"I take orders from the Octoboss."


tn_supergirlSUPERGIRL 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.

mp_supergirlLike 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
Thomas Haden Church, SIDEWAYS >>> SPIDER-MAN 3
Mickey Rourke, THE WRESTLER >>> IRON MAN 2
Jennifer Lawrence, WINTER’S BONE >>> X-MEN FIRST CLASS

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.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 20th, 2013 at 2:03 pm and is filed under Comic strips/Super heroes, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

40 Responses to “Supergirl”

  1. Even before reading the review I wondered which version you saw. All of the cuts are equally boring (yes I’ve seen them all but have no recollection of any) but feel fortunate (for all of us) that the original cut is lost. That would have been 2 1/2 hours of prime euthanasia material. I can only imagine the fights that resulted in four cuts of this material. Actually, I can’t imagine.

  2. I like how there’s a Popeye’s Chicken in the background, love that chicken!

    by the way, has anyone here ever actually seen LITTLE CHILDREN? I watched it out of curiosity over Jackie Earle Haley’s performance, I didn’t really expect a movie about upper middle class white people in suburbia having an affair to hold my interest, but it turned out to be a very good movie

    and Jackie Earle Haley is of course great in it, he manages to be creepy but also sympathetic at the same time

  3. A&W: the root beer for rapists

  4. The original Paul

    June 20th, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Y’know I’ve seen “Die Hard” at least twenty-three times now, and to this day I’ve never realised that Ellis was played by the guy who also played the douchebag politician in “Mask of the Phantasm”, or the douchebag professor in “Final Cut”? Boy, that guy gets unfortunately typecast.

    And yes, I have seen “Supergirl”. Actually quite enjoyed it when I was very, very young; but even then I wasn’t blind to its flaws. I don’t think Faye Dunaway is as bad as everyone says though. At least she camped it up somewhat. Admittedly she’s not as entertaining as the great Jeremy Irons in “Dungeons and Dragons”, but she’s not as cringingly bad as, say, James Caan in “Eraser” either.

    In other off-topic news that I’ll keep brief: apparently new Statham vehicle “Hummingbird”‘s international title is “Redemption”, which may explain why nobody here seems to have heard of it. Reviews haven’t been great so far though, and I don’t even know what the film’s certificate is yet. I quite liked “Safe” but to this day I don’t know why it was 12A (British version of your PG-13, Americans). Especially given some of the stuff in it (cold-blooded murder by a 13-year-old girl, among other things), WHY would you cut it to that certificate? I don’t get it. Anyway, I could do without another one of those.

  5. I remember THE DARK CRYSTAL being pretty damn good.

  6. Griff – LITTLE CHILDREN is excellent, and secretly funny. Heavy and tragic, but also aware of how ridiculous the characters act.

    And I’ve always looked at Michael Fassbender’s superhero progression as:

    Michael Fassbender, HUNGER >>> X-MEN FIRST CLASS

    INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is both excellent and between HUNGER and FIRST CLASS, but there’s a real connection between Fassbender as Bobby Sands and his casting as Magneto. At least when you watch them both for the first time back to back, as I did.

  7. Knox Harrington

    June 20th, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    The narration in Little Children is just brilliant. I think Todd Field (who also directed the excellent In The Bedroom and acted in Eyes Wide Shut) is one of the finest directors working today… except he’s not working. He hasn’t done anything in years. I really wish he’d direct more.

    He’s kinda like Terry Zwigoff (who directed Ghost World, Bad Santa and Art School Confidential) and Billy Ray (who directed Shattered Glass and Breach). All great directors who had me so excited about their careers 6-7 years ago, but who haven’t done anything since. I guess it’s tough getting stuff greenlit these days. At least Billy Ray is doing a lot of good writing.

    Oh, and something about Supergirl…

  8. Knox Harrington

    June 20th, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    I like how her skirt matches her cape. There.

