• Comic author Kyle Higgins reflects on
    Superman IV
    and how Christopher Reeve wanted to explore more real-world themes.
  • Both Reeve and Zack Snyder’s takes on Superman were criticized for tackling real-world issues, blurring the line between protector and potential tyrant.
  • Reeve’s
    Superman IV
    faced backlash for focusing on nuclear disarmament, challenging the escapist appeal of the character against societal issues.

Superman actor Christopher Reeve once faced the same problem Zack Snyder did when making 2013’s Man of Steel. Considered by many to be the best live-action portrayal of DC’s beloved superhero, Reeve first assumed Superman’s iconic tights and cape for 1978’s Superman: The Movie. He would reprise the role three more times, culminating in 1987’s widely panned Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Since then, actors Brandon Routh and Henry Cavill would each go on to follow in Reeve’s footsteps in 2006’s Superman Returns and Snyder’s 2013 DCEU debut, Man of Steel. James Gunn’s Superman will follow suit with David Corenswet now inheriting the role.

During a recent panel at this year’s C2E2 in Chicago, comic author and former intern for director Richard Donner, Kyle Higgins, explained how Reeve’s plans for Superman IV faced the same philosophical dilemma that Snyder used as the basis for his own approach to the character. Recalling a conversation he had with screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz about Reeve’s intention to have Superman IV focus on nuclear disarmament, the writer explained that saddling Superman with real-world dilemmas destroyed the character’s escapist appeal and instead refocused the attention onto his role as a god among mortals. Check out his comments below:

Christopher Reeve agreed to do a fourth Superman movie that became The Quest For Peace, because Warner Bros. promised to greenlight a different movie that he wanted to do if he would come back and do one more Superman movie. So he said, ‘I’ll do it, but I want to have full creative control, and I want to get Donner and Mankiewicz back to do this. And for a hot second, they considered doing it. They ultimately passed. But Tom would tell me this story about going out to lunch with Christopher Reeve to give him some story thoughts, and it was really important to Christopher Reeve that the movie dive into nuclear disarmament, and what the movie became.

Tom made a really interesting point–I don’t fully agree with this, but for the era especially, I do. He said you can’t tell that story, because then what’s to stop an audience from thinking, ‘Why can’t he just fly all these bails of grain to feed all the kids in Africa? Why can’t he go solve this problem, this problem, this problem…’. When you ‘re reflecting the world outside your window too much, you lose the escapism. And it becomes something where the only story you can tell is, ‘What if there is a god or false prophet amongst us? How is that bad?’

Ultimately, it’s funny that thirty years later that’s all that Zack Snyder was interested in. That’s a take, you know, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that take, but it’s a specific take. It’s interesting to think back in the late ’70s and the early ’80s, even in a mass market, popular depiction of Superman… You know, I wouldn’t argue The Quest For Peace is a successful Superman movie. I applaud the swing. But these were conversations they were having even then about how much you can reflect the actual world.

Criticisms Of Reeve’s Superman 4 & Snyder’s Superman Story Explained

Both Superman Versions Tried To Tackle Sophisticated, Real-World Issues, Which Came With Criticism.

Whether it be Reeve’s Superman promising the United Nations he would destroy all nuclear weapons, or Cavill’s inserting himself into an active warzone to save Lois Lane by wading too far into complex human affairs, the delineation between benign protector and potential tyrant suddenly begins to blur.

While Reeve’s final outing as Superman is generally considered his most flawed, his interest in seeing Superman’s character refocus his efforts onto solving real-world problems is certainly not unique. Not only would Snyder attempt to build his version of the Last Son of Krypton on similar philosophical musings, but countless other writers would have him battling worldly issues tracing as far back as his earliest comic outings. From confronting racial inequities to seeking to abolish cycles of poverty, Superman’s adventures have seen him grapple with countless societal ills that humanity seems unwilling or unable to solve themselves.


Man Of Steel Ending & DCEU Superman Setup Explained

While the DCEU did not stand the test of time, Man of Steel’s climactic ending in 2013 adequately set up the future of the franchise via Superman.

Similar to what Snyder introduced in Man of Steel, before further building on in 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the question then becomes what right does a seemingly all-powerful being have to unilaterally impose their will on humankind, no matter how benevolent the intentions. Whether it be Reeve’s Superman promising the United Nations he would destroy all nuclear weapons, or Cavill’s inserting himself into an active warzone to save Lois Lane by wading too far into complex human affairs, the delineation between benign protector and potential tyrant suddenly begins to blur.

Both Suffered From A Central Philosophical Problem Concerning DC’s Hero

It’s Difficult To Showcase A Grounded Superman Given His Boy Scout Imagery.

Henry Cavill as Superman in costume standing in a town street in Man of Steel

From a storytelling perspective, this ground is both exceedingly fertile and full of potential pitfalls. While fans of Snyder’s take on the character may applaud his willingness to tackle themes that Superman IV failed to do justice, the challenge lies in presenting a Superman that is anything other than the clean-cut boy scout he is best known as. Whether justified or not, Superman’s enduring legacy is that of a shining beacon of hope, which is easy to maintain when he’s battling aliens and saving kittens from trees, but a lot harder when he’s imposing his godlike will on others.

Source: C2E2

  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

    Sidney J. Furie

    Release Date
    July 24, 1987

    Lawrence Konner , Mark Rosenthal

    Christopher Reeve , Gene Hackman , Jackie Cooper , Marc McClure , Jon Cryer , Margot Kidder

    90 minutes

  • Man of Steel Poster

    Man of Steel

    This new take on Superman’s origin story, Man of Steel, centers on young journalist Clark Kent/Kal-El, a being who came to Earth as a child from Krypton. Though he has trouble fitting in with his secret superpowers and questions his purpose in life, Clark is forced into action when fellow Kryptonian General Zod arrives on Earth hellbent on conquest. Clark is built by the values set upon him by his parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent, who adopted him as an otherworldly orphan, inadvertently raising him to become the hero humanity needs.

    Release Date
    June 14, 2013

    Kevin Costner , Laurence Fishburne , Richard Schiff , Amy Adams , Harry Lennix , Antje Traue , Michael Shannon , Henry Cavill , Christopher Meloni , Diane Lane , Russell Crowe

    143 minutes

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