ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Supergirl’ (1984), Part One
As we continue our in-depth look at super-hero movies, Chris Sims and David Uzumeri take on the Superman film franchise.
Chris Sims: Hello everyone, and welcome back to ComicsAlliance's in-depth review of the Superman films. We're going chronologically, so before we get around to 1987's Superman IV, we're going to take a look at one of the... let's say "lesser loved" corners of the franchise: 1984's Supergirl, starring Helen Slater!
David Uzumeri: This movie is bad in a very different way from Catwoman, is the thing. Catwoman's biggest sin was that it was incredibly BORING. This movie is terrible, but it is very, very far from boring. With the exception of the, like, two-thirds of the movie that are just Helen Slater zooming around over stock footage.Chris: We've taken a lot of heat from readers over the past few weeks for having opinions on these movies that tend to run counter to most, but I'm pretty sure that with Supergirl, we're going to be right in line with everyone else. To say the least, this whole thing is problematic.
David: It's... a very embarrassing film for everyone involved.
Chris: I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but man, there is not a single thing in this movie that makes any sense at all, even by the rules it sets up.
David: I don't know, man -- Peter O'Toole says some pretty embarrassing stuff in this movie. There are a few A-list actors here who... probably don't look upon this as their finest moment.
Chris: On that, I agree. But while this isn't exactly a good movie, it didn't really strike me as "bad" so much as "mystifying." I cannot get my head around any choice that anyone made in the production of this movie. It's just mind-boggling.
David: Well, I'm presuming that nobody really... got to have a choice, you know? Like, did the Salkinds decide "nah, let's not actually have Superman and Lois in this," or did they just not want to commit to the picture, or was it money, or...? I mean, I guess the first major question is why they'd make this movie as a standalone without being a spinoff.
Chris: As I understand it, the Salkinds got the rights to Supergirl at the same time as they got the rights to Superman, and ended up financing this picture with their own money after the success of Superman and Superman II. Looking back from today, when we've got an Avengers movie making a billion dollars at the box office, it seems completely insane that a studio like Warner Bros. wouldn't have a more active hand in getting a property like this out into theaters. We're clearly in a different time.
David: To be fair, when we were growing up, Marvel superhero movies meant Dolph Lundgren, David Hasselhoff and J.D. Salinger's kid, so the fact that yesterday I actually got to watch a live-action big-budget motion picture with a story that made sense and also Captain America reflecting Iron Man's repulsor beams with his shield to knock out an alien is kind of incredible. I can understand why WB would be worried about milking the Superman franchise too much, when right now I think the general marketing wisdom is that superheroes are a cow of infinite size.
Chris: The fact that the Salkinds had to use their own money does at least make sense of one thing, which is that this thing looks low budget as all hell. Even for 1984, these aren't so much "special effects" as they are "green screens, wire harnesses and stock footage."
David: How did they get any of these actors onboard?
Chris: Hilariously, they originally went after Dolly Parton as Selena and Dudley Moore as Nigel, but Parton turned down a $7,000,000 salary because she didn't want to play a witch. And that... Man, we might as well just get into the plot because there's no way to even explain why this script has Supergirl fighting a witch.
David: Okay, so, yeah. I'm going to do what I can to try to explain this... sequence of events that occurs. We kick it off in Argo City, and why Argo City exists is never really explained, although I guess it's a part of Krypton that somehow survived due to the mad science skills of the great Zaltar. Zaltar is played by Peter O'Toole, and despite saving the lives of everyone there, apparently just walks around town all day trying to get teenage girls into trouble.
Chris: The closest they get to explaining Argo City is O'Toole talking about how it exists in "Inner Space," while Earth is in "Outer Space," and then muttering something about "sixth-dimensional geometry" before the director calls cut and he goes back to drinking, so... I guess they're Micronauts? To be fair, though, this sets the tone of everyone pretty much talking complete and utter nonsense for the next two hours.
David: Yeah, pretty much absolutely none of the 'science'/'magic'/mythology/whatever of this movie makes any sense, but it all gets introduced in this crazy-ass scene, in which Zaltar is creating fake white trees (which he knows exist on Earth why?) that are actually just sort of root structure looking things, and then giving them "a shadow of life" with an artifact called, I s*** you not, the Omegahedron. Which is a pretty dope name.