  9. In the comics, Argo (Fuck Yourself) City was warned prior to the destruction of Krypton and built a protective bubble around the city. When Krypton explodes, Argo City stays intact on big chunk of planet (because comics) and floats around space for a while. In the movie they warp Argo City to a pocket dimension or something prior to Krypton blowing up. There was a scene explaining this in the original script, but it was cut.

    Even as a kid I thought this movie was bullshit. It seems like they focused too much on making “SUPERMAN for girls” (magic, romance etc) rather than making a movie that people might like to watch regardless of gender.

  10. MAN OF STEEL apparently has an easter egg(backed up by a tie-in comic) in it that hints that Supergirl might be part of the universe:

  11. Yes this was boring. For a time starting with SUPERMAN III and then up to Part IV, its like the movies subconciously were trying to out-wretch the other in how low they could go.

    Also I like how the character is desperate against a deadline to save her city, yet she takes the time to sign up for a school because….because…..I got nothing.

    Still there were two touches I liked. (1) Dunaway’s sidekick suggesting they file themselves as a religious cult with the IRS and become a lucrative tax haven was funny, and (2) that scene when our heroine humiliates the asshole professor and is warned afterwards by her schoolmate to hide how smart she was.

    Imagine if the movie had been as interesting and thoughtful as that moment? Instead of being….you know, SUPERGIRL.

    Also did think it was odd that back at Argo City, they all knew about not just Superman, but his alter ego? How would they know that?

    I did find it screwy that part of Dunaway’s doomsday plot is to drug that male lead and rape him. (I SHIT YOU NOT!)

  12. Stu – I really hope they do Supergirl for MOS 2. Not just the fact that we don’t have enough super women in these sort of comic book movies, but it also gives Superman somebody to relate to on a father/brother surrogate level.

    Plus Bruce Timm and his team understood that with her you could do things that you can’t with Supes. She can have a sense of humor, she can be cocky, she can be wreckless.

  13. I thought the MOS Superman already was reckless. Also The Dark Crystal is great and Masters of the Universe is stupid in a way I like so I see no problem with those credits.

  14. The New 52 Supergirl comics are actually very good. I pick them up for my daughter, but I really just get them for myself. As for the movie, it’s a mess, but I really love the scene where she’s learning to fly. It’s definitely a wonderful, quiet little scene and if the movie had two or three more of them, it could’ve been sorta forgiven. I do like the invisible monster scene just cuz it’s so goofy and I dig how girly most of the movie is (love potions, making butterflies with swizzle sticks, etc) but the last hour or so is pretty dreadful and Faye Dunaway is a terrible terrible villain (although to be fair, she was given nothing remotely feasible to work with).

  15. Oh yeah, this was a mess, but somehow I got to watch it at least half a dozen times in the 80s on HBO. When you’re seven years old anyone with an S on their chest could hold my attention. I actually liked the 4th one too, I think, although Nuclear Man scared the hell out of me.

    As for this, ugh. Slater’s actually pretty good, I agree, but her antagonists sound like MATCH GAME rejects and some of their lusting over that hunk was just cringeworthy. I want to say that the “learning to fly” scene, which might be the best in the movie, was cut from the HBO version, but I’m not positive about that.

    I don’t know anything about the comics but I imagine there’s a good movie inside this premise somewhere. She’s not as popular or powerful as her famous cousin, she’s a colonial bumpkin from the sticks, and being a woman on earth in general is just a hell of a lot harder than being a man. It’s a tough line to walk but somebody in Hollywood should be able to make it work.

  16. I must admit to having a huge crush on Helen Slater as Supergirl when I was a kid. For that reason alone, I can sit through this movie any time.

  17. Brit Marling for Supergirl

  18. This is one of these movies, that is constantly runnning on TV somewhere (a lot more often than the Superman movies!), but that I haven’t seen yet.

    Jeannot Szwarc also directed several episodes of SMALLVILLE.

