Supergirl (1984)

I've come here to search for the Omegahedron. A power source vital to Argo City. You see, that's where I live.
--Kara Zor-El

In 1978, Mexican film producer Alexander Salkind and American film director Richard Donner brought Detective Comics' Superman to the big screen in his first feature-length movie. Starring Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, and the preacher from The Poseidon Adventure as Lex Luthor, the film made $300 million at the box office, paved the way for three sequels and earned Salkind a place in comic book lore.

Alexander disappeared from the franchise after Superman III, being replaced for the fourth movie by Golan-Globus, the people who brought you a plethora of Chuck Norris shoot-em-ups and Alien from L.A., but between III and IV, Salkind and his son Ilya had a go with another DC superhero.

Supergirl was an attempt to jump start another DC comic movie franchise with another hero from their catalog. Directing duties were handed to Jaws 2's Jeannot Szwarc, whose name I'm not even going to attempt to pronounce. Actresses such as Jane Fonda, Goldie Hawn and Dolly Parton were considered for the role of the villainess to be named later, which eventually went to Faye Dunaway. Younger actresses such as Melanie Griffith and Brooke Shields were considered for the title role, but Alexander and Jeannot wanted an unknown actress for the part, which eventually went to Hollywood newcomer Helen Slater. The music of John Williams, the man who composed the famous Superman theme...was not used in this movie, as Jerry Goldsmith was brought in instead.

The movie was a flop in theaters, didn't fare well with critics and audiences and never got its franchise, although Slater was nominated for a Saturn Award (the Oscar of sci-fi movies) for her performance as Supergirl.

The film tells the story of Kal-El's cousin Kara Zor-El (Slater), a young Kryptonian girl living with other Kryptonians in Argo City, a giant crystal in the middle of innerspace with flood lights spinning around it...which sort of begs the question of where this film fits in the DC canon. I know that Kara is supposed to be the only other survivor of the destruction of the planet Krypton, but what about everyone else? Superman is referred to during this scene, so we know it takes place AFTER Krypton went, but is this supposed to be some kind of distant colonization? Some kind of Noah's Ark which left the planet shortly before it blew up? Do they even KNOW that their ancestral home planet is gone?

Aren't you a little old to be showing her your ball and stick?

Anyway, one day she pays her...teacher? Mentor? Godfather? Err...one day she pays her friend Zaltar (Peter O'Toole) a visit, and he shows her some magical items: some kind of wand he uses to make something that looks like a tree (he's very fascinated with Earth culture) and also an orb called an Omegahedron, a very powerful item which powers the city and is not to be taken without permission of city government. Kara plays around with the wand a bit and then accidentally makes something which pokes a hole in Argo City's outer wall and sucks the Omegahedron out with it. Zaltar is very apologetic about the whole thing and offers to send himself to the Phantom Zone as punishment, while despite the protests of her parents (Simon Ward and Mia Farrow in brief appearances) Kara sits in this hovering...onion blossom...pod thing on a nearby table and sets off after the Omegahedron...

...which falls to the planet Earth and is found by a flamboyant sorceress named Selena (Dunaway), who like most villains hungers for world domination. Her current boyfriend Nigel (Peter Cook, the Elmer Fudd priest from The Princess Bride) is boring her, so once she finds the thing and discovers its power she and her personal assistant/suckup Bianca (Brenda Vaccaro) ditch him.

Following the creationist theory of superheroes suddenly coming into being fully formed, Kara emerges from inner space through a lake in the mountains and suddenly realizes that she's wearing a blue suit and cape just like that other super guy! And she has super strength and heat vision and can fly now too, as she discovers when she crushes a rock with her bare hands, makes a flower bloom with her heat vision, and kicks a horny trucker in the gonads, sending him flying into a fence.

Oh yeah, and she's also wearing this bracelet which...I don't know, blinks at her...whenever the...Omegahedron is nearby? I don't know...they didn't really explain that.

During her search, she infiltrates an all-girl private school posing as a transfer student named Linda Lee, a cousin of Clark Kent in Metropolis (which isn't that far from the truth when you think about it) and moves into the student dorms with a girl named Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy), Lois' younger sister.

Wow, what a coincidence! ...Both of their initials are L.L.! What are the odds?

Sorry, boys, no peeking down her costume. Who do you think she is, Power Girl?

Nigel, who also teaches at the school, informs Selena of Supergirl's presence, and vows to keep an eye on her, while Selena pays a visit to the school and notices a hunky, half-naked gardener named Ethan (Hart Bochner) doing some grounds-keeping and--

Oh no, don't tell me...


Great. I come in expecting a superhero adventure and I end up watching a chick flick.

