Thursday, July 11, 2013


Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
1984. Rated PG, 138 minutes (Director’s Cut).
Helen Slater
Faye Dunaway
Peter O’Toole
Brenda Vaccaro
Peter Cook
Maureen Teefy
Hart Bochner
Marc McClure
Mia Farrow
Simon Ward

I’ll start this review off with a confession. Supergirl is a character I've never really understood. I’m perfectly fine with female superheroes. After all, little girls need super-powered beings to look up to just as much as little boys, however much that might be. My problem is this particular hero shouldn't exist. Her origin story clearly and deliberately subverts that of the most iconic superhero of all time, Superman. Of course, the good people at DC Comics never consulted me on this when looking for ways to capitalize upon Superman’s success, building his own brand and their comic book empire. Nor did the Salkinds (Ilya and Alexander) approach me when they were looking to do the same theatrically after their trilogy of Superman movies considerably fattened their wallets. So, here we are.

Here is the Kryptonian city of Argo. It was founded by Zaltar, played very strangely by Peter O’Toole, in something called “inner” space after the planet exploded. Huh? See what I mean about destroying Superman’s story? A significant part of his myth is that there are no more like him, save for the evil General Zod and company. Their villainy maintains his uniqueness. He’s someone with absolute power who somehow hasn't been corrupted absolutely, despite that old saying. This is what makes him worthy of even being called Superman, but I digress. It would be completely unfair to hold any of that against this movie. Keeping that in mind, from here on I’ll stick to what makes this movie good or bad on its own.

The story here is not only that Zaltar founded the city, presumably of Krypton’s only survivors, but that he powers the whole thing with a small metal ball called The Omegahedron. Without it, we’re told the city will only last a couple days. For such an important piece of equipment Zaltar sure is loose with it. He carries it around for frivolous activities such as making random trees because Krypton has none and he seems to like all things Earth. Just so you don’t forget this is a spin-off from the Superman flicks, young Kara (Slater) immediately asks “Earth? Is that where my cousin went?” Okay, fine. What I can’t let slide is that somehow they not only know that we call her cousin Superman, but even that his other name is Clark Kent. Oh great. We’re not even five minutes in and I’m getting a headache.

To worsen my pain, let’s get back to the all-important Omegahedron. After Zaltar is done playing with it, he decides it’s a good idea to let Kara play with it. True, she’s not a little kid, but in the brief time we've known her, we surmise she isn't the smartest Kyrptonian, by a long shot. So, of course, shortly after she starts goofing off with it, the thing goes flying out the window and into “outer” space. See what they did there? Here is where it should be mentioned that Zaltar has a ship that seats one and could conceivably chase down their power source. Unfortunately, they’re not sure ifanyone could survive the trip. Zaltar offers to take the risk, but the others talk him out of it. It must also be mentioned that even before any of this happened he was talking passionately about leaving Argo. He’s visibly bored with the place. This plus his next statement makes me seriously doubt he’d ever come back if he did go after the thing and find it. He tells his people that since this is all his fault, he should be banished to the Phantom Zone. Something about while their suffering will be short, his will be forever. Woah, woah, woah, wait. If I’m one of the others, he doesn't get off that easy. We’ll all be dead in a few days while you get to keep living? Nope. Ain’t happening. Z would have to ride this thing out right here with me.

