There are times where we, as a nation, ask ourselves the eternal question: Why? Why do studios make movies with ridiculous plots starring talentless hacks that will appeal to no one? I’m not sure I can think of a superhero more extraneous than Supergirl. I’m trying to imagine a place and time where releasing Supergirl as a movie seemed like a good idea. I THINK I can… Superman III was in the pipeline and all signs pointed to that being a blockbuster… but couldn’t they be making MORE money at the same time? I mean, why WAIT for another Superman movie to happen? So a mustache-twirling studio executive greenlit a movie all about Superman’s cousin, Kara. THE MOVIE EVERYONE HAD BEEN ASKING FOR.
Instead of giving Supergirl‘s plot any dignity by summarizing it, I think I should just get straight into the criticisms. Helen Slater was a virtual unknown going into this movie, much like Christopher Reeve, I suppose. At least I’m sure that’s the kind of talent they were hoping. But, see, Reeve was an actor. Slater was a model, and we all know how great models are at acting careers, right? (Smile, Milla!) It’s obvious from the first few minutes that Slater is not ready for primetime at all. Between lines her face is either frozen into whatever previous emotion she was “feeling” or she’s a complete blank slate. There’s not any gradients between emotions or anything like that. If she’s worried, she’s WORRIED. If she’s happy, she’s HAPPY. I mean, maybe Helen could get away with a lead role in some kind of community theater, but it’s pretty embarrassing to see acting on this level in a big time Hollywood picture. Instead of projecting the sort of simple, good-ol’-fashioned clean cut image like Christopher Reeve was able to, Slater’s Kara/Supergirl mostly comes off as just plain simple. Dim. I hesitate to use the term “retarded” after all this Tropic Thunder hullabaloo, but that’s exactly it. It doesn’t help that one of her first lines is, “What is a tree?” GAHHHH. Luckily she redeemed herself in the years to come by voicing the delicious Talia Al Ghul in Batman: The Animated Series.
Her mentor is Peter O’Toole. Peter “Lawrence of Arabia” O’-fuckin’-Toole. Even a movie as poorly made as this can’t get him down, though. He’s as terrific as the material will allow him to be. Which isn’t that much considering he’s some sort of futuristic fey fop who waves around a wand. Still, I wouldn’t mind having D-caliber O’Toole as my mentor. When I saw his name in the credits I thought it’d be like Marlon Brando and he’d get like five seconds of screen time and then disappear, but no, O’Toole has a significant presence in the movie and I’m surprised and pleased that he chose to be such a sport, even on something like this. Such a professional~~ Mia Farrow’s in this movie too, although for what purpose I couldn’t tell you since she’s moot after about five lines.
Faye Dunaway is the villainess and a lot of what’s stupid about this movie has to fall on her shoulders, unfortunately. You see, she plays Selena, an evil witch. Yeah, a witch… in the modern world. The movie takes this to mean that she lives in an abandoned carnival in a haunted house. (Is the Joker next door?!) She vaguely talks about magical powers but before she gets her mitts on the (sigh) Omegahedron, I don’t see her do bupkiss. Basically what makes her a villain is that she’s really vain and selfish. That’s about it. She doesn’t commit any crimes that don’t have something to do with making this stupid fucking landscaper fall in love with her. She has the power to take over the world and the first thing she tries to do is make a fucking love potion. I’m not sure why, but I’m upset that this movie doesn’t have a good villainous role model for women. Like, Lex Luthor gets to try to make billions off of shooting nukes into the San Andreas fault and Selena gets to… slip the gardener a roofie? I mean, EVENTUALLY she gets around to taking over the world the small town the movie takes place in, but show a little more ambition, villainesses. Faye Dunaway doesn’t really take advantage of the role to chew scenery, either, so she’s a pretty boring antagonist aside from the garish costumes and sets that make me wanna vomit. She also has the requisite fucking obnoxious henchman, well, henchwoman, played by Brenda Vacarro. Basically she’s just Selena’s slightly less attractive, loudmouthed roommate whose job is to restate what people have already said and to tell us about things that are happening on the screen. Like Uhura in Star Trek.
On her mission to retrieve the Omegahedron, Supergirl must disguise herself as a human student and holy shit does this open up a banquet of stupid creative decisions. First of all, why does Supergirl do this? We’re told that Argos City needs the Omegahedron for energy or they’ll die within days, yet here she is pussyfooting around playing schoolgirl? Fuck Supergirl, she’s a stupid bitch! And then there’s the people she meets there. Who does she happen to run into but Lucy Lane, Lois’ little sister. First of all, I refuse to believe those two are sisters since Margot Kidder is around 78 years old at that time. Secondly, she’s the biggest lesbian. I don’t care how many shirtless men she has hung up in her room or how much she fawns over Jimmy Olsen (yeah, he shows up for some goddamn reason), she plays for the other team. Just look at her. The screenshot speaks for itself. In fact the whole school part of the movie has some subtle lesbian undertones. Why???
But going back to Lucy Lane and Jimmy Olsen… WHY?!?! Why did this Supergirl movie need to wrap itself in a security blanket of Superman rejects? I mean, with all this magic crap it barely feels like it takes place in the same universe as Superman, let alone the same world. I mean, nothing about the actual connections Supergirl has with Superman makes any sense. She’s supposed to be Superman’s cousin, but she lives in Argos City which is apparently a crystal living under the sea if we’re supposed to go by the visuals. According to the dialogue, though, it exists in “inner space” (instead of outer space, apparently) and isn’t normally reachable from this dimension. How the fuck does THAT work? Having all this tenuous connection to the real Superman movies really sort of reminds you you’re watching a poor man’s Superman. And considering the quality of the rest, that’s quite a knock against it. Apparently Christopher Reeve and some others were planned to make an appearance in the movie as well, but all mysteriously backed out of the project at the last minute. Could it be that they could smell a turkey? If so, how does that explain Superman IV?
And oh man, I thought Superman II and III had lame KFC product placement. A few buckets of chicken and a logo in the corner of the screen are nothing compared to what Supergirl attempts. Now, I don’t know what the deal was, but there must have been SOMETHING going on between the prodcers and Popeye’s Chicken. Yes, that’s right, I said Popeye’s Chicken. Lucy tells Linda to meet her there and then she shows up with Jimmy blabbering about onion rings and then shit happens and Linda uses the restroom at Popeye’s to transform into Supergirl for the first time in public. It’s really obvious and embarrassing. At least a movie like Iron Man can make its product placements obvious AND entertaining.
The special effects, surprisingly enough, aren’t one of the embarrassments to this movie’s name. They’re pretty well done for mid-80s effects. A bit more polished most of the time than the other Superman movies. And the opening credits sequence must’ve been extremely impressive back in the day, and still looks pretty, as a matter of fact. $1 million well spent, credits guys. There’s a bit near the beginning of the movie where Supergirl gets to fly for the first time and it looks very natural, much moreso than the stupid pasting footage of her flying over previously filmed scenery. The lamest effect in the entire movie, however, has to be the demon that Selena summons to… uh… stretch Supergirl? I mean, it’s mostly hidden conveniently by fog, but even what you can see is fake as hell.
Supergirl has this odd sort of awkwardness about it that it inherited from the other Superman movies. It wants to be considered clever and amusing, but it has no idea what a joke even is. The comedy relief is pathetic and it seems to think pointing out things that the audience is already aware of is the height of humor. And then there’s the action. These early Superman movies already had lame, unimpressive action set pieces, but the longest, most intensive action scene in Supergirl is a yawn-inducing “rampage” through the town square by a runaway piece of construction equipment. That shit took a whole month to film?! There’s just this QUAINT quality to the whole production, like they were really thinking this film would knock people out of their seats and have them cheering in the aisles or whatever. But it’s the most mild-mannered action movie I’ve seen since… the other Superman movies, I suppose. But this is like if your great aunt was asked to make a Superman movie. It’s pretty feminine and has all the excitement of a good cup of tea.