100 Essential Superhero Movies – You Decide! Superman IV
Part of finishing off this list of 100 essential superhero movies is bringing in my audience, and so when I got down to the last 20 movies, I decided that I would let you decide. And what better way than to reach out to other movie critics and reviewers to let them argue the case for a superhero movie that they are a fan of and at the bottom of the post, there is a poll where you can vote whether or not you agree if it should be included in the 100 Essential Superhero Movies list. Today my guest is Will Kouf from Silver Emulsion Film Reviews who is taking a look at the fourth and final Superman film starring Christopher Reeve.
When Bubbawheat asked me to defend a film for its inclusion in his 100 Essential Superhero Movies, I could only think of one maligned movie to champion. Bubbawheat has already selected the first three Superman films and Supergirl, but to me Superman IV is absolutely essential superhero cinema, far outclassing the two previous films in the series: Superman III & Supergirl. But Superman IV has had a bad rap since day one, so any mention of it as essential is just likely to elicit laughs and shaking heads instead of actual consideration. Calling out such a universally hated movie is like trying to push a car up Mt. Everest, I know, but here’s why I think Superman IV would be a worthwhile inclusion in the Top 100 Superhero movies.
While I can’t argue that Superman IV is without budgetary issues or that it’s anything more than good ol’ campy fun, the film does its best to recapture the Richard Donner vibe from the original film. The tone of Superman made us all believe that a man could fly, effectively taking a rather ludicrous character and making us care and believe in him. Superman IV does not exactly replicate this sterling show of superhero cinema, but it does attempt to do so, something none of the sequels had done previously. OK, OK, Superman II had its moments, but those were all from what Donner had shot of the sequel. The new director, Richard Lester, thought Superman was more of a comedic character, thus giving us all the dumb moments in Superman II and the unbelievable slapstick of Superman III. But Superman IV reins those comedic ideals in and tries for a more serious story like the Donner original. The real problem is that this attempt was largely misunderstood by the general public because Superman IV is drowned in A LOT of B-Movie gravy.
Many, many people would call this a bad thing, but I am definitely on the other side of that argument. I grew up with a very healthy love of superheros, specifically Superman in my younger days before I discovered how much better Marvel Comics were. (TAKE THAT, DC!) Anyway, I read a lot of comics and I consumed a lot of Superman cartoons and films; I was about as obsessed as a seven-year-old kid could get. My point is that back in the ’80s, comics were largely for kids and many of them are essentially B-Movies on paper. Sure, there were the main seeds of modern adult-focused comics in the decade (Watchmen & The Dark Knight Returns), but for the most part comics were (and are!) some unbelievable, over-the-top, imagination-bending stuff. Exactly like the best B-Movies. While Richard Donner may have successfully merged the comic book style of fantasy storytelling with a down-to-earth, believable narrative, Superman IV instead flips this formula to embrace the child-focused fun of ’80s comics while still attempting to hold true to what Donner had created.
Despite its obvious low budget, Superman IV also strives very hard to provide as many memorable, fantastic set pieces for Superman to play within. Superman is a character that can do anything, so in order to show his power the circumstances he’s faced with must be HUGE. So Superman is tasked with disarming the world powers of nuclear missiles? He can’t simply cut a wire or seal the missile hatches or anything as mundane as that. No, he rounds them all up in a gigantic space net and hammer throws them into the Sun! In today’s age of CG FX, when audiences are completely jaded and unimpressed by almost anything, it’s easy to forget the simple joy of a scene like this. This applies to the entire film and its many B-Movie elements, and I feel like if people watched the film with an open mind looking for nothing more than fun entertainment, it would be a far more well-liked movie. That being said, anything at the far ends of the trash/art spectrum (such as B-Movies or arthouse films) is always going to appeal solely to a select group of people, so maybe I’m just blowing a bunch of hot air trying to explain why Superman IV is great.
For me at least, in terms of essential superhero movies Superman IV is one of the best to ever capture the childlike joy of reading comics that are equally imaginative & ridiculous. If you can’t enjoy it, I understand, but I wish you could see it through my eyes because it really is a very entertaining and worthwhile film.
Not only that, but there’s also the “epic” fight on the surface of the moon. It does have its campy elements and a young Jon Cryer, it also has the return of Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman, and a story partly written by Christopher Reeve himself. But that doesn’t make up for the awfully campy dialogue, the bizarre solar-powered villain whose weakness is a cloudy day, a rival love interest with no personality, and a scope far outreaching its budget. It does have a place in the list, not specifically for being a piece of nostalgia, but for being the last moment for Christopher Reeve to don the tights, even if it does fail in many other regards. Of course, the final decision is up to the readers, so be sure to vote in the poll below to determine whether or not this movie takes its place in the list of 100 Essential Superhero Movies. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.