ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Supergirl’ (1984), Part Two
As we continue our in-depth look at super-hero movies, Chris Sims and David Uzumeri take on the Superman film franchise.
Chris Sims: Welcome back to ComicsAlliance’s in-depth review of Supergirl, everyone! David and I have been working on these reviews for quite a while, but I don’t think we’ve ever been quite so mystified as we are by this, and in the second half, it gets even stranger.
David Uzumeri: When we left off, Ethan had just been rescued by a killdozer by Supergirl, and subsequently fallen in love with the first woman he saw after waking up — her alter ego Linda Lee. It’s worth pointing out that the fact that a love potion is why he fell in love with her is never addressed for the remainder of the film.Chris: And it seems especially bizarre since they talked about it so much when Selena was first cooking it up. They even go so far as to have this bizarre no-actual-person-would-get-this-specific conversation about how it only lasts 24 hours, but I guess the reasoning here is that they wanted to make sure nobody thought that it was all love potion rather than Kara’s blonde hotness and/or wholesome charm. Still, just never bringing it up again is a bizarre choice, as is the fact that the love potion apparently makes a dude who was talking like a cartoon gangster and downing tallboys of Schlitz malt liquor at 10 AM start writing sonnets in Elizabethan English.
David: Selena’s response to this infraction on her libido, of course, is to summon an invisible monster, because the Salkinds ran out of money for real monsters what with the big proto-CGI demon beast at the end. This invisible monster attacks Kara at her home, where she’s dressed as Linda (while Lucy Lane is absent, presumably getting her bang on with cross-state child predator Jimmy Olsen) and making out with herself in a mirror, making me wonder if she got a taste of Ethan’s love potion from the earlier kiss and is now an incurable narcissist.
Chris: This struck me as the single weirdest part of the movie, and in this movie, that’s saying something.
Chris: So weird, in fact, that I actually called up a friend of mine, Jen Vaughn, to talk about it right after I watched it, and to my surprise, she was completely unfazed. She told me that — in her experience, at least — this is a totally common thing for teenage girls to get up to in their spare time, so they can see what they look like when they’re making out. Even so, it still seems like a pretty odd scene to throw into your Supergirl movie when it lasts a full two minutes.
David: So she flies out of the window to attack the invisible monster, which leads to a series of special effects involving cars crushing, fences breaking, etc. for no particular reason that I have to imagine may have cost more to simulate than just a dude in a rubber costume. Since, frankly, a rubber costume is perfectly in keeping with the overall quality of this movie’s writing and direction.
Chris: A lot of it just comes down to strapping Helen Slater into a harness and swinging her around the set, though. That’s way cheaper than actually having a monster.
David: Supergirl somehow beats this by picking up a lamppost, flying it into the sky, having it ignited by electricity and sending lightning bolts from it to kill the invisible monster… yeah.
Chris: I’m not gonna lie, as stupid as it is that the lamppost can store a lightning bolt and then blast it out at the monster whenever Kara decides to start fighting, it’s actually a pretty charming brand of stupidity. Like, this would make absolute perfect sense in a video game.
David: Later that night, frustrated by her loss, Selena opens the Omegahedron’s box, which sends a signal to Kara’s Omegahedron-locator bracelet in her dorm room. She follows the signal like a hot-and-cold game, leading her to the amusement park, where Ethan meets her with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses, because he’s waiting in an abandoned amusement park for his high-school-age sweetheart. This is how this guy rolls.
Chris: Are you starting to get the feeling that Ethan was maybe legally required to go around and introduce himself to the neighborhood when he moved that close to a school? Because I am.
David: Selena puts them in a merry-go-round and has it go at superspeed, and after it ends, Ethan’s still there and Linda’s gone — because she’s turned into Supergirl!
Chris: The best part is that, at this point, neither Ethan nor Selena have even begun to suspect that Linda and Supergirl are the same person. At least Lois was a little suspicious.
David: Supergirl takes Ethan and escapes off to a random river somewhere over a city, pretty much stranding Ethan, but just as Ethan realizes (after a kiss) who Supergirl is, Selena has (at Bianca’s suggestion and after a failed attempt at getting rid of Ethan with a magical falling coconut) reached out to Nigel, who visits with a “Burundi wand” which is “pure, unadultrated evil” that, in conjunction with Selena’s Omegahedron, allows them to teleport Ethan from Supergirl’s embrace to being on their bed in chains.
Chris: The Omegahedron/Burundi Wand combination also gives Selena the ability to throw coconuts at people from miles away (another video game moment that somehow predates most video games), which leads to one dropping directly onto Ethan’s head from about a hundred feet up, an act that definitely should’ve killed him. Maybe he just gets severe brain damage, which is why he surprises himself with the realization that Supergirl can fly “just like Superman!” even though she is literally wearing a woman’s version of Superman’s costume.
