Is it just me? or is Superman 4 more noble failure than outright dud?

In our regular polarising-opinion series, Total Film contributor George Bass asks, ‘Is it just me?… or is Superman IV more noble failure than outright dud?

Don’t shoot! Rightly accused of derailing the franchise, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987) is a hard film to love. The nonsensical storyline. The sub- Clangers special effects. But Reeve’s final flight in the bright-red undies contains the ingredients of a great comic movie – one that new series producers Cannon Films squeezed flat into a TV dinner.

Look carefully, though, and you’ll see the hate it gets today would be better aimed at lazier films without the good intentions. Compared with Richard Donner’s original, IV is at best rather poor, but it’s no Batman & Robin (1997) or Jaws: The Revenge (1987). It tries.

So what went wrong? Interviewed after the gag-crammed Superman III (1983), Reeve was at a loss about the character’s future. He’d fallen in love, lost his powers, dispatched Terence Stamp, turned evil and beat himself senseless in a scrapyard.

Cannon had a plan: if Reeve signed on to play Supes they’d greenlight any project he wanted (1987’s Street Smart – worth a look; it earned Morgan Freeman his first Oscar nod) and let the actor take charge of the story. This was 1985, the height of the Cold War. Reeve had a plan too.

Knowing he’d need a hook to bring back Margot Kidder (who only appeared briefly in Superman III ) and Gene Hackman (absent since 1980’s Superman II ), Reeve decided to have the hero rid the world of nuclear weapons. It was a move original director Richard Donner was dead against, claiming Superman should not be used as a solution to man’s problems.

Reeve, ever the good guy, pressed on, steering a storyline that had Superman almost die from radiation poisoning: the way this is presented in the theatrical cut, with Supes ‘scratched’ by Nuclear Man, it looks uncomfortably like a comment on AIDS.

Ah, Nuclear Man. The real snag with Superman IV . Days before shooting, Cannon slashed the budget by $20m, leaving director Sidney J. Furie ( The Ipcress File ) with some very un-special effects. The film is plagued by rushed-through action sequences, bluescreen work more obvious than A Clockwork Orange ’s car chases and a mulletted wrestler for a villain.

It also had 45 minutes of footage cut, severing any dramatic tension and cutting an entire baddie – Nuclear Man I, a Bizarro rip-off played by Casualty actor Clive Mantle – from the film. Production was shifted to Milton Keynes. Reeve soldiered on, determined to make a film that would please the fans, fill seats and bang the political superpowers’ heads together.

The end product was never going to soar. But amid the turkey entrails and fudged effects lie the noble heart of the Man Of Steel.

Less a misfire and more a bullet with anvils tied to it, IV has some great moments: an emotional Lois quietly admitting she’s always known Clark’s identity, Superman sacrificing his last Kryptonian crystal and tying himself to Earth forever.

It even got to see its own future: after Reeve’s final speech he flies Hackman to jail, quipping “See you in 20.” In 2006 (OK, 19 years later), Supes returned courtesy of Bryan Singer.

Never mind peace: let’s give Superman IV a chance. Or is it just me?

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