Rating: 1 Star
The following review contains spoilers.
There are three major plots in this movie.
1. Everyone is worried about the nuclear arms race. A little boy writes Superman a letter asking him to fix it, and Superman decides to just take all of the weapons from every country and throw them into the sun.
2. A sleazy publisher has purchased the Daily Planet and is changing it into a sensationalist tabloid. Meanwhile, his daughter has the hots for Clark Kent.
3. Lex Luthor has escaped from prison with the help of his nephew, Lenny, and is using a sample of Superman’s hair to create a Nuclear Man who will be strong enough to defeat Superman in battle, earning Lex a paycheck from nuclear arms manufacturers who want Superman gone.
All of these plots are handled quite poorly.
The first scene in the movie, in which a Russian Cosmonaut is knocked loose from his shuttle while performing maintenance and is saved by Superman, is a very nice little moment.
Nuclear Man pounds Superman into the ground like a post, which is somewhat amusing.
“I just don’t think [Clark] would be attracted to somebody like you.”
“All men like me. I’m very, very rich.”
The idea of Superman deciding to remove nuclear weapons from the world is a good one, if handled with nuance and a focus on the question of freedom vs. security. Superman IV wouldn’t know nuance if it scratched it with radioactive fingernails. Superman walks into the U.N., tells everyone he’s going to take all their weapons away from them, and receives a standing ovation. What about the counties he’s disarming? Wouldn’t at least they have a problem with this? Instead, it’s taken as an unambiguously good idea. Then at the film’s conclusion Superman announces he’s not going to do this anymore, and will let countries make their own decisions about their defense, but hopes they’ll do the right thing and seek peace. Nothing prompts his change of heart, and everyone once again agrees he’s doing the right thing.
The idea of creating a problem just for Clark Kent, such as his newspaper being turned into a tabloid, is a good one, but Superman IV whiffs this plot as well. We spend much of the movie learning that the evil businessman’s daughter, Lacy, is actually a decent person, and over the course of the movie her affection for Clark Kent leads her to think the Daily Planet should remain a hard-hitting, truth-telling newspaper. And then Perry White shows up, says he received a bank loan to allow him to buy the Daily Planet back from the evil businessman, and he’ll be running things again. This is also another example, after Superman III, of creating a new love interest who prefers Clark Kent to Superman, in contrast with Lois Lane, and then leaving it with no resolution.
Lex Luthor stealing a sample of Superman’s DNA and using it to create a genetic copy under his control is a good one – it’s called Bizarro – but Nuclear Man is terrible. It’s unclear why shooting some goopy glop into the sun would spontaneously birth a super human being with costume and everything, and it’s also unclear why he wouldn’t look anything like Superman, despite being formed from his genetic material, but whatever. Also he has Gene Hackman’s voice. Anyway, when Nuclear Man arrives on Earth, he tells Luthor that he’s taking charge and Luthor will be following Nuclear Man from now on, and then that never comes up again and Luthor is completely in charge in their next scene. Nuclear Man and Superman fight, then Nuclear Man (I can’t believe I have to keep typing this name) flies away for no reason, and starts attacking world sites for no reason. Luckily Superman can repair the Great Wall of China just by looking at it and wishing it back together. Nuclear Man’s radioactive fingernails manage to scratch Superman’s neck, and Superman spends some time at home recuperating.
Meanwhile Nuclear Man sees a picture of Lacy on the front page of the Daily Planet and decides that he needs her in his life for some reason, so goes to the Daily Planet to look for her. Superman shows up for another fight, having figured out Nuclear Man’s only weakness: lack of direct sunlight. Yes this unstoppable super villain can be defeated by an especially shady tree. After Superman causes a solar eclipse by moving the moon (which is too silly to even be bothered by it), thus removing Nuclear Man’s powers, he locks Nuclear Man in some kind of tank at a nuclear power plant and that’s that.
If I said Otis was the worst possible Lex Luthor henchman, it was only because I didn’t know about nephew Lenny. Jon Cryer wearing Brian Setzer drag and talking like a cast member on The Californians is excruciating.
Remember when Superman decided to erase his girlfriend’s memory against her will just to make his life less complicated? It turns out that whenever he’s feeling sad he tells Lois his secret identity, takes her flying, and then erases her memory again. If you take a second to think about this, it’s pretty sick stuff. Superman’s treatment of Lois, if taken even slightly seriously, is a really disturbing violation.
“The Dude of Steel! You are so gonna get it!”