Sunday, February 8, 2015

Supergirl: The Movie

Like many of my friends with a shared interest in comic books, I've been reading things about the upcoming "Supergirl" television show on CBS with great interested. Who are they casting? What will the costume look like? What will the focus be? And will it be as big a disaster as Supergirl: The Movie, the film from 1984?

OK, "disaster" might be a harsh word.

I say that with some authority, because I've watched the movie four times this weekend, and I've come to the conclusion that the movie is flawed without being completely horrible. Even worse, it seems like the people making the movie tried really hard to do justice to the concept and the character.

Except Faye Dunaway.

I think she was making an entirely different movie.

Everybody else, though, seemed to be trying really hard to make a decent movie. They just didn't have much to work with.

First, we'll give the movie some credit for trying to keep as much of the original character intact as they could. In the comics, Supergirl is a survivor of Argo City, a chuck of the planet Krypton that survived the explosion that destroyed the rest of the world:

"Action Comics" #252

"Action Comics" #252

You're probably thinking, "Hey, wait, science doesn't work that way," but that comic was written in 1959, and the focus wasn't really on factually accurate astrophysics. In later years, the same scene shown in flashback would often show Argo City as a domed city that survived the explosion, but the basics were always the same: Kara Zor-El, Superman's cousin, lived in Argo City and survived the explosion of Krypton when the city was blasted into space. Like the rest of the fragments of Krypton, the ground under Argo City began to turn into kryptonite and poison the Kryptonians living on, so they covered the ground in a layer of lead and survived for a time until tragedy struck: a meteor shower (probably made of chunks of Krypton) struck the city, puncturing the lead shield poisoning everyone, so Kara's father, Zor-El, sent her to Earth in the tiny rocket he had time to construct. Orphaned, she flew away from her doomed family and neighbors, never to see them again.

She was, fortunately, already dead when Mr. Mxyzptlk dropped a gigantic kryptonite meteor on Metropolis to kill Superman, and the meteor turned out to be Argo City, filled with poisoned Kryptonian corpses:

"DC Comics Presents" #97

When comics turned dark in the late 1980's, they turned really dark.

Back to the movie, they did their best at keeping most of this origin, creating an Argo City:

"Supergirl: The Movie" Argo City (1)

"Supergirl: The Movie" Argo City (2)

that exists in "inner space", while planets like Earth and Venus exist in "outer space". They never explain why Argo City exists in this other place, but when they accidentally lose their Omegahedron, the city's power source, it's a crisis. Mia Farrow explains that the city will die in a matter of days, and that none of them can leave. People who watched the Superman movie know that none of them can leave because they have no planet to go back to, but it seems odd that the movie just glosses over that. Superman's cousin lives in this endangered city, and we're never told why. Kara feels kind of responsible for the loss of the Omegahedron, so she jumps in an experimental craft and heads out after it.

The Omegahedron, meanwhile, crashes to Earth, landing in the picnic of Selena, a frustrated witch living in a carnival funhouse. Selena immediately recognizes it as an object of great power, and sets off on what should be a path to world domination but instead ends up being the downfall of the whole movie. Selena and Supergirl, who is disguised as student Linda Lee, spend the entire movie fighting over a guy.

This guy:

"Supergirl: The Movie" (5)

The problem is that this movie doesn't have enough "super", and has way too much "girl".

Not only do we have two powerful women spending an hour fighting over a man, but there's also a couple of scenes of wacky girls' dorm hijinks:

"Supergirl: The Movie" (6)

and some rather disappointing action sequences where Supergirl fights evil bumper cars, runaway construction equipment, rapist truck drivers, uneven tilting flooring (she forgets that she can fly? I guess?), a demon, and in one really terrible sequence a giant invisible monster. I can only assume that they had to make the monster invisible because they spent all of the special effects money on Faye Dunway's wigs and outfits:

"Supergirl: The Movie" (1)

Seriously, she has a ton of hair in this movie:

"Supergirl: The Movie" (2)

and a ton of outfits:

"Supergirl: The Movie" (3)

"Supergirl: The Movie" (4)

"Supergirl: The Movie" (7)

"Supergirl: The Movie" (9)

"Supergirl: The Movie" (10)

but again, I think people were trying, sort of. The movie just can't seem to decide what kind of movie it wants to be. It's way too much "chick flick" to be a superhero movie, and way too much "superhero" for a movie about two women fighting over a man. It's kind of like the creators couldn't figure out who their target audience was, so they created a movie that doesn't really appeal to anyone specifically.

And then there's Faye Dunaway.

I get that Academy Award winners sometimes make shallow, fun movies just because they might feel like it. They might be compelled to by finances, or because they love to make movies and just don't want to stop. There are any number of reasons why award winning actors and actresses make movies like Street Fighter, Trog, and Wicked Stepmother, but you still have to wonder if Faye Dunaway looked at a giant pile of movie scripts and thought, "Yes! This is worth my effort."

Because damn, does she put in some effort.

Somewhere along the way she must have confused "supervillain" with "drag show emcee", because her acting in this movie makes her work in Mommie Dearest seem mannered, subtle, and completely understated. It's an unforgettable performance.

Especially if you see a huge wig somewhere and it triggers a flashback.

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