1987's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is the last official installment of the Superman movie series which started in 1978 with Superman: The Movie. Released four years after the poorly received (but reasonably profitable) Superman III, this film was an unmitigated flop, both critically and financially.The film's plot revolved around an Anvilicious anti-nuclear weapons message and a risible villain named "Nuclear Man" (no relation to DC Comics hero "Firestorm, the Nuclear Man"). When a young boy asks Superman to rid the world of said weapons, he finds making the decision a challenge but ultimately agrees to do so, and the world's governments approve. Unfortunately, Lex Luthor has escaped from prison with the help of his teen nephew Lenny. Lex becomes a black market arms dealer and takes advantage of Superman's disposal of weapons to create the hero's Evil Knockoff, Nuclear Man. Meanwhile at The Daily Planet, a media tycoon buys out the paper and turns it into little more than a tabloid, while his daughter Lacy Warfield takes an interest in Clark Kent.Superman IV was plagued by a severely reduced budget compared to previous films in the franchise (courtesy of new producer Cannon Films, which bought the franchise from the Salkinds), and it shows in copious amounts of Special Effects Failure throughout. The returns of Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder to the cast did nothing to save this movie. It's also notable as the shortest film in the series at barely an hour-and-a-half. Its running time was cut by the producers for its theatrical release, and while its DVD cut doesn't make it much better by most accounts, it's at least marginally more coherent. One extended action sequence cut from the theatrical release features the "prototype" of Nuclear Man, who closely resembles DC Comics' Bizarro character.
This film contains examples of:
Artistic License - Geology: a scene has Nuclear Man causing Mount Vesuvius to erupt, and Superman stopping the eruption by plugging the mouth of the volcano with a hunk of rock cut off from a nearby mountain. Doing so in reality would momentarily stop the eruption, but high-temperature gases would keep building up inside the magma chamber, increasing the pressure so much that the entire volcano would explode, causing way more damage than a natural eruption.
Artistic License - Physics: Superman IV would make a physicist hang himself; said physicist would never survive seeing a human woman breathing perfectly fine in space. (Perhaps she was Batman in disguise?)
One could make an argument that Nuclear Man's poorly defined abilities might include the ability to provide a breathable atmosphere, but this goes out the window when he goes unconscious and she's still fine in space.
Bullying a Dragon: When Nuclear Man arrives at Lex's penthouse, they argue a bit about who is the boss — the creation or the creator who knows his Weaksauce Weakness. Lenny butts in by telling Nuclear Man "Yeah, you're just an experiment, freako!" Insulted, Nuclear Man levitates Lenny and spins him in mid-air until Lex tells him to knock it off.
Bumbling Sidekick: Lenny Luthor. Lex never misses an opportunity to insult him for his lack of intelligence, noting that "I've always considered you the Dutch Elm disease in my family tree" in his first scene, for instance.
California Doubling: Present in all the movies, but particularly prevalent here. Most of Superman IV was filmed in England, and it shows. For example, the United Nations Headquarters scene was shot at the Milton Keynes Central Railway Station. (According to Christopher Reeve, they were originally intending to shoot the scene at the actual UN building in New York, but due to budget constraints, they ended up filming it in Milton Keynes.)
Crying Little Kid: A deleted scene has Nuclear Man create a tornado, only for a girl to get caught up in it, leaving Superman to rescue her. It's much, much, much more Narmy than it sounds. (The crying girl in question was apparently played by Christopher Reeve's daughter.)
Dead Foot Lead Foot: The subway. Not only is there no preventive measure for such a thing here, but the lack thereof makes Big Blue's speech about public transportation being the safest way to travel slightly comical.
Demoted to Extra: Not to the extent that she was in Superman III, but Lois Lane still spends much of the film sidelined in favor of Lacy. However, this time round she does at least have a few important bits, most notably where she gives Superman back his cape, which had wound up at the Daily Planet after Mr. Warfield tried to use it for a cheap headline after Superman's defeat.
Dumb Muscle: Nuclear Man; as Lex quietly quips to Supes when he introduces the two to each other, he's "Not one of your great thinkers!" He does get a little more clever by movie's end, asking Lex "What do you fear?" at one point, apparently out of curiosity.
Nuclear Man himself is something of an Expy to Bizarro. This is especially apparent in the original cut, where "Nuclear Man 1" is a very childlike buffoon who Does Not Know His Own Strength.
Fake Twin Gambit: Superman AND Clark Kent have a double date with Lois and Lacy. Of course he pulls it off.
Foreshadowing: Lois notes that Perry, as he leaves the Daily Planet offices after his ouster by Mr. Warfield, looks like "my dad when he went to the bank to ask for a loan." As it turns out, that's exactly what Perry's headed out to do, and it's what saves The Daily Planet. (He convinces the bank that the old-style Planet is something worth protecting, and the loan allows him to buy up outstanding shares of stock in it, rendering Warfield a minority stockholder who's unable to control it.)
