Supergirl (Special Edition; 1984) – Directed by Jeannot Swarcz – Starring Helen Slater, Faye Dunaway, Peter O’Toole, Hart Bochner, Mia Farrow, Brenda Vaccaro, Peter Cook, Marc McClure, Maureen Teefy, and Matt Frewer.
The most exciting thing that happens in SUPERGIRL involves Supergirl (Helen Slater) and Zaltar (Peter O’Toole) climbing up a rocky hill.
Instead of saying that SUPERGIRL is a completely dreadful movie, I will simply say that it is a product of its time and that’s a time I really don’t want to visit. A cousin (ha, I’m hilarious) to the Christopher Reeve Superman films, SUPERGIRL has the same tone, style, and feel as those films, and quality-wise it’s less than the first two and better than the final two. In case you haven’t heard my Superman rants, I’m a marginal fan of even the first two Reeves’ films, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a derivative version of those films wouldn’t do much for me.*
I simply find the mix of a soft-glow hero, realistic setting, and cartoonish villains rather noxious.
(*Author’s Note: When I wrote this review, it had been years since I’d watched the Superman films and while it is completely true that I was not a huge fan of them as a kid, I have come to really like the original movie and the Richard Donner Cut of Superman II.)
SUPERGIRL contains all of this to the nth degree. Kara Zor-El is a precocious teenager living in Argo City, a Kryptonian establishment inside a pocket of transdimensional mumbo-jumbo. We know she’s precocious because she wanders through an impressive stage set of white walkways and weird, vaguely tree-like objects. She interrupts a class room and apologizes with a cute smile to the teacher. She’s on her way to see Zaltar, who’s the city’s designer/architect/magic man. He’s borrowed an Omegahedron, which is responsible for the city’s power supply. He and Kara have a nice grandfather/granddaughter relationship; they’re both a bit impish and when Kara struggles with knowing her sixth dimensional geometry, Zaltar assures her to use her imagination instead as artistic people often have issues with math.
I believe this to be true because Peter O’Toole says it’s true.
Zaltar gives his magic design wand and the Omegahedron to Kara so she can invent a big rubber fly for use in a Doctor Who serial, and Kara ends up losing the Omegahedron (which is roughly the size of an orange) when her fly crashes through the window (I mean, the plastic wall of the city – it’s literally encased in plastic) and the Omegahedron gets sucked out through the window. Kara’s mom and dad (Mia Farrow and Simon Ward) freak out because this means the entire city will be plunged into darkness and die within days. Zaltar first says he’ll go after it and then, when Kara jumps in his space-bubble and goes after it instead, he commits himself to the Phantom Zone.
“You’re suffering will be short,” he tells them. “Mine … forever.”
Right. Think on that: the city is dying and Zaltar sacrifices himself by living forever instead of dying within 3 or 4 days.
Kara is off on the trail of the Omegahedron on a journey that will lead her out of inner space and into outer space; which is to say, Earth. The Omegahedron gets there first and falls into the possession of Selena (Faye Dunaway), a witch who wants to rule the world but is spending the day picnicking at a lake with Nigel (Peter Cook), her warlock instructor. Selena takes the Omegahedron and because she can use it to start her car, she leaves Nigel by the lake. Kara shows up next and appears on the banks of the lake in her Supergirl costume.
Which, to be perfectly honest, is the only real reason for me to watch this movie. Helen Slater’s Supergirl is ridiculously nice and ridiculously cute, and does what she can to save this rather silly, awful movie, but it’s not close to being enough.
Supergirl (she doesn’t call herself this) flies to the city, where she lands in the middle of the street. Two truck drivers decide they want to gang rape her, and one of the truck drivers is played by Matt Frewer, so if I ever meet Mr. Frewer, I want to ask him if his desire to rape Supergirl is the jerkiest thing he’s ever done on camera. The two would-be rapists don’t do anything more than pull up Supergirl’s skirt because she seems to understand perfectly that she can knock them around, which she does.
