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Awfully Good: Supergirl

Before WONDER WOMAN, ELEKTRA, CATWOMAN and even BARB WIRE, there was this first cinematic superheroine…

 

Supergirl (1984)

 

Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Stars: Helen Slater, Faye Dunaway, Peter O'Toole

Superman's Kryptonian cousin travels to Earth to track down an important battery and gets caught up in a fight with a wicked witch.

Sandwiched between Awfully Good Hall of Famers SUPERMAN III and SUPERMAN IV, SUPERGIRL is cut from the same cloth as those equally endearing and embarrassing cheesefests of the 80s. What was supposed to be the launch of a new concurrent franchise, bolstered by an impressive roster of respectable supporting actors including Faye Dunaway, Peter O'Toole, and Mia Farrow, ended up being a critical and commercial disaster that scared off female-led superhero films for decades.


Supergirl sees what they did to her cousin in BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.

I'll give SUPERGIRL this much: the filmmakers weren't afraid to get weird with it. The plot is a messy mishmash of standard superhero fare, teenage college comedy, and supernatural drama featuring warring witches and warlocks. It makes for a bizarre final product where the title heroine can be fending off would-be rapists one second, playing lacrosse and engaging in locker room pranks the next, and then taking on shadow demons whenever time allows. Perhaps this all could've come together with a decent script, but that's the one thing this kitchen-sink movie definitely doesn't have. The screenplay by David Odell (MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE) has the big moments you'd expect in a Hollywood blockbuster, but it's missing all of the connective tissue that ties everything together.

(Granted, I haven't seen the Director's Cut that was released in the early 2000s, but I don't think an extra 15 minutes could fix this movie.)


"That's bona fide product placement, honey!"

The film starts as you would expect any superhero movie to start—with legendary thespian Peter O'Toole using his magic Kryptonian wand to create glittery trees and butterflies. (There's so much sparkly stuff here it almost feels like XANADU in space.) O'Toole is showing young Kara Zor-El how he uses a magic space battery called the Omegahedron to bring his creations to life, when a freak accident jettisons the life-giving power source out in to space, dooming everyone. Without thinking, or even saying goodbye to her parents, our hero Kara immediately abandons everyone to follow the Omegahedron to Earth.


Supergirl's original costume tested well with men 18-34.

It's almost possible to overlook all of SUPERGIRL's most glaring faults just on the basis of how genuine and great Helen Slater is as the title character. The actress totally gets the sense of wonder and fun the character needs, but is unfortunately trapped in the bad movie built around her. (Seriously, she's so good, she can almost pull off the line, "What's a dingleberry?") So much of Supergirl's story makes little sense. On the way to Earth, Kara's pod somehow gives her the same perfectly-tailored outfit as her cousin, and also imbues her with the power to change her clothes and hair color at will. Once she reaches our planet (emerging from a lake via an actual cardboard cutout), Kara gets no real introduction to Earth. She immediately discovers her superpowers and, instead of looking for the Omegahedron to save her species from dying again, makes the bizarre decision to…enroll in college (?!). Despite being confused as to what a tree is, Kara somehow understands how to use a typewriter to forge a proper letter of recommendation to trick the dean of admissions. Once accepted, she also happens to become roommates with Lois Lane's sister Lucy, is placed in a math class taught by a warlock, and sort of accidentally stumbles on to the film's villain.


This was the last time Linda agreed to have coffee at the Mansons' house.

Faye Dunaway is hilarious as Serena the Witch, but in a "laughing at you, not with you" kind of way. I hope the actress was paid well, because I can't imagine there was anything about the character that truly appealed to her. Serena is a wannabe sorceress living in an amusement park with her hetero life partner Bianca when the Omegahedron falls in to her lap. (Literally—it falls in to her queso dip during a picnic.) And once again, the movie never explains how she knows anything—she just picks up the intergalactic battery and immediately makes a big speech about what it is and what it can do. It's not explained by the magic battery can give her actual magic powers. Hell, maybe she majored in Alien Technology in college, because she even knows how the Phantom Zone works.


Like so many before her, Supergirl did not survive her encounter with the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.

It's also unclear as to what Serena's witchy powers are exactly. She can take control of people and objects, conjure up mountain ranges and confusing holograms of herself, and make coconuts fall out of the sky with pinpoint accuracy. But amusingly enough, she lays out a laughably sensible multi-week plan for overthrowing the U.S. government. What we do know is that Serena doesn't really have any legitimate motivation to hate Supergirl. She's not even aware of her existence for most of the movie until the two accidentally cross paths. And even then, Serena only gets mad at Supergirl because the guy she gave a love potion to falls for Kara instead. So when you think about it, this first female superhero movie is actually about two powerful women fighting a global battle over a guy. (We should also probably talk about how problematic it is that Kara's entire romantic interest/subplot solely exists because her boyfriend is under a spell, but that's a whole different article.)


Yes, that is Supergirl flying her unconscious boyfriend on a bumper car made of football players. Were you not expecting this in the film?

Supergirl and Serena the Middle Aged Witch clash in the film's second half in set pieces of varying levels of success. In one sequence, Serena remotely takes control of the some giant construction equipment, but Supergirl foils her plan by destroying the town's water supply and rescuing the hot guy, leaving an unconscious Lucy Lane in the rampaging machinery. In another equally asinine action scene, the witch conjures up an invisible creature for Supergirl to fight and it comes off exactly as you imagine—the filmmakers couldn't come up with a cool monster so they just left it blank. (In case you're wondering, Supergirl defeats the transparent beast by flying a lamp post in to a thunderstorm to collect the lightning and then zaps the creature to death.) Eventually Serena just gives up and sends Supergirl to the Phantom Zone and builds a giant mountain sky castle in the middle of the town and within a matter of minutes has become some sort of Nazi-like dictator that's overthrown the town. The best part is that within those few minutes, Lucy Lane has still managed to organize a student protest against the witch. (Sample sign: "G Dorm says no to Selena!")

And if you're curious where Superman is during all this, a news report states that the Man of Steel is conveniently "several hundred trillion light years away" on a secret mission. But don't worry: Lucy Lane's boyfriend Jimmy Olsen is available to make a cameo appearance and take unhelpful photographs while all the fighting is happening!


You're doing it wrong, Cheryl.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of SUPERGIRL is how small and pointless it all ends up being. Kara's story is confined to the small town and this small group of characters, instead of being a hero for the general public. No one except the villains, Lucy Lane and the generic love interest ever even sees Supergirl to know that she saved the world, let alone exists. And in the end, she returns home, leaving absolutely zero impact on Earth or its inhabitants. And that likely also includes you, the audience.

"What's a dingleberry?" and other winners.

Witness some of the film's silliest moments, from invisible monsters to awkward underwear moments.

A PG-rated all-girls locker room scene.


Up, up and away! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • It feels like the movie skipped ahead 10 pages in the script
  • Supergirl forgets she can simply fly away
  • There's a bad sound effect
  • Nigel bugs Selena
  • There's product placement
  • Something inanimate comes alive
  • Peter O'Toole says, "Squirt"

Double shot if:

  • Someone is reading a Marvel comic

 

Thanks to Brian for suggesting this week's movie!

 

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.

Extra Tidbit: Christopher Reeve was supposed to make a cameo appearance as Superman, but wisely pulled out. Instead, his photo is featured, which Kara emotionally reaches out to, as if begging him to be in the movie.
Source: JoBlo.com

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