directed by Jeannot Szwarc
(TriStar, 1984)

If you like your superheroes grim and gritty, like the recent X-Men movie or Tim Burton's take on Batman, you'll absolutely hate Supergirl.

This brightly outfitted superheroine is young, fresh-faced, wide-eyed and naive. The movie was a desperate effort to keep the Superman franchise going, and it succeeded to the extent that it gave adolescents a hero to idolize.

It's easy to enjoy the movie from a purely visual perspective. Although the effects aren't up to today's standards, they were certainly fine for the era in which it was filmed. Supergirl's "ballet," when she learned to fly upon arriving on Earth, is nicely choreographed.

But the story makes very little sense.

The film begins in the extradimensional city of Argo, a Kryptonian city somehow removed from time and space, which survived the destruction that orphaned Kara's cousin Superman. Kara (Helen Slater) carelessly toys with a baseball-sized sphere that is the city's sole power source; when she loses it through an extradimensional portal, the city prepares for a slow death. But Kara chases after it, emerging in a lake near Chicago.

Ignore for the moment that Kara's clothing changed to a short-skirted version of Superman's uniform in transit. Ponder instead why Kara, on a short timeline to find the sphere and return it to her city before everyone dies, decides to pose as Linda Lee, a student at a Midvale girls' school, where she attends classes, studies diligently and otherwise drowns herself in a teenager lifestyle with her new best friend, Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy).

Fortunately, Kara is forced to address the issue after the sphere falls into the clutches of Madame Selena (Faye Dunaway), an over-the-top two-bit witch-wannabe who instantly divines its purpose and learns how to use its power to her own nefarious ends. Of course, her immediate goal is to seduce a dimwitted landscaper (Hart Bochner), but her spell goes awry and he falls for -- you guessed it -- Linda Lee. So Selena settles on building a mountain fortress, creating a police state in Midvale and embarking on a plot for global domination.

This leads to a rampaging tractor, a big first kiss, an invisible beastie that flattens things, a discrete shower scene and various other plot devices that are never very exciting. Are we really supposed to feel terror when the floor falls out beneath the feet of a girl who can fly?

I suppose the fresh naivete of the movie is entertaining to an extent; it's certainly a big step away from superhero films made in the years since. That is the only reason I can come up with to explain the diehard loyalty of the movie's many fans, who are lauding the recent release of a collector's edition DVD with previously unreleased scenes.

Then again, it's just this sort of superheroic camp that has kept the Adam West Batman series alive in the hearts of so many fans. As camp, Supergirl is a raging success. Just try not to think too hard about the hopelessly muddled plot or wonder when Supergirl gained the power to morph her clothes and hair.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 28 April 2002

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