BlokeBusting the Essentials #99: Supergirl
Your deep dive into the top 100 Superhero films of all time!
Why Women Superheroes Had Trouble Getting Films Made
This film took me a long time to watch. Seriously, and I wish I wasn’t joking, this took me 4 separate sessions over a couple of weeks to finish. I would press play, get about 25 minutes in and just have to pause it. What does that mean for this review? You’re about to find out.
This film was hard to watch, but maybe not for the reasons you might think. I’m sure some people will happily take it as a sign that women cannot helm a major film. They are wrong. Others might take it to mean that I have an issue with the character in general. They would also be wrong. My main problem with this film is one of pacing. It’s the same issue I have with some of the older superhero films, where some parts just take AAAAGGGEEESSSS to get going, while other parts are over way too fast. I have another issue with this film, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
This film should have been one that, despite some pacing issues, could really hold its own against the other Superman films. And it is officially canon, so no matter how often it gets left out of the Superman boxsets or forgotten about when lists are made, it is an official Super-universe property and should be treated as such. The problem (in my opinion) comes from the way the film treats the characters:
- You have the main character, Supergirl/Kara Zor-El/Linda Lee. Right there you have a real problem. It’s obvious when she goes by each name (location and costume), but they really could have stuck with 2 for this film, or at least had her only refered to as Kara when on Argo City. She was, no doubt, played well by Helen Slater, but the script was so bad AND the way she had to play the character was so irritating that I had a real problem conecting to her on any level.
- You had Selena, the villain of the film, who was suitably over the top for a film of the time (watch any of the original Superman films again and prove me wrong), but it really did not age well. She’s annoying, she’s vengeful just because (And that can work for a lesser character, but not your main villain), she’s using the McGuffin for the entire film, which kinda takes away from her possibly having any growth as a character AND you’re spending the entire film basically watching Faye Dunaway playing her rather than simply buying into it.
- You’ve got no less than 5 recurring side characters who are basically pointless. One falls in love with Supergirl (it’s a fun twist on the usual trope, but this film handles it SOOOOOO badly), one is the “You’re new here, aren’t you” girl, one is the adult who wants to use the McGuffin himself, one is the sidekick who’s more entertaining than the villain and then the one who helps tie this film to the Superman films. Sure, they do things, but literally nothing worth mentioning until the final 5 minutes of the film. I’m totally serious.
And in case you think I missed some characters there, I didn’t. There are extras, but nobody cares about them. At all. So yeah, not a great way to use your cast. Ah well. Maybe the effects and powers will be cool.
Yep. The visual effects did not age well either. And that’s to be expected, given the advances we’ve made over the years. However, they look particularly bad and feel like more of a B-movie budget than the natural continuation of the Superman universe. This was a bit of a let-down. Again, I do understand the limitations of the time, but I feel that the majority of the films at the time knew this and were able to figure out smart visuals or just how to avoid needing to use the worse looking effects all-together. This film, especially the climax, has some really bad effects. REALLY bad. The kind where you feel it would have been better to simply get Jim Henson to drop by and have a Muppet be the big bad boss. But even with this, that’s not the worst part of the film. The worst part is this:
I have no idea what possessed the writers to do what they did with this character. The film starts off ok, with her gaining the powers after arriving at Earth (and its yellow sun). Then it’s a question of which powers are needed for a scene. There are some scenes where she can see something invisible. At least, I think she can. Then that’s gone again. There’s one scene where she has ice breath. It’s a good thing she knew she could do that, because it’s literally the first time she’s ever tried it. Then, and I wish I was making this up, she forgets that she can fly. And I don’t mean that she hits her head or that she should fly away. She is standing on a piece of floor that is rocking back and forth and she has trouble keeping her balance. For a minute. A full minute. You know what might help? BEING ABLE TO FLOAT OFF THE GROUND!! So yeah, I’m not a fan of the people who had creative control over this one.
Now I know that this is a relatively negative review. So I want to take a minute to talk about some good things in this film.
I enjoyed the enthusiasm that the cast clearly had for this film. Despite the character tropes, the bad writing and the odd choices, every single main actress/actor in this film is clearly loving it. Lucy Lane and Bianca are prime examples of this. It’s almost like they knew what the film would end up like and just rolled with it. And that was almost enough to save it. But sadly it did not.
I loved the twist of a standard trope where the guy was the one swooning over the female hero. The thing that ruined it, however, was the fact that she ended up swooning for him too. Imagine the courage to have that trope subverted and then have the female hero effectively say “Let’s slow this down”. I know that might have been too much to hope for in an 80’s film, but still.
I actually didn’t mind that the McGuffin was essentially a Deus-Ex-Machina device. It makes stuff, it grants magic powers, it has a mind of its own (apparently), it spins! Yeah, it’s stupid but it fit right in with everything else.
Ok, I think I should hand it over to Bubbawheat to see if his rewatch faired any better than my first watch…
Bubbawheat here with my thoughts again on revisiting the movie. I’ve actually seen this one a few times now and it’s never really gotten any better. It’s such a slogfest with so little happening throughout the entire movie. Helen Slater is great as the innocent younger cousin to Christopher Reeve’s Superman even though he only shows up in poster form here. I also still have a soft spot for Brenda Vaccaro as the mouthy sidekick to Faye Dunaway’s witch Selena. In theory, this movie should have worked after going through three Superman movies and the one thing they did get right is a great introductory flying session after Supergirl first arrives on Earth after coming out of inner space, whatever that’s supposed to mean. The villain should have also been a good choice as Kryptonians weakness besides Kryptonite is magic, but it ends up just being a gag for most of the movie. Kara aka Linda Lee is supposed to be a hero, but the first time that things go South it’s actually Lucy Lane that jumps to the rescue while Supergirl waits behind at Popeye’s Chicken until quite a bit of damage gets done and Lucy gets knocked out before finally coming to the rescue.
But while this wasn’t a great movie by a longshot, in fact it’s one of the worst superhero movies out there, it’s notable for being the first major superhero movie with a woman in the lead role. Unfortunately it was a major failure at the box office making only $14 million off its budget of $35 million financed directly by the Salkinds. It was released over Thanksgiving and did top the box office but it was considered a very weak Thanksgiving box office. It’s failure was a major reason why the rights for the Superman films ended up going to Cannon films where they finished off the series with Quest for Peace. There’s honestly not a ton of history behind this movie, but the first major superhero movie with a woman in the lead role is significant enough that nothing else is really needed in my opinion.
And now, the questions you’ve all been waiting for! And heeeeeeeere they are:
- Would I recommend this film to others?
- Does it deserve to be on this list?
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
1) Not really. I’ll fight tooth and nail to defend its place in the Superman universe canon though. If you’re doing a full watch of all the Super films, you NEED to watch this. However, I would never suggest sitting down to watch just this film.
2) Yes. OF course it does. The first female superhero film, the attempt at getting the idea of women being just as good as, if not better than, the men is always something I’ll champion. Plus this list isn’t just about good films. It’s about Important films. And this film, however dull or poorly done, is Important.
Righty-o then! We’ve reached the end of another review and come out smelling like roses (or a suitable fresh-smelling alternative). Next time we’re focusing our attention on #49: The Amazing Spiderman. That one should be interesting. And on that bombshell, it’s time to end the review. Thank you so much for reading. Goodnight!