stock footage of erupting lava ensues. Of course, the quaint Italian villagers flee and a teddy bear is knocked down the steps as they flee the approaching lava. No need to fret, though, as Superman breaks free from the ice, instantly knows where Nuke touched down, zooms back to Earth, heat-visions himself a heapin’ slice of mountaintop and uses it to plug up the volcano before using his freeze-breath to cool down the lava and save the five people and teddy bear who are apparently the only inhabitants of the village. Whew!

35. The product-placement money from Lee’s Press-On Nails paid for the catering van, so zip it, you comic-reading crybabies.
Nuke’s fingernails go “snikt,” all Wolverine-like, trying to slash Superman. I think of all the other worthy Superman villains yet to hit the silver screen — Darkseid, Parasite, Mxyzptlk, Doomsday, Brainiac, Toyman, even that alien cowboy with the robot horse — and drink. Superman, er, kicks him away… all the way to New York City! Or Metropolis. I don’t think even the director cares anymore. Just as I don’t think he cares that, despite the fact our heroes have kicked and pummeled each other from China to Italy to New York City within the span of a few hours, it appears to be the same time of day in every single one of these far-flung locations. (Here’s a fun project: If you’re in the Eastern Time Zone, go online and find out what time it is in, say, Shanghai or Milan. You now officially know one more thing than the writers of this movie.) Nuke lands at the base of the Statue of Liberty, and, abiding by the rules that pretty much every action movie back in the ’80s had to follow, he makes her a part of the action. Cut to a shot of the statue flying jerkily over the city, then assorted extras looking up and screaming at the sight of a big green lady about to crush them flat. Of course, Superman saves the day and catches the statue in time, but Nuke sneaks up behind him while he’s fussing with proper pedestal placement and scratches our hero with his Lee’s Press-On Nails of Evil. Superman looks groggy but manages to put the statue back where it belongs before he collapses. Me, I would’ve just called up France and ordered a new one.

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36. So… the plan was to kill Superman with super-tetanus?
Uh oh. Nuke not done yet. He drop-kicks Superman into the troposphere and Superman’s cape flutters freely to the Earth to get ensnared on Liberty’s torch (they tried a shot where the cape lands on Liberty’s big toe, but it didn’t have the same emotional oomph). So… what just happened here? How exactly do those nuclear fingernails work? They’re strong enough to pierce Superman’s skin and then… what? There’s obviously more to the scratching than the breaking of skin, but what? Were they poison fingernails? Kryptonite-laced? And given all the super-villains Superman has faced in his career, who thought it would be really nifty to create a new one whose biggest weaknesses were darkness and manicures?

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