The fourth instalment of the Superman film series was released in 1987 having been optioned by Canon films rather than Warner Brothers who had created the previous three films.
Lets talk about Cannon Films briefly first. Cannon was an independent film company which had made its name with low budget films such as Missing In Action, Death Wish, and Delta Force.
The film had begun as Cannon Films attempt to break into a major studio. However it was obvious early in the process of creating of Superman IV, that the budget of the film had been cut so heavily that there was little chance of it being a high quality film. It was directed by Sidney J. Furie (previously having directed amongst others, The IPCRESS File and the Iron Eagle films), and the screenplay by Lawrence Korner and Mark Rosenthal)
The opening credits instantly reveal the situation facing the film. They scream low budget even compared to the credits from the original film which had been made 9 years earlier.
The film had been championed by Christopher Reeve who had been so keen to try and bring the franchise back to the screen after the slapstick feel of the previous film. In part being drawn by the idea of making a statement around nuclear weapons in a time where so much world attention was on their dangers.
Whatever good that this film has, it is in effect stolen from previous films. Reeve as Superman, Hackman as Lex Luther, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane and the booming score, are all directly taken from the series’ origins. Both Hackman and Kidder had been noticeably absent (although Kidder had effectively a cameo) in the third film.
What the film adds, in the villain of Nuclear Man, Lex Luther’s nephew Lenny (played by Jon Cryer), and the new owners of the Daily Planet David and Lacy Warfield (Sam Wanamaker and Mariel Hemingway respectively), all add nothing to the series.
What we end up with though is a cheap looking, shoddy film. The plot is a mess and the villain belongs in WWE wrestling. In part based on a near 40 minute set of cuts from the script to the cinema release version.
The story itself sees Lex Luther once again attempting to take over the world and destroy Superman. Superman has decided to rid the world of nuclear arms, and collects all missiles and throws them into the sun to be destroyed. One of these missiles contains a package of genetic material that when combined with the force of the destroyed weapons, gives birth to Nuclear Man (played by Mark Pillow). The battle between Superman and Nuclear Man plays out against the backdrop of a fight for the future of the Daily Planet’s future.
The actual character of Nuclear Man sees a blond, teased haired character roaring as he fires cheap looking lightening bolts, from his shiny silver painted nails. For those that have seen Blazing Saddles, he is almost the comic villain of Mongo.
Its terribly sad that the desperate attempts (especially by Reeve) to bring the story to the screen were doomed from the start by a budget that, for a film revolving around special effects, was lethal to its chances.
All it offers is a film that clearly had something to say about nuclear weapons on Earth (with an attempt to resolve the question of ‘why would Superman not just get rid of weapons’ that would come up in stories on occasion) and of course the performances of Reeve, Kidder and Hackman that remind us of the earlier films and their merits rather than anything that this film brings.
It would bring a sad end to Reeve’s run as Superman and create a 19 year gap until the character would be re-booted.