Chris: It is both the power source for Argo City and the single most necessary tool for any DungeonMaster.
David: And also provides a shadow of life! Zaltar, it turns out, wants to leave Argo City and go from Inner Space into Outer Space, so he can hang out in the Solar System and... learn new things, or something. He has this spaceship that looks like an egg just for the occasion.
Chris: It's established in this scene that they know all about Earth, to the point where they know that Kal-El was sent there when Krypton exploded and grew up to be Superman, but we never find out how they know any of this information. Kara, for example, knows her cousin is on Earth, but she knows nothing else about the planet, so that she can go around being wide-eyed and naive for the entire movie.
David: She's even surprised that she can fly, even though she supposedly knows that her cousin on Earth is flying as a dude named Superman. And yeah, Zaltar knows everything about Earth, and Kara knows that her cousin is there. I guess if Superman is going on trips into deep space for peacekeeping, then he might have visited Inner Space and Argo City? Because I'm pretty sure that sounds like a more interesting movie.
Chris: The whole thing's weird and vague, and casts Argo City as a bunch of space hippies, but to be honest, I actually kind of prefer it to the dour, crystalline Krypton that Donner had in his movies. Mainly because of Peter O'Toole's truly amazing sweater:
David: It still seems sort of of a piece with the lame-ass crystalline Krypton, though, in a way. So anyway, Zaltar basically gives Kara this... creation wand thing... and the Omegahedron, and Kara uses the former to make this glass butterfly thing and the latter to bring it to life, and then it tears a hole in Argo City, and the Omegahedron drops through the... what the Hell did Zaltar call it, the "binary platform" between Inner and Outer Space? So now he has an excuse to leave Argo, even though he was said to have FOUNDED Argo, so why is he not able to leave?
Chris: I like how he kicks it across the floor to Kara while she's playing with his crazy wand. Because that's what you do with an artifact of unimaginable power that keeps everyone in the city you founded alive: You give it to some teenager to goof around with. Also, I have to say, the Omegahedron makes this spirally wand spin around like a drill, and it looks for all the world like Kara Zor-El has just discovered a vibrator.
David: Yo, that's by far not the creepiest thing involving teenage girls in this movie. So yeah, then instead of letting Zaltar go after it, Kara just jumps into the ship for no damn reason and flies to Earth. Why does she do this?!
Chris: My theory is that she doesn't know she's going to Earth, she just sets it to follow the Omegahedron because she feels responsible for losing it. It could've been explained a little better - or, you know, at all - but it's a nice bit of characterization. Or it would be, if Kara was shown to be impulsive at all for the rest of the movie.
David: So then we switch scenes to Earth, and we meet Selena and Nigel, and as ridiculous as it is to say "this is where things get weird" after the Omegahedron, this is where things get weird. Selena wants to run the world and Nigel is her lover who she finds boring. Then we find out that Nigel practices the black arts and is teaching Selena, who is a witch.
Chris: I kind of love the way the movie casually drops "oh, by the way they're definitely witches" during this scene. It's almost awesome, but then we get Nigel matter-of-factly telling Selena that the only way she can rule the world is by turning invisible. Making sense: Not a priority.
David: For a while I interpreted that as becoming, like, invisible to the media and keeping a low profile. But nope, they're talking about how many eyes of newt and mandrake roots they need to cast Magic Missile.
Chris: During a picnic! It is somehow more ludicrous than Gus Gorman sitting down and "just doing" computers.
David: Then the Omegahedron flies down from the sky and crashes into their meal. And yes, this is somehow more ludicrous, the fact that Selena immediately recognizes that she can use her magic powers to manipulate a Kryptonian energy source from Inner Space.
Chris: I thought for the entire movie that they were going to pull some kind of "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" stuff on us, but nope. This alien science machine just cold juices up her magic powers, to the point where she starts combining it with a magic wand that Nigel has laying around later in the movie. This is never addressed.
David: So now Kara arrives on Earth, discovers she has powers, hops around a little, and then flies for what seems like a half damn hour over stock footage of, like, gazelles racing and crap like that.