Genetic Memory: Featured in the expanded cut: Nuclear Man is actually a clone of a previous Nuclear Man, and his knowledge of Superman and infatuation with Lacy are both inherited from the first.
Hammered into the Ground: At one point in the fight scene on the moon, Nuclear Man pounds Superman into the lunar soil, complete with sledgehammer sound effects.
Hulk Speak: Nuclear Man. "Destroy Superman!" is practically his catchphrase!
Hurl It into the Sun: Superman rounds up all the nuclear weapons on Earth and throws them into the sun. Unfortunately, Lex Luthor attaches a genetic matrix created from Superman's hair to the final nuclear missile. And when Superman throws it into the sun, the result is the creation of Nuclear Man, who Superman then has to fight.
In-Joke: "Visual Effects (U.S.) [by] Olsen, Lane & White."
Ironic Echo: Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", which Luthor was whistling at the prison quarry before his escape, was the same tune the other inmates were whistling it when Superman dropped him off at the end.
"No pain, no gain" at the gym (where Clark tries his hand at working out without using his powers).
Irony: Nuclear Man is solar powered. Yep, the guy whose very existence represents the horrors of nuclear war and the supposed dangers of nuclear energy is also the most eco-friendly supervillian ever created.
Also, there's the fact that Superman himself is solar powered. Admittedly, before this time his powers were mostly ascribed to being a Heavy Worlder. It was right around this time that John Byrne rebooted the character in the "Man Of Steel" miniseries, and Superman's cells absorbing solar radiation to fuel his abilities became the primary explanation for how his powers worked (and unlike Nuclear Man, Supes can actually hold a charge).
Laser-Guided Amnesia: A plot device introduced in Superman II becomes a bit more disturbing in this film. Superman comes awfully close to using this power as a date rape drug.
Plot Hole: How does Superman instantly know that Nuclear Man is referring to Lacy Warfield when Nuclear Man wants Superman to "take him to the woman"? Baffling in the theatrical cut of the film, it's only slightly less so in the extended cut. In that version, the first incarnation of Nuclear Man apparently fell in love with Lacy prior to his demise. Even then it's something of a leap in logic for Superman to deduce that the second Nuclear Man has all the memories of the first.
Or Superman was just trying to pretending to know to dissude the rampagining Nuclear Man who is a ranting about some woman. Superman does not know who he is talking about, and just says something like "Whoever you're looking for, she isn't here. Please stop rampaging over this."
Politically Motivated Teacher: Jeremy, the boy whose letter to Superman moves him to get rid of all the world's nukes, has a teacher somewhat like this. "I know you're all upset about the crisis..."
The Power of the Sun: The Nuclear Man has powers derived from the Sun, which apparently are "turned off" when not exposed to sunlight. The movie is incredibly inconsistent about the details of this.
Same Language Dub: Gene Hackman provided Nuclear Man's voice. Lampshaded in Luthor's first scene with him.
Skeleton Key Card: Lois uses a credit card to get into Clark's apartment to return the cape Superman lost in his battle with Nuclear Man.
Spoiled Sweet: Lacy Warfield. Despite the fact that her father is an enormous jerkass and gave her the job of Publisher through nepotism, she is a genuinely nice person who resents her father's treatment of the Daily Planet employees.
Two-Timer Date: Pulled when Clark has to go on a date with Lacy and give an interview to Lois as Superman at the same time. Hilarity Ensues as even Superman has trouble maintaining the charade despite having superspeed and all that. Made all the more annoying because Clark had outed himself to Lois as Superman twice in the film series, one of those times in this movie, but erased her memory for reasons inscrutable. The sequence, which calls for a deft, farcical touch, also gets the opposite from the director.
Voodoo Shark: Nuclear Man is born fully clothed due to Lex including a couple pieces of fabric in the missile that "weave" enough material for the job thanks to being thrown in the sun.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Jeremy and Lacy both vanish from the film without explanation; the former after Superman's speech to the UN, and the latter after Nuclear Man's defeat. Yet again, the scenes showing what happened to them hit the cutting room floor. Lacy is offered the chance to carry on at the Daily Planet by Clark, but decides to stay with her father and try to reform him. Jeremy, on the other hand gets taken on a flight by Superman... into space. Where the two have a conversation. The former scene's deletion is puzzling given it was only about 30 seconds long, but the latter one is probably more justifiable.
Wolverine Claws: Nuclear Man sports some nasty sharp bag-lady claws. And when Big Blue is scratched by them, he winds up with a case of radiation poisoning.
Writer on Board: Christopher Reeve was given creative control of the story, a thinly-veiled veneer for his anti-nuclear, anti-corporate media philosophies. In one particularly jarring scene, Superman saves the passengers aboard a runaway subway car, then gives a speech to a crowd of pedestrians about the benefits of mass transit.
Like much of Superman IV, it's a Call Back to Superman: The Movie, when Supes urges Lois that flying is still the safest way to travel. Again, there's a lack of fine touch, so instead of seeming like a boy scout, he seems like an idiot.