#TBT @ THE CINEMA: Supergirl (1984) – I Believe a Girl Can Fly

By thirty-five minutes into Supergirl, I knew two things: the script needed a ton of work and I loved this precious child.

The movie suffers from a terrible case of infodumping and bad pacing, but I freaking love Kara Zor-El.  Wide-eyed innocent and idealist from a refugee city in space, she comes to earth on a quest.  Helen Slater doesn’t have a great script to work with, I admit.  But, she brings an incredible joy and innocence to Supergirl that you just can’t write off.

Kara comes to earth to reclaim the Omega Hedron, one of the twin power sources of Argo City.  When she gets here, she mixes in with the teenage girls at Midvale School, taking the identity ‘Linda Lee’ to fit in.  She makes immediate friends with roommate Lucy Lane, Lois Lane’s little sister.  Meanwhile, a witch called Selena has taken possession of the Omega Hedron.  She plans to use it to take over the world while Superman’s away.

The screenplay has a bad case of terrible dialogue, and definitely a case of the Silver Age ridiculous.  In terms of pacing, it lags terribly in the beginning many of the montages run a little bit too long.

However, Helen Slater brings a lot to the table despite having a difficult role and shoddy dialogue.  Her Kara is audacious, determined, innocent, and joyful.  She works hard to do the right thing, and mostly succeeds.  Late in the movie, when Zal-Tar has given up in the Phantom Zone, she manages to give him enough hope to proceed with an escape plan.

One thing I really like about this film:  I love that it chooses not to explain the existence of magic.  Magic just exists, and witches do their thing, alongside the existence of aliens and advanced technology.

On the flip side, I really hate the way the love potion plot was handled.    The landscaper, obviously, doesn’t have his wits about him when he kisses her.  However, he does force her into a kiss.  Her response to him completely differs from her response to a pair of truckers earlier in the film.  The truckers objectify her, and she responds with violent self defense.  However, when the landscaper kisses her, she simply responds first by freezing up (understandably), and then by quietly removing herself from the situation.  This alone wouldn’t bother me.  However, when she returns to her dorm after the incident, she attempts to practice kissing in the mirror, implying that she enjoyed the contact.

When he stalks her and makes it harder for her to complete her quest, she easily folds to his whims, and despite obvious initial confusion and distaste, he easily seems to win her over.

This character inconsistency gets just plain creepy when you take into account the fact that the landscaper, Ethan, basically is drugged and can’t properly consent to this either.

The only thing that sort of fixes this doesn’t really make narrative sense.  When Ethan comes out of his love potion daze, he still loves Linda Lee.  However, his chemistry with Kara really seems more genuine.  He figures out Linda is Kara when they kiss, and I do quite like that scene.

I wonder if the weirdness and uncomfortable falseness, then, is intentional.  If so, like a lot of parts of the writing, it could use significant revision.

The movie has quite a few tiny little diamond moments, too.  For example, when Selena parades through Midvale in triumph, a group of teenage girls literally come out with protest signs to face her.

Selena makes for a really great antagonist, her lust for power requiring no explanation.  Many of her scenes have a really genuine quality that some of the teenage girl scenes don’t.  In terms of acting, I find that the actress playing Lucy Lane probably feels the most wooden.  However, all the characters, as stated, are dealing with overwhelmingly terrible dialogue.

I do have a final quibble with the fact that the last few shots after Kara leaves Earth leave me with more questions than answers, but that’s minor in comparison to everything else.

Overall, Supergirl probably ranks as my favorite of the Donner/Lester/Salkind universe of films.  Technically speaking, the film doesn’t handle a lot of things well.  Contentwise, I mostly enjoy it, aside from the big gross consent issues it raises.  Supergirl makes for a far more interesting protagonist, in my opinion, than the Donner version of her cousin.  She genuinely connects with people — not just her love interest, and not just as Kara.

Next week, Marvel enters the movie arena with Howard the Duck.  Yes, the first Marvel comic book movie is in fact Howard the Duck, and yes, I’m watching it.  Wish me luck!

Murphy Leigh

Murphy is a vaguely femininish malady who spends most of their time worshipping at the altars of Lois Lane, Chloe Sullivan, Jean Grey, and Wanda Maximoff. Their first confirmable event-memory is Princess Leia at the start of A New Hope. Has more in common with Lex Luthor than Lex Luthor would probably like to admit.

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