Comic Book Movies 101: Superman IV

I don’t know if “WTF” was a term that existed back in 1987 in the capacity that it does today – but if it didn’t – at the tender age of 11 or 12 I may have invented it upon watching this. It wasn’t enough that my parents rip me away from my home up north to go live down south, but the quality of the films I was watching and growing up suddenly took a huge nosedive!

So yes – as much as I wanted to defend Superman III, I will happily let all concerned give this fourth outing the beating it deserves. I may even kick it when it is down. How in anyone’s mind do you cut a budget of what was once a high powered franchise?  Urgh!  No use in moaning about the circumstances now I guess. Batman may have been laughing a couple of years later, but his own franchise was doomed to follow the exact same path. Two strong first instalments, followed by a jokey third and then an embarrassment of a fourth film.

Now. Nuclear man. Nice mullet, shame about the costume, the crap effects and the terrible acting. How the hell did a guy like this, or even a character like this get to share the screen with the likes of Gene Hackman. Shit!  How the hell did Jon Cryer (still living off that Duckie role from Pretty in Pink clearly) get to share the screen with Hackman! And how the hell did Hackman agree to be in this!

It’s sad when a films best bits involve our hero switching between Superman and Clark Kent whilst on a sort of double date!

The series has seriously dumbed-down. Ok so Reeve wanted to address real world issues and sought to rid the world of nuclear weapons. But to be honest if a Superman like this existed we would have all probably done it ourselves perhaps. We certainly wouldn’t be at war with each other with a guy like that about. But ok, Reeves gets to make his point, but the metaphor goes too far in a film that had neither the talent nor the budget to sustain what it wanted to say.

You kill these franchises if you bring them too close to reality.  You can’t have a superhero actually go kill Hitler. It’s too obvious, and too mocking to the real life audience. As much as we want evil stamped on, you have to do it through the means that a comic book universe dictates to your audience. Don’t break the fourth wall and then give us what we want in real life as it won’t stand the test of time. Tarantino found a way to break that wall with Inglorious Basterds recently – but that film was a pastiche of genres and styles which winked at the audience that it was ok to be in on the joke. Reeve’s here is deadly serious about disarming the world. And while I admire the message – it just doesn’t work for Superman.

A shame then that they couldn’t haul out a few of the more famous bad guys from his comic history.  Apparently film-makers don’t know who Brainiac is. They always want to return to Lex Luthor.  Hell even the next film could only rustle up Luthor, and the reboot in production seems to be going for General Zod again.

So this nailed the coffin shut for a couple of decades. Superman would indeed return, but it would be a much more melancholy time. The journey he goes on from here is more melancholy, and the reality is that by then we would have lost the real life Superman in Christopher Reeve.

Steven Hurst

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