David: Selena then then (off-screen) builds a gigantic mansion and castle to replace their sweet haunted house supervillain lair. Then Selena pretends to seduce Nigel and makes him look crappy and ragged and then disappear.
Chris: Don’t forget that she builds that castle on top of a mountain that she creates right there in downtown Midvale. And when Supergirl flies back to confront her — which, to be honest, is more over the Kidnapped New Boyfriend thing than breaking the zoning restrictions against magic mountains. Once she’s in there, though, the movie decides that the Burundihedron is also a Phantom Zone Projector! How convenient!
David: Because magic powers give you access to the dimension discovered by Superman’s father Jor-E. After somehow imprisoning Kara in a Superman I/II-style floating glass mirror thing, this Phantom Zone glass portal thing somehow crashlands in a place called the Phantom Zone — even though Zod, Ursa and Non’s prison stayed around for long enough that Superman can blow it up with a nuke rather than taking it to another dimension. There she walks around in a backlot cave set with some fake clouds and then falls into a random oil pit.
Chris: As much as it doesn’t line up with the other movies (or the comics), I actually like Supergirl‘s idea of the Phantom Zone way more than Donner’s version. I like that it’s actually a place rather than just a Polaroid that spins through until it’s convenient for the plot for it to show back up. And to be fair, the aesthetic of it, this grim, horrible place with howling winds where you go and just wait to die is a nice contrast to the space-hippies of Argo City.
David: Back on Earth, Selena declares herself Princess of the World with Ethan as her escort, and they’re rolling through town on some kind of parade when Lucy Lane, Jimmy Olsen and company somehow initiate Occupy Random Small Town, which gets them disappeared by Selena’s magic powers.
Chris: The idea of the protest is actually pretty cool, since it gives Lucy Lane some backbone and shows that she’s actually worried about Linda. Like, the whole thing is organized because Lucy thinks Selena’s done something to her friend and she’s not going to let it go, and that’s pretty cool. But unfortunately, it’s just not great in practice, and once again, Jimmy Olsen gets completely chucked under the bus in terms of character. He doesn’t even wait for Selena to even respond before he starts telling Lucy that it’s a good idea to just go ahead and bow to her new overlord.
David: In the Phantom Zone, Kara meets up with good old Zaltar, who’s been banished to the Phantom Zone for losing the Omegahedron. Because when your entire space city is out of power, you want to get rid of the one supergenius who helped you build it just because he made a random f***-up.
Chris: I love that it’s been, like, a week tops since he was exiled, and Zaltar has just immediately fallen into complete and utter debasement, talking to himself and sucking on a spray bottle full of the Kryptonian equivalent of toilet wine.
David: Zaltar nurses Kara to health with his “squirt” bottle that he claims “tastes good” once you get used to it (I leave the subtext up to our readers), while encouraging Kara NOT to go to the sciencebabble tunnel between the Phantom Zone and Earth that’s somehow opened up by the Omegahedron. Of course, this only encourages her to go, and soon they’re traveling across the rift dodging Selena-sent fireballs and, eventually, the “death storm,” which causes Zaltar to fall into the rift while Supergirl makes it through to fight Selena.
Chris: The idea that there actually is a way out of the Phantom Zone is another one of those moments where the rules suddenly change in this movie — which happen about once every five minutes — and it makes everything about this place make absolutely no sense. Like, if your choices are stay in the Phantom Zone and just suffer this maddening existence for eternity or take this chance and maybe get out, why would anyone stay there? Is that why Zaltar is alone with his “squirt?”
David: at the castle, Selena summons Lucy, the incredibly blasé Jimmy Olsen who looks like he’s done this every weekend for years, and poor, cuckolded Nigel from whatever void of disappearance she went into.
Chris: This scene has a legitimately great line, when Nigel’s rolling his eyes at how hack Selena’s plan is, and then Jimmy asks who the hell this dude is and Lucy goes “He’s my math teacher.”
David: We’ve reached the inevitable climax, so now that Supergirl’s traveled from a portal to the Phantom Zone through Selena’s mirror (I guess due to the Omegahedron).
David: It’s time for her to confront Selena, who summons the “Power of Shadow,” the sum total of all the smoky monster effects they couldn’t blow on the previous invisible monster. It picks up Supergirl and starts trying to twist and tear her apart with his hands by stretching her film footage until Zaltar’s voice points out that she can just use her superstrength to get out.