Chris: Don't forget that Selena ditches Nigel after she finds out the Omegahedron has the mystical power to... start cars.
David: Oh yes! And the radio informs us that Superman is off on a peacekeeping mission several billion light years away.
Chris: In the far-off galaxy of "Not Appearing In This Film."
David: So, you know, just want to make sure nobody even remotely gets their hopes up for Superman showing up here.
Chris: But yeah, this whole thing is bizarre. The stock footage bits are bad, and the scenes where Kara is bouncing around in the woods go on for an eternity, but there are two things I'm really, really confused about.
David: What's that?
Chris: First: The Omegahedron falls out of the sky and into Selena's picnic lunch, but when Supergirl comes to Earth from Argo City, she bursts out from under the surface of a lake. And later, when she goes back, she dives into the same lake, right in the same spot. So... Is "Inner Space" just a fancy word for a lake in the middle of Illinois? Is that how they survived the destruction of Krypton? By being in Chicago?
David: I guess they're going for that sort of fairy-tale magical world at the bottom of a lake thing, but that doesn't explain the Omegahedron at damn all. I really would love to have been at the story planning meetings for this movie. The Salkinds originally wanted to put Supergirl in Superman III, right?
Chris: I think so.
David: I mean, having her in her own movie makes more sense in a hypothetical world where she'd already been introduced to viewers in a Superman film.
Chris Sims: Second: When she comes out of the crazy egg ship, she is wearing her Supergirl costume - which, for the record, Helen Slater looks amazing in. But where did she get it? There's some red, blue and yellow fabric in the ship like there was in Superman's rocket, but she comes out in a full-on super-hero costume with a cape.
Chris: Did she make it in there? Or, and this is my preferred theory, was Peter O'Toole just planning on kicking it in a miniskirt and knee-high boots when he got to Saturn?
David: Does she still have the magic wand that pulls matter out of its ass to make objects?
Chris: Nope, she left that in the city.
David: Why would she leave that? Wouldn't that be useful? Maybe she got dressed somewhere in the fourth, fifth or sixth dimensions from her geometry.
Chris: Either way, the footage of her flying around is so bad that I can't believe it made it into the movie. Like, they didn't even try with this stuff.
David: It serves literally no purpose whatsoever. Honestly, if this were a modern movie, I'd have expected that to be when they run the credits. But when it finally blissfully ends, we get to see Selena's hideout, which is an ACTUAL HAUNTED HOUSE that looks like it was decorated by the Party Depot.
Chris: Selena living in an abandoned carnival ride is literally my favorite thing about this movie. It's the ultimate in "f*** it, why not."
David: "Hey Ilya, can you check the want ads for crazy s* for rent or sale? Whatever's craziest, that's Selena's hideout." Like, did they reject a shantytown, a roller coaster and an old speakeasy?
Chris: I want to stress that she is living in the haunted house ride of an abandoned carnival BEFORE SHE BECOMES A SUPER-VILLAIN. Like, this is not a lair. She has a roommate and everything, and apparently they have a cable hookup and city water. Like, there are living quarters in an abandoned haunted house carnival ride. She had to have gotten it pretty cheap from the Joker.
David: She has a gigantic zebra print bed that she sits on while studying the Omegahedron and telling her friend Bianca that all of their worries are over, because they can't pay the bills. Yo, Selena, protip: maybe bills are cheaper in regular-ass apartments that don't have f***ing fake death trains and love tunnels.
Chris: Speaking of Bianca, she is clearly this movie's Otis.
David: I thought she was Blanche from Golden Girls for a second. That would have ruled.
Chris: She's just a complete nonentity, with the exception of popping in with the occasional punchline or giving Selena someone to talk to. No disrespect to Brenda Vaccaro, but her role could've been played by a cat and no one would've noticed.
David: So then Supergirl flies into a city and decides to walk around, and despite this being the middle of an incredibly well-lit street in a town of a decent size, there's nobody around except for the two least enthusiastic rapists of all time.
Chris: Okay, quick question: Did the Salkinds just really f***ing hate truckers, or what?
David: Seriously, they just seem so incredibly bored when trying to threaten Supergirl. And this is a really long scene, and they just keep coming at her, and she just keeps using things like heat vision and -- like, is this supposed to be exposition? We already saw the heat vision, when for some damn reason she used it to force a flower to bloom.
Chris: I mean, putting aside the fact that it's some pretty repugnant storytelling for an attempted rape to be the very first thing that happens to Supergirl in this movie, these two dudes are somehow even worse and dumber than the guy who picked a fight with Clark Kent in Superman II. This one dude pulls a knife on her, watches her melt it with her heat vision, and then decides to try punching her. Keep in mind, this is after she tells them "I'm Superman's cousin," and while she is wearing a costume with Superman's symbol on it.
David: So now we're back at Selena's, and oh my God, this looks like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Swinger Club.
Chris: It's surprisingly crowded, but be honest: If someone told you there was a party at an abandoned funhouse that some crazy witch lived in, attended by math teachers who dabbled in the dark arts, you would totally want to go.
David: You've got some dude in like a damn bellboy outfit handing out drinks from the haunted house's train car, he looks like a f***ing Shriner. A woman wearing glasses where the frames are women's lips opening up like some sort of even more sexually charged version of the Lolita poster.
Chris: And for a dude who got dumped by someone who lives in a funhouse had to walk home carrying a tiger-skin rug, Nigel is awfully judgy about the other partygoers.
David: Oh my God, we didn't even comment on the tiger-skin rug, did we? The one that he brought to a picnic? And of course Selena is wearing the most ridiculous damn thing and playing with the Omegahedron (I never tire of typing that)...
David: ...and she spurns Nigel and then starts casting spells on a chick that Nigel's trying to hit on. He points out this isn't fair; he's right. When asked why she even had all of these people over, she explains that they're "foot soldiers" for her upcoming world domination.
Chris: There is some crazy soft focus on Faye Dunaway's close-ups in this scene, too. Every time the shot switches from Nigel to Selena, it looks like it suddenly got foggy in there.
David: For all this movie references sixth-dimensional geometry, I only see one in any of its characters. So yeah, now Supergirl sees a girls' school worth of kids playing on a field so she like disappears somewhere, changes her hair color, magically makes an exact replica of the school costume, and decides to try to enlist. Nothing Kara does in this movie makes any damn sense. I guess my puny mind's three-dimensional geometry can't handle what hers can.
Chris: To be fair, the thing with the clothes is something Superman does in his movies, too. There are a couple of scenes in Superman and Superman II where he'll just run and get blurry for a second and be in his costume, so presumably Movie Kryptonians just have weird clothes-shifting powers.
David: Alongside the finger telekinesis and quantum superposition. Supergirl gets herself enrolled by writing herself a letter of recommendation from Clark Kent on the principal's typewriter after convincing him to leave the room. She's totally against lying, cheating and stealing, unless it's doing all three to get into a girls' boarding school so you can look for your lost city's power source.
Chris: For me, the craziest thing about this scene wasn't just that the headmaster let her in based on a letter of recommendation from Clark Kent, it's that Kara chose the name "Linda Lee" because this dude has a framed portrait of Robert E. Lee in his office.
David: Where did "Linda" even come from? I expected her to see another thing that said Linda, but no. Why not just call herself Kara? It's an Earth name too!
Chris: I actually just pulled a copy of Supergirl's first appearance off the shelf to check and see if that was how it went down in the comics - stranger things have happened - but there, she just goes "oh, here's two Earth names I liked." I guess seeing the picture makes as much sense as anything else, but man, I grew up in South Carolina and don't recall any framed portraits of General Lee popping up anywhere when I was in school, so I have to imagine that it'd be pretty unlikely in Illinois.
David: I dunno, I kinda believe it from Alabama, there was a huge undercurrent of "well, Lee didn't REALLY believe in slavery, he was just really loyal to the South, so he's still a good guy!"
Chris: It kinda makes me think that Midvale was one of those private schools established in the '60s to get around integration. But... I think that's going somewhere a little more grim than what the Salkinds intended.
David: So yeah, it turns out Nigel's actually a math teacher at Midvale, and after successfully conning the principal, Linda is introduced to her new dormmate, Lucy Lane. And Lucy Lane is incredibly creepy, because Lucy Lane looks like she is twelve.
Chris: And Kara looks like she's 20, because... well, because Helen Slater was 20.
David: Yeah, and Maureen Teefy was 31.
Chris: Wow, she looks super young. But on the bright side, this makes it a lot less creepy for Jimmy Olsen to show up and start making out with a schoolgirl later.
David: Yeah, it's seriously unnatural. Linda's hanging out with Lucy, and gets her mind blown by a poster of her cousin, which she starts creepily touching reverently. Lucy talks about how she's Lois's sister and she knows Clark Kent too, which is apparently a surprise to Linda because -- look, I think cause and effect have broken down at this point.
Chris: I will say, Lucy Lane refusing to open her door with "I'm not decent, Mr. Danvers" and Danvers responding with "And you never will be, either" is a pretty brutal thing for a dude to say to one of his students. Danvers don't shiv.
David: So now we get into a pretty long stretch of the movie which is basically just screwing around at this girls' school, since Selena shows up with Bianca to leer at Ethan, who is basically the poolboy or gardening man in every porno movie ever, clipping trees shirtless at an all girls school.
Chris: This whole movie is a bit weird with ages. Even if you take Jimmy's whole "most of the people I went to high school with are still in high school" from Superman III as a sign that he's still pretty young, he's had a job at the Daily Planet for like seven years now. He should probably not be making out with a 31 year-old teenager, nor should Kara (who's, supposed to be, what, 16? 17?) be romanced by a dude who is old enough to have his own landscaping business.
David: So while Selena's there with her Omegahedron, that sets off Kara's bracelet while she's in Nigel's math class. She gets asked a really hard problem and actually correctly answers it with her six-dimensional geometry powers, even though all the kids laugh at her since they think she made it up. After Nigel's calculator stops running (I love this bit) he asks if Kara got the answer from one of his books, which, if the case, makes me wonder why he even needed to use a calculator, let alone one that prints out the answers on thermal paper.
Chris: I like how this is referred to as "Sixth Dimensional Geometry" when it's just, you know, a pretty hard multiplication problem. Gus Gorman could've knocked it out in thirty seconds. After a bit of field hockey, we get to an all-girl shower scene, and if you think that sounds like an awful lot of subtext, you are 100% correct.
David: I'd like to reiterate that Maureen Teefy is THIRTY-ONE, and yet I still feel uncomfortable seeing her in shower scenes and in states of undress. That said, there's two bad girls who want to embarrass the other girls, so they're going to make the water hot, but Supergirl uses her X-ray vision, super-hearing and heat vision to foil their evil plot. Okay, that's three more pages of the script written, we're almost at two hours, let's go out for cocaine and hookers. Seriously, this movie has an astonishing amount of unnecessary narrative filler.
Chris: The weird thing with the Slytherin girls never comes back, either, nor is it really ever explained why they want to literally murder Lucy Lane.
David: Also, can I just point out that when Supergirl is getting yelled at by Nigel, Lucy Lane actually turns to her and goes "oh s***!" In a Supergirl movie?
Chris: I'm starting to get the feeling that Midvale might be a school for criminally wayward girls.
David: Pretty soon Kara's going to get an invite to the clock tower at midnight to have communion with the Son of Pyg. So Linda and Lucy go back to their room, and Lucy undresses (which, again, feels creepy as hell) while Linda attempts to put on a bra outside her shirt and then stuff it with stockings. No. Really.
Chris: Even in this movie, this scene is just hilariously bizarre.
David: Lucy talks about how she has a date with Jimmy Olsen, and actually, considering that in the first movie Lois described Lucy as having "three kids, two cats and a mortgage" and the fact that Teefy is 31, I'm starting to wonder if Lucy Lane didn't have a tragic accident between the first movie and now that made her think she was sixteen again. Forever. Because I'm pretty sure Jimmy Olsen, who Lucy's totally got the hots for, is something like 25 at least.