So basically the rest of the story is a love triangle where Selena lures Ethan to her hideout and slips him a potion which will make him fall in love with her, but then gets distracted by a visit from Nigel while Ethan wanders off out of her lair and into traffic in a drug-induced haze, forcing Selena to take control of an excavator to chase him through the streets of Midvale and bring him back. Lots of property destruction, cars careening every which way and a gas station almost goes up in flames when Linda changes into Supergirl to rescue Ethan and save the town, and then changes back again just in time for Ethan to fall in love with HER, while Selena watches the whole thing from...I don't know, a magical camera or something and suddenly wants to kill herself a private school student.

"Aww man, what did I SMOKE last night?"

With the exception of an action scene where Selena sends an invisible creature to the dorms to kill Linda and Supergirl fights him off with an electrified lamppost, not much happens from there. Supergirl and Selena just continue to battle each other until Selena finally teleports Ethan to her lair, conjures up a castle atop a huge mountain in the middle of the city, takes over the town, captures Lucy, Nigel and young reporter Jimmy Olsen (yes, THAT Jimmy Olsen played by THAT Marc McClure) and uses her new love slave as bait in a trap for Supergirl to send her straight to the Phantom Zone. She even uses the same spinning mirror effect from the Superman films.

I know what you're thinking--where's Superman in all of this? Well, any viewer with sharp ears would have heard a snippet over Nigel's car radio in an earlier scene stating that Superman is on a peacekeeping mission to a distant galaxy, which is a quaint way of saying that Christopher Reeve opted out of a cameo appearance.

"You will bow down before me, Selena! Both you and one day your heirs!"

Stripped of her superpowers, Supergirl wanders through the Phantom Zone (hey, we actually get to SEE the Phantom Zone this time, so that can't be bad, right?) and is rescued from an oily swamp by a disconsolate Zaltar, who really DID send himself to the Phantom Zone for losing the Omegahedron. Zaltar, glutton for punishment as he turned out to be, is convinced that there is no way out, but Supergirl suggests a rift which serves as a gateway between the Phantom Zone and wherever it leads out to. Let's say Earth for plot convenience.

So they both climb up this very deep hole while trying to avoid getting sucked into the Phantom Vortex, a red tornado that looks like something out of a Twizzlers commercial producing very strong winds and making it difficult for the two of them to grab onto the rock. Selena happens to notice this from her magic mirror and starts firing things at her to make her go away, and Zaltar continues to push Supergirl upward before he loses his grip and is sucked into the Vortex. Supergirl eventually makes it out and with her powers restored flies out through Selena's mirror for the final battle. Selena early on has the upper hand with the help of another interdimensional monster and some cheap video squashing and stretching effects, but one telepathic speech from Zaltar a la postmortem Obi Wan Kenobi and she frees herself of the monster's grip and then flies around Selena in circles really fast, creating another tornado which sends Selena, Bianca and the monster into the magic mirror through to the Phantom Zone.

I guess.

So the magic mountain disappears, Lucy and Jimmy get together, I suppose, Ethan SOMEHOW figures out that Linda and Supergirl were the same person all along, and Supergirl returns the Omegahedron to Argo City, which lights up again in all its celestial splendor and then starts machine-gunning the audience with end credits.


You all remember the first Superman movie, don't you? The story was a little basic and Lex's comeuppance was kind of anticlimactic, but it was still an impressive and exciting film. And Superman II was even better...remember General Zod and his cronies and Lois inadvertently finding out Clark's secret which would eventually put the entire world at risk?

Well, compared to those two movies, Supergirl is a bit of a disappointment. The special effects and visuals are on par with them, no denying that, and I'd take Supergirl's acting over Dyna Girl's acting any day, but once Ethan shows up the love triangle subplot takes precedence over everything else and it all goes south from there. The character Selena was also a letdown. Nothing against Faye Dunaway's performance, she plays the villain quite well, but an all-powerful sorceress who can conjure up otherworldly beasts, magically remote control heavy machinery and can pretty much bend the world to her will, and she uses her magic to attract one beefy barrel-chested gardener who's about half her age?

THIS is our villainess? A man-starved COUGAR?! THIS is the plot to our feminist Superman movie? A two-hour equivalent of a trashy romance novel? I mean, sure Superman II had a romantic angle as well, but at least Lois and Clark were about the same age! Here it just makes me uncomfortable. And that's on top of the numerous plot holes or, as many comic fans would question, I don't know, I'm not one of them, the use of magical powers in a superhero movie.

I welcome more movies with female protagonists--considering how many of them have all been about dudes with women playing eye candy token chicks, stories with strong leading ladies are a nice change of pace. But with writing like this, I'm not surprised Wonder Woman still doesn't have her own movie.

"Will I get a sequel?" (shakes Omegahedron) "'VERY DOUBTFUL'?!?" (throws it to the ground)

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