Chris: There’s a lot of this part that’s trying so hard to be Star Wars. I mean, when you get right down to it, Kara’s really a lot like Naive Farmboy Luke Skywalker, except that the script never gives her a chance to actually have a big emotional moment or make out with her sister.
David: Nigel points out that only by turning Selena on the Power of Shadow (apparently using a supercyclone) can she get rid of Selena, who’s murdered by her own magic power.
Chris: Supergirl sure does need a lot of reminders from old British dudes.
David: Selena, the demon, and Bianca all go to the Phantom Zone, leaving this world altogether and removing the mountain and magic castle that remained the s***y amusement park they used to call a supervillain hideout. Jimmy gets his make-out with a girl almost definitely half his damn age while Ethan gives the Omegahedron back to Supergirl, now totally okay with Linda being Supergirl and her having to go home and leave him forever, and Supergirl flies down through the lake she came from, leaving us with… the credits.
Chris: It’s almost like they knew beforehand that they weren’t getting a sequel out of this thing.
David: Peter O’Toole’s Zaltar is kind of enjoyably eccentric and insane, especially since I still don’t know quite what his motivations were — did he mean for all of this to happen? I don’t know if he’s supposed to be a wise scientist or a miscreant rogue.
Chris: O’Toole seems like that strange combination of someone who’s very clearly doing it for the paycheck, but is talented enough that his show-up-and-say-lines effort is still pretty fantastic. At the very least, he seems like he’s having a good time with it, and I would not be surprised if that bottle was not filled with actual whiskey. Also, I love Selena’s abandoned carnival apartment.
David: Faye Dunaway did the best with a ridiculous script.
Chris: I didn’t care for Dunaway’s performance, but Helen Slater’s actually not bad either. She’s in that same weird place that Kristen Stewart is in Twilight, where the character she’s playing is supposed to be wide-eyed and naive, so it’s hard to tell whether she’s a bad actress or just playing up to that role. But there are scenes where she actually breaks through and does some good work.
David: And as for the script — it’s kind of lovably Silver Age, in its own way. Supergirl sneaks into a girls’ school and makes friends with Lois’s sister while foiling the plans of a random witch who wants to steal Argo City’s power source? All this is missing is Comet the Super-Horse. And also, this is Marc McClure’s finest moment as Jimmy so far, since he just seems like a totally different character from his Superman movie appearances — and not only that, but this just seems like a standard weekend to him. “Evil witch? Superman’s cousin? Making out with a teenager who’s my coworker’s sister? Sounds like a plan!”
David: God, everything else. The script makes no sense, and the relationship between Selena’s magic and Argo City’s superscience is never explained.
Chris: I completely disagree about the plot. Those kind of Silver Agey elements are there, but the execution is a mess. We both liked the way Superman III worked out because it mostly followed its own internal logic, but with Supergirl, nothing makes sense from one thing to the next. Stuff like adding in the Burundi Wand to make the Omegahedron more powerful (or maybe just more evil?) and then Argo City is underneath a lake and there’s a love potion but it doesn’t matter because he’s in love with her anyway except when he’s not and so on, and so on. It’s like listening to a five year-old tell a story, and while that can be great — Selena living in a spooky carnival is straight up Axe Cop briliance — it gets pretty tiresome. Hell, we don’t even get a resolution to the actual main plot! What the hell happened to Argo City? We just see her jumping back into the lake and we cut to the credits.
David: The special effects — or lack thereof — are very noticeable, but I have to give the Salkinds credit for doing the best with what they had. It was a low budget, and they clearly dealt with the script to accommodate that, especially in the case of the invisible monster and the possessed bulldozer.
Chris: But again, they were making a movie about a girl who could fly around, so maybe they should’ve figured out how to do that without making Helen Slater stand awkwardly all the time to try to hide the fact hat she was wearing a harness.
David: Actually, I liked this movie way more than I should.
David: This move is insane. The first half is super-boring, especially with the overload of entirely gratutious flying scenes, but the second half is just balls-out bugf****. Supergirl’s fighting a witch, and a mountain appears of nowhere, and the Phantom Zone is an actual place with people and disgraced Kryptonian superscientists… invisible monsters and possessed bulldozers…. This movie is bad, make no mistake. But it’s never boring.
Chris: I think you could build a really fun Supergirl movie out of the broad strokes of this one — the witch, Argo City in danger, trying to fit in at school as a normal girl — but this isn’t that movie. It’s trying to do too much, and it’s way too sloppy to work. Nothing really connects.
Chris: So that does it for Supergirl, but we’ll be back next week to continue the series with the final Superman film of the Christopher Reeve era — and the only one I actually remember from my childhood — Superman IV: The Quest For Peace!
ComicsAlliance Reviews the Superman Films: