SUPERGIRL is the story of Superman’s younger cousin Kara (Helen Slater), who lives in Argo, a small commune of (I guess) Krypton refugees encased in a glass sculpture under the water or in another dimension or in space or something, I don’t think it’s explained but maybe you gotta read the comics. The “city” is powered by two magic Faberge egg type deals, one of which Kara’s adult friend Peter O’Toole “borrows” for the day to use in an art project. It’s portrayed as eccentric envelope-pushing, like a teacher standing on a desk or a magic nanny taking the kids onto the roof to watch dancing, but in fact it’s incredible irresponsible behavior that very well could cause the death of the already endangered Kryptonian race. It’s even more inexcusable when he leaves this crucial component of the survival of his entire people with a kid, Kara, who uses it to play God and give life to a giant dragonfly. As kids do.
The dragonfly flies around and tears a hole in the roof and the magic ball gets sucked out into inner space, dooming the entire city to suffocate and die slowly.
Oopsie! Peter O’Toole, that rascal! Oh well, what are you gonna do?
But don’t worry. Supergirl probly saves them at the end. I mean it doesn’t show that happening, but you figure that would happen, right? I don’t know, after the beginning when she needs to save them from all dying horrible deaths because her and her friend are stupid you kinda forget about that. But it definitely seems at the beginning like she’s leaving on a mission to save Argo. While her parents (Mia Farrow and Simon Ward) are giving O’Toole a mild ribbing about how they’re all gonna die because he wanted to make a dumb fuckin sculpture, Kara climbs into an interdimensional space ship ball and flies away, unable to suppress an “I’m going on an ADVENTURE!” smile even in the face of imminent Kryptonian extinction. She floats through Barbarellian psychedelic liquidscapes to the surface of the water on Earth, “where my cousin went,” and emerges from the sea with a Supergirl costume on. This is never explained or mentioned.
Like her cousin she finds that her Kryptonian genetics give her some cool shit to do on Earth. The scene where she learns how to fly is genuinely cool, she floats and flips and does sort of like a freestyle swimming routine in the air. It doesn’t look like green screen, I believe they actually had someone on wires outside but I didn’t notice any. It’s an impressive special effect and also just a nice way to show her delight at this newfound ability, and maybe a little of her girly personality to show how a supergirl differs from a superman.
Now, this was the ’80s, so street crime was at DEATH WISH levels. After her first flight over Chicago she lands in an alley and is immediately set upon by two redneck rapists (or “truck drivers” as the credits politely classify them) played by Matt Frewer and Bill McAllister. Of course, Supergirl uses super-blowing and other powers to knock these hilarious rape-bumblers on their asses. Ha ha, no raping today, you knuckleheads! Get back to work.
Frewer, by the way, is wearing an A&W t-shirt, McAllister an STP. Later there’s an A&W vending machine in the movie and an STP logo on a billboard or something. I’m sure the A&W product placement people were real happy when they saw that they were paying to have their delicious root beer associated with gang rape. “Attempted gang rape,” I imagine one of the producers clarified during the angry phone call.
The magic object Supergirl is looking for (turns out it’s called “the Omegahedron”) fell into the picnic pâté of a small time witch named Selena (Faye Dunaway) who hangs out with a prissy British guy named Nigel (Peter Cook) who you’d assume is her butler but he’s actually her warlock sugar daddy. Selena lives in an abandoned carnival spookhouse ride with another gal (Brenda Vaccaro). When she gets the Omegahedron she announces her intentions to rule the world, and starts by using it to hotwire Nigel’s car. Soon all the world’s cars will be hers! Or at least accessible to her without keys! HAHAHAHHAHA!
Unfortunately her plans don’t even get that far. She spends most of the movie trying to do a love spell on a hunky local groundskeeper played by Ellis himself, Hart Bochner. Then at the end she creates a mountain in the middle of town. What I’m trying to tell you is this movie is god damn boring and thank God I didn’t watch disc 2 on the Anchor Bay limited edition 2-disc set, which is 14 minutes longer.
(There are three cuts: US theatrical cut is 105 minutes, European cut is 124 and director’s cut is 138. I chose size medium.)
Maybe because of the attempted rape, Supergirl knows to hide her superness. She somehow morphs her costume into a private school uniform and her hair to brunette. I guess either Superman doesn’t know he can do that shit or Kryptonian women get a few extra talents from the yellow sun. If he had that ability #1 he wouldn’t have to worry about finding a private place to change all the time, and #2 his Clark Kent persona would probly have long blond Fabio hair, sometimes in a ponytail.
I wonder if it’s a sexist thing? They thought a Supergirl would take way longer getting ready than a Superman so they made it a super power to cut down on the phone booth time.