Chris: Jimmy Olsen who's "totally stuck on" Lucy, you mean? Lucy who goes to high school? These movies are a lot easier to watch if you imagine them taking place in the same kind of ageless world as the comics, where Marc McClure is like some 17 year-old J-school prodigy.
David: Either that or this is Henry James Olsen's younger brother, James Bartholomew Olsen.
David: So after this, we get to see Selena seduce Ethan, and EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS SCENE IS AWESOME. She lures Ethan over to do some work -- most typical setup ever -- and when he asks if he can "wet his whistle," she procures...
David: Two tallboys of Schlitz Malt Liquor. This lady lives in a haunted house with a working ghost train and cobwebs, practices ancient magic, cuckolds math teachers and drinks Schlitz.
Chris: When you describe her like that, I think Selena might be my favorite villain of all time.
David: So she spikes it with I guess the magical equivalent of Spanish Fly, and when he drinks it he knocks himself out.
Chris: I'm not sure if that was because of Selena's Witchy Cold Medina, or just a natural effect of the Schlitz.
David: Meanwhile, just as Lucy Lane has gotten an overnight pass to leave the academy during a three-day weekend to hang out with Jimmy Olsen (where is she planning on sleeping? Did Olsen travel like four hours just to f*** Lucy Lane? Is this just a Craigslist Casual Encounter?), Nigel has left to go try to hang out with the woman who's repeatedly mocked him and cockblocked him in public and said she wants nothing to do with him anymore.
Chris: I'll tell you right now: Nigel justifying his "Leisure Suit" is the high point of the movie for me.
David: So while Selena's yelling at Nigel, who's giving her hell for dabbling with forces outside her control and all of that crap, Ethan wakes up and stumbles into the actual haunted house section, TRIPPING BALLS the entire time. And the way the movie shows this is amazing, the camera just constantly shakes and zooms in and out while a Casio goes nuts trying to recreate a baby's scream.
Chris: This movie continues the grand cinematic tradition of kind of crapping all over Jimmy Olsen, too. Not only is he a weird dude who drove out to Illinois to bang a high school girl - Jimmy Olsen's Dating a High Schooler?! - but he also tells Lucy and Kara not to even bother trying to help some dude who is two seconds away from stumbling into traffic and dying because he's probably "on drugs."
David: Yeah, Ethan's just decided to trip some balls all the way down main street. And let's not forget Jimmy Olsen's friend, who, it is repeatedly pointed out, has a tattoo. Selena's spying on Ethan using the Omegahedron, which, apparently, is "growing" inside the box Selena placed it in that allows the directors to not have to actually make growing Omegahedrons. She decides she needs to collect Ethan so that the love potion works on her, so she...
Chris: And this is awesome.
David: Animates... construction equipment.
Chris: She sends a f***ing KILLDOZER after him!
David: When it reaches main street, for some reason Lucy Lane decides it would be a DOPE idea to run into traffic, alongside it, climb the ladder and try to stop it. She saves the slowest-reacting pedestrians ever by turning it, but she can't stop it, and eventually some stuff happens and blows up, I don't know, it was kind of a confusing action scene. She gets knocked out.
Chris: I cannot stress enough that we are an hour into a Supergirl movie where the villains are witchcraft and a bulldozer. And yet, it is somehow not the greatest movie ever?
David: It's dumb, but it's not boring.
Chris: Says you. Keep in mind that it also takes five minutes of rampaging killdozers before Supergirl bothers to show up and start helping out.
David: Supergirl saves Ethan and Lucy, and -- of course -- Ethan falls in love with Supergirl on sight, screwing over Selena's entire plan to make Ethan fall in love with her.
Chris: Wrong! He doesn't fall in love with Supergirl, he falls in love with Linda!
Chris: Because for some reason, Kara thought it would be a good idea to turn back into her secret identity before wrenching the construction equipment open with her bare hands. She's... she's a little new at this.
David: That's a good point, and not an insignificant one. Secret identity hijinx!
Chris: Either way, we now have a love interest, a villain, and a whole bunch of nonsense floating in the air. But believe it or not, the weirdest stuff is yet to come! Join us next week for the thrilling conclusion of our Supergirl review!
David: Readers, I spent five hours of my birthday talking about Supergirl. Be thankful.
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