Anyhoo, while the arguing is going on, Kara apparently has nothing better to do than touch and explore everything like a child in a supermarket and winds up climbing into the ship which instantly closes and launches. Why yes, silly, her destination is Earth. Of course that’s where the Omegahedron was headed. In Superman: The Movie, it took little Kal-El about five years to make the journey. Zaltar is obviously an engineering genius, even by Kryptonian standards, because Kara and the ball land here in what seems like an hour or two. Since it hit the ground a few precious moments before her, oddly with no more force than a tennis ball thrown by a toddler, the Omegahedron is picked up by budding sorceress Selena (Dunaway) who scurries off with it to her house after unceremoniously dumping her stuffy boyfriend Nigel (Cook). By the way, her place looks like she definitely did her interior decorating with some form of witchcraft. She shows her new find to, but doesn't share it, with her BFF Bianca (Vacarro), this movie’s Miss Teschmacher. Sort of. Meanwhile, Kara lands in the lake a few yards from where the ball hit, emerges fully costumed as Supergirl (?), gives her new powers a test drive, and begins the quest to find her city’s power source. Oh, she also enrolls in an all-girls’ college where she coincidentally (not really) becomes roommates and besties with Lucy Lane (Teefy), little sister of Lois.

Speaking of characters from the original franchise, we’re very quickly told that “Superman is on a peace-keeping mission to a galaxy possibly millions of light-years away.” That makes no sense whatsoever, but since they needed a way to let viewers know Christopher Reeve will not be making a cameo as was heavily rumored, I’m cool with it. Unfortunately, Jimmy Olsen (McClure) isn't so lucky. He shows up as a love interest for Lucy. Who did he piss off to have to be in this flick?

And speaking of love, this is what Supergirl is really all about. That’s right, folks. All the trouble starts because Selena wants a piece of Ethan (Bochner), the young-buck landscaper who works at the college. Being a witch, she casts a love spell on the dude, but through some “super” circumstances created by her, he winds up falling for Linda Lee. Oh, by the way, that’s our hero’s alter-ego. Since she’s naturally a blond, her disguise is basically going brunette. Better than glasses? Maybe. Well, we spend most of the movie watching Selena try to abduct the boy-toy and kill Linda, only to be repeatedly thwarted by Supergirl. After way too long, she figures out the two are indeed one and the same. Eventually, Selena does gain some measure of victory. Only then, fairly late in the movie, does she decide that 'hey, this Omegahedthingamajig might actually help me take over the world.' Yawn.

The movie, much like this review, goes on for far too long and idiotic and/or unexplainable thing keep happening. Like I said before, our hero isn't the brightest, so even her rescues don’t always utilize logic. This makes her a great match for Ethan since he’s as dumb as a box of Kryptonite. Still, after barely being able to string two words together, he’s suddenly reciting poetry off the top of his head (much of it rhyming) once he’s struck with the love potion. Later, the good people of Midvale are out in force protesting Selena’s rule. They hadn't even heard of her five minutes before. And excuse me, but for the main villain in a superhero flick, she’s awfully shallow. She’s more sad than menacing. It’s like some cougar got sick of striking out on her quest for a young stud and went mad. To her credit, Faye Dunaway gives it her Mommie Dearest best, but she doesn't have much to work with. Similarly, Brenda Vaccaro gives us plenty of husky voiced attitude, a compliment by the way, but what for? What does she get out of it if Selena is successful? Now that I think about the possibilities, I’d rather you not answer. Still, it’s all too much ado about nothing.

Conversely, our heroine struggles to hold our attention. While Dunaway is able to create a fun role out of the rubble of her character, Helen Slater takes the blank slate she’s given and gives us precisely that. She looks okay flying around, and not completely terrible, just mostly, during the action sequences. However, there doesn't seem to be anything behind those pretty eyes of hers. She’s almost perpetually in a catatonic stare-down of whomever, or whatever, is in front of her.

Back to that flying around, for a moment. Supergirl in the air and most of the special fx have actually held up pretty well, compared to even Superman III, released just the year before. It’s the one area where I say this is easily on par with the rest of the franchise, to that point. Mind you, this isn't nearly enough to recommend it, but a nice surprise nonetheless. If you do see it, do so to witness the massive amounts of scenery chewed by a very game Faye Dunaway. Or to see Peter O’Toole turn in what is probably the strangest performance of his career. Or maybe just to satisfy your own morbid curiosity, if you've never seen it. Just don’t go in thinking it will be any good.

No comments:

Post a Comment