Anyway Kara goes into a school, renames herself Linda Lee (after Bruce Lee’s wife?) and fakes a letter of recommendation from Clark Kent that somehow convinces them she’s enrolled. Next thing you know she’s living in a dorm with Lois Lane’s sister Lucy (Maureen Teefy) pretending to be a typical earthling person from earth who would never be able to fly or use heat vision, I mean don’t be ridiculous.
Because it takes place in and around Chicago, not Metropolis, old Superman is not around, except in the form of a worshipful dorm room poster. (I guess Reeves was supposed to be in at but backed out at the last minute due to a scheduling problem. He wanted to go to Sea World or something.) And John Williams is not around to do the music, but you got Jerry Goldsmith. I mean, it’s a Superman side-movie. You got the connection to Lois and then Lucy’s friend Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure, same guy from the male super-series) comes to visit, so he’s the biggest link. I was hoping the computing teacher would be Richard Pryor’s cousin or something, but if so they forgot to mention it. But I mean they forgot to say how Kara knew all about her cousin and his secret identity and how Selena knew about The Phantom Zone. So it’s conceivable.
After seeing MAN OF STEEL I was thinking it was funny that not too long ago when I saw BUG was the first time I paid attention to Michael Shannon, and I didn’t even know I’d seen him in other movies, I just knew he had done the original play. And now he’s punching Superman. But if you think about it that’s no surprise, that’s really part of the modern comic book movie formula now, or part of the standard Hollywood trajectory. Think of all the actors in recent years who did an acclaimed or award nominated performance in a smaller movie and then 2-3 years later were a major character in a comic book movie:
Eric Bana, CHOPPER >>> HULK
Alfred Molina, FRIDA >>> SPIDER-MAN 2
Cillian Murphy, 28 DAYS LATER >>> BATMAN BEGINS
Ellen Page, HARD CANDY >>> X-MEN: THE LAST STAND
Thomas Haden Church, SIDEWAYS >>> SPIDER-MAN 3
Heath Ledger, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN >>> THE DARK KNIGHT
Jackie Earle Haley, LITTLE CHILDREN >>> WATCHMEN
Mickey Rourke, THE WRESTLER >>> IRON MAN 2
Josh Brolin, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN >>> JONAH HEX
James McAvoy, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND >>> X-MEN FIRST CLASS
Jennifer Lawrence, WINTER’S BONE >>> X-MEN FIRST CLASS
Jeremy Renner, THE HURT LOCKER >>> THE AVENGERS
Tom Hardy, BRONSON >>> THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
I’m not sure how to list Michael Fassbender. I never heard of him until INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, but he’d already been in 300. Anyway after all the attention from BASTERDS all the sudden he was in JONAH HEX and X-MEN FIRST CLASS.
But there’s another tradition of casting big time respectable A-listers in these movies. Of course that goes all the way back to the first SUPERMAN movie having Marlon Brando, through Jack Nicholson in BATMAN to Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner in MAN O’ STEEL. Somehow we still fall for it and get kinda surprised by it. “Wow, how did they get Anthony Hopkins to be in THOR?”
So I know it’s a long-standing tradition, but I still gotta be impressed that they got such big names for kind of a low rent spin-off like this. Hat’s off for them getting Dunaway and O’Toole in this thing. IMDb says Dolly Parton was the first choice for Selena, but she turned it down because of some Christianity anti-witchcraft thing. It also claims Jane Fonda and Goldie Hawn turned it down, that Dudley Moore turned down Zaltar and suggested Cook for Nigel, that Brooke Shields almost played Supergirl and that they considered Melanie Griffith.
I think Slater is pretty charming in the movie, she helped me get through it. So good for her. I can’t see Shields flying around, really. She was born to play Brenda Starr anyway.
I like watching this type of movie as a curiosity, but this is not a great one. It’s kinda cute at first but the lame villain and extreme lack of anything cool or interesting for her to do or even aspire to caused me to tune out pretty quick. And Supergirl only has one goal, to find this fucking magic ball, which she doesn’t seem to think about much anyway. It’s mostly about two girls fighting over a dumb boy.
To be fair there is a whole part where a tractor gets loose in a small town. Oh no, look out everybody! But otherwise fairly uneventful. I recommend this primarily for a once-every-ten-years-watch-part-of-it-if-it’s-on-cable type scenario.
If you’re wondering who the fuck makes a movie like this, director Jeannot Szwarc was the guy that did JAWS 2 and SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE, writer David Ordell did THE DARK CRYSTAL and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. So this is not a great pedigree. On the other hand, the cinematographer, Alan Hume, shot RETURN OF THE JEDI. I remember that was a good movie. I guess that’s all it is, SUPERGIRL just needs a compelling story and set of characters and an emotional arc and many exciting sequences and imaginative worlds and mythologies to explore, and Ewoks. Tractor optional.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.