This scene represents the inanity of SUPERGIRL, and I’m guessing one’s willingness to go with the flow with a scene like this will go a long way to determining how much one can enjoy the movie. Think this through – two drivers stop their truck in the middle of a city street to harass a girl dressed in a Superman costume. When she picks up one guy by his chin and tosses him away, the other one asks, “Oh, she works out, huh?”
“Why are you doing this?” Kara asks innocently.
“It’s just the way we are,” Frewer says maniacally.
So Supergirl uses her super-breath and blows him backwards and through a wooden fence. Read that again. She blows him through a wooden fence. The other would-be rapist’s reaction is to pull out a switchblade (remember when criminals used switchblades? God the ’80s were an awful time) and growl, “You shouldn’t have done that, baby. Come on,” he says, urging her forward. Dude, she just breathed on a guy and blew him backwards through a freaking fence and you think, what, I can totally take her? The dude can’t even be bothered to drop his cigarette, so she uses her heat vision to warm up the switchblade and cause him to drop it. “Oh, I see,” he says, proving himself to be the dumbest truck driving, would-be rapist in film history, “you really want to play games, huh?”
So she kicks him a good ten feet away and flies off, and then the growly-voiced would-be rapist makes a joke about keeping it to themselves. Hilarious.
It gets better.
She ends up sleeping in the woods, which just so happens to be near a baseball field, which just so happens to be the baseball field of an all girls’ school, which just so happens to be the all-girls’ school where Lois Lane’s sister Lucy (Maureen Teefy) goes to school, and Kara/Supergirl uses her magic clothes-changing powers to dress up like a member of the school to enroll herself in classes (because … she hates school so much?), where she just so happens to be given Lucy Lane as a roommate. Oh, and Nigel, the warlock right hand man of Selena? Yeah, he just so happens to teach there.
From that moment on, there’s lots of Supergirl vs. Selena fighting stuff, usually involving Selena’s magic and Supergirl’s cuteness, and there’s a whole pointless subplot about a hunky gardener (Hart Bochner) who Selena tries to turn into her love slave, only things go wonky and he ends up as Linda Lee’s love slave instead. Linda Lee is Kara’s human identity – she got the “Lee” from a portrait of Robert E. Lee, which just so happens to be hanging in the headmaster’s office of an all-girls’ boarding school in freaking Midvale, Illinois, and she got the “Linda” part from … I don’t know where. I think she just pulled it out of thin air, but I might have been too busy rolling my eyes at the nonsensical script that I missed something.
There is a bit of a Buffy, Season 2 vibe to the back half of the movie as the scenes in Selena’s magic castle feel a bit like Buffy’s battles in that castle where Angelus, Spike, and Drusilla were hanging out.
There’s a trip to the Phantom Zone so Peter O’Toole can fulfill his required the part of his contract that asks him to overact like he’s doing Shakespeare at a regional theater to pay for a hit of smack, and it’s here that we get the best of Supergirl, as she gets angry with him and snaps at him and uses reverse psychology on him to have him help her get out of the Phantom Zone.
How does one get out of the Phantom Zone? One climbs up a steep hill with a tornado whirling beneath you. Yup. You can see why no one has ever tried to escape before.
If all of this seems fine to you, then you’ll probably get a kick out of SUPERGIRL. It’s not an offensively bad movie, it’s just a movie with a vibe I can’t stand. Like when Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure) shows up because he’s sweet on Lucy, and I swear he’s wearing the same clothes from the Superman films and he never takes his omnipresent camera off from around his neck. Seriously, dude, you traveled all the way to Midvale, Illinois to hit on your co-worker’s sister. Leave the camera at home. Jimmy helps to illustrate that these aren’t real people in SUPERGIRL; they’re simplistic cartoons come to life. SUPERGIRL is some kind of weird urban fantasy where good guys and bad guys exist in the contemporary present but act like they’re in a nostalgic version of the 1950s.
It’s just not a world I have any interest in.