  19. Supergirl was supposed to be Braniac’s adopted daughter and love interest in Ilya Salkind’s pitch for Superman III, but by that point Warner Bros was paying the bills and decided to go with Robert Vaughn as Luthor clone. Richard Pryor mentioned on The Tonight Show that he wanted to be in a Superman movie, so they reworked the III script for him.

  20. I meant Robert Vaughn as Luthor-lite.

  21. This movie is indeed a hunk of hell but I do really enjoy the scene where Supergirl first encounters the giant invisible monster and it is destroying shit in its path as it approaches her. That part is really cool. The rest stinks, though.

    The book “Superman vs Hollywood” is a must-read for anyone who likes Superman or anyone who likes a great behind the scenes look at the development of this kind of stuff. According to the book, of all the Salkind Superman-related movies, the production for Supergirl was by far the smoothest and most pleasurable to work on. And somehow its even worse than Superman IV. Astounding how that happens.

  22. I saw this a few years ago and don’t remember much except it was sorta fun in a cheesy way and the aforementioned Popeye’s plug was funny and also there was also a blatant plug for Malt Liquor, either Colt .45 or Schlitz. I’m pretty sure Faye Dunaway’s character drank it, and that may be the first and only time a rich white woman drinks malt liquor in a movie.

    On a side note, I really don’t get what the problem is with malt liquor. I mean, it tastes just like generic beer but it costs less. At what point did it suddenly get this strange racist/classist stigma where it was “ghetto” to drink it? (I guess sometime after Supergirl failed to take it into the mainstream??) I mean, Pabst Blue Ribbon of all things has somehow made a resurgence amongst hipsters where it’s cool to (ironically?) drink it, and that stuff is TERRIBLE. (The popularity of High Life amongst hipsters I can at least understand) I can pretty much guarantee anyone with working taste buds would choose Mickey’s Malt Liquor over PBR in a blind taste test anyday.

    I hope there really was a malt liquor plug in Supergirl and I didn’t just imagine that whole thing, otherwise I would be really off-topic.

  23. I remain committed to the notion that the concept of Supergirl is a silly one that dilutes the power of Superman being the sole survivor of his species to no good purpose, but damn if that ain’t a sexy costume. You put Amber Heard in that and I’ll watch GIRL OF STEEL.

  24. neal2zod – malt liquor is considered “ghetto” because it became the go to drink for homeless people. You get the most bang for your buck, because it has higher percentage of alcohol than regular beer, and they sell it in larger containers. During the homeless boom in the 1980s in America some companies actually advertised it toward homeless and unemployed people. Super classy.

  25. I thought cheap wine was to go to drink for bums? (hence “bum wine”)

  26. Without a doubt, the funniest review I’ve read in a while, you had me consistently cracking up, but then again, this movie is just so easy to make fun of, it’s constantly hilarious!

    How about these guys saving money by having an invisible monster destroying the city? Ha ha ha …

    All Superman movies have this product placement thing going on…they got Popeyes Fried Chicken on this one, and on the new one it’s all about having God fights inside of an IHOP and in front of SEARS smallville branch!

  27. By the way, I hear there’s rumors of a Supergirl movie because in the new film when Superman enters that Kryptonian spaceship they find in the ice, he finds a dead kryptonian body, but in the background, you can see a pod open and empty….could Supergirl have gotten away?

  28. Yeah, fortified wine and malt liquor are the 2 that are popular with homeless people because it’s cheap and has high alcohol content. That’s where the term wino comes from, too.

  29. Louis Gossett Jr in The Punisher… Oscar winner in that one.

    John Travolta in The Punisher

    Tommy Lee Jones in Captain America

    Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider to name a few more.

  30. I don’t think any of those count for what Vern was talking about. He was talking about people who were rewarded for a breakthrough performance in an independent or at least smaller-scaled film with a role in a superhero movie. All those people had been household names long before they got cast in those comic book movies.

