If you have been following my posts, you may have picked up on the fact that I occasionally get a little frustrated at the lack of female representation in the superhero movie-world, so I was actually pretty excited to learn that there was a female-fronted superhero movie that I had never seen.
Then I sat down and watched Supergirl (1984). What should have been a fun action flick about a well-known character in an iconic franchise is actually an exercise in sexism, with some giant plot holes, bad effects and general ridiculousness all around.
Essentially, this is a battle between two less-than-intelligent women over a random man. Seriously. Now, while Supergirl may not be known for her super-smarts, she is definitely deserving of better treatment than she gets here. I wonder if the creators actually knew anything about the character, or just put together a cute little cheerleader-type in the hopes of making some money.
Let's break it down, shall we?
Gee, Math Is Hard
In our introduction to Kara on Argo city, she is with her uncle, and this initial interaction serves to present her in a less-than-flattering light, which sums up the character throughout the film. Her first line essentially boils down to "ooh, shiny!" and is then followed up with lots of wide eyed wondering "what's this? What's that? I really don't know anything". Sure, they are possibly trying to show how foreign Earth would be to her, but she ends up coming across as incredibly stupid. This isn't helped by the rest of their conversation, where she essentially says "um, math is hard. I was taught the equations, but I just don't get it! Silly me!". Seriously? How hard would it have been to just show her confused about Earth, but otherwise intelligent? Thank goