Nuclear Man. Those words send shivers down the spine of any movie fan. Not since the appearance of Mr T in Rocky III has a muscled villain been so misjudged. Voiced by Gene Hackman and played by the square-jawed Mark Pillow from none other than my hometown of Leeds, Nuclear Man is quite possibly the worst villain ever dreamt up by Hollywood.
Everything about Nuclear Man looks cheap. The blonde locks are pure 80s, the outfit like something out of The Running Man, and the very idea of Supes being handed such pathetic opposition, considering the wealth of villainous talent to choose from in the DC back catalogue, is nothing short of a travesty. Unfortunately, so poor is Nuclear Man that his inclusion in the movie dominates to such an extent that it detracts from the rest of the film.
At its core, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is all about the threat of nuclear arms, an obvious theme, particularly at the time, although the fight for Superman’s love among Lois Lane and Lacy Warfield also lies at the heart of the matter here.
This fourth instalment was a tricky proposition, as the third film hadn’t been particularly well received by critics and the box office was also down. Naturally, expectations for this follow-up were hopeful, yet it failed to grasp audiences’ attention, grossing the least of all of the movies in the series.
Perhaps Reeve’s age was a factor. Perhaps the world had simply grown bored with a series that had increasingly opted for comedy over drama. Whatever the reason, The Quest For Peace would prove a critical and box office failure and it would be 19 years until we would see Superman Returns hit the big screen.
But, is there actually anything to enjoy about this fourth Superman film? Reeve’s performance is certainly as strong as ever, in my view, and while Gene Hackman rather phones in his own performance, it’s great to see him back on screen. There’s a lot of fun in seeing the others actors who signed up for the film, including Two And A Half Men‘s Jon Cryer, and Jim Broadbent, no less, as nuclear warhead dealer, Jean Pierre Dubois.
There are some decent action sequences too, once you ignore the ropey effects. Saving Metropolis from the Statue of Liberty is a highlight, as is the first fight between Nuclear Man and Superman. In truth, though, fun scenes are few and far between and the running length of the film, at just 90 minutes, is about right, given how slight the movie is as a whole.Superman IV: The Quest For Peace will rightfully be remembered by audiences as the one in which the wheels fell off and, sadly, Reeve’s final outing as Kal-El. A sad way for his relationship with the franchise to end, really, and it’s a shame, as his performance deserved so much more.
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