  31. Maggie – wow, I guess I never thought of the meaning of the word wino, but that makes sense! (Also funny since wine is mostly synonymous with snobby pretentious people as well) I can understand the stigma of bum wine because it tastes like death (Boone’s Farm excluded) and you’re all but guaranteed to have a splitting headache the next day, but malt liquor for the most part basically tastes the same as beer. I guess what I’m getting at is it’s weird that other parts of bohemian/down-and-out culture (thrift shops, thrift shop-looking Urban Outfitters clothes, “street food”/food trucks, the aforementioned PBR) are fetishized by people and flashed like a badge of honor, but malt liquor seems to be the one line in the sand people don’t cross, and I’m wondering how much race has to do with it.

    I think Vern’s list of indie actors making it big in comic-book movies is fascinating and exciting, especially when you also think about the left-field choices for directors these comic book movies are getting – Kenneth Branagh, Shane Black, James Mangold, those guys who are directing Thor 2, even Joss Whedon, (who only had one movie under his belt), were strange and risky choices that you have to give the studios credit for making. And no matter what you think of their respective movies, the fact that Marc Webb went straight from 500 Days of Summer to helming a summer tentpole like Amazing Spider-Man, or Gavin Hood got Wolverine from directing Tsotsi, is a pretty incredible thing. (I kinda wish these movies were all better, but that’s a complaint for another day)

  32. “and I’m wondering how much race has to do with it.”

    buddy, that’s EXACTLY why no white people drink it, like it or not malt liquor is seen as “for black people” anyone white drinking it is instantly going to be accused of “acting black”

    is that stupid? like all stereotypes, of course it is, but that’s just the way it goes, blame the marketers who intentionally marketed it specifically to black people (Billy Dee Williams and stuff)

  33. I don’t drink forties because it’s pretty gross to drink a beer that’s so big it’s going to be warm and flat before you get 3/4 through it. White, black, green or purple, if you can afford to drink beer that comes in separate bottles, you probably should do so.

  34. Well I guess when you write out the plot of this movie on paper it seems pretty silly, but none of that ever occurred to me. I was ok with the Supergirl costume appearing out of the water, the brunette transformation, and it never bothered me that she had other adventures while her people were dying. Maybe to 8-year-old Fred SUPERGIRL was like a Jodorowsky fever dream of comic book cinema.

    Still doesn’t bother me that she’s fighting a witch with the hits for Ellis and I know I’ve seen the long cut and didn’t find it boring. The invisible monster, the carnival battle, the tractor, lots of stuff happened. I guess I just love the ’80s where shit just happened because it was awesome and they didn’t have to explain it all seriouslike.

  35. I’ve known plenty of white people that drink 40s, but it’s more of a guy-goes-home-and-drinks-one-every-day-after-work type deal than a social thing like the youths drinking PBR or Olympia now. I agree with Majestyk, it’s not racism or anti Billy Dee Williams sentiment, it’s just an inconvenient size for drinking unless on a stoop or a couch.

  36. Oddly, stereotypically stuffy British film critic Leslie Halliwell defended this film, and gave it a fairly good review in his guide book, saying that it “entertains for much of the time in a WIZARD OF OZ fashion”.

    That is all I have to say about this film I’m afraid

  37. 40s of Mickeys were a go to drink for my roommate and I in college, and we were two white boys at private school. I guess it was sort of a 90s pre-hipster thing. If we were younger, maybe it would’ve been PBR.

  38. Saw this at the cinema when it came out. Even as a kid you can tell when something is wrong, or when a sub-standard film is riding the coat-tails of the real mccoy.

    I struggle to remember most of it, apartfrom the superman poster on the wall and Peter O’Toole getting sucked away into the phantom zone’s glowing space tornado. Scared me at the time, probably laughable now.

  39. The director also made a film called Bug before turning his attention to immigrants from Krypton. Different kind of bug to yhe ones in the Shannon film though.

  40. I found it funny how the movie made a big deal about Mia Farrow in the cast, but she’s in it for like one close-up. Marlon Brando in the first Superman film had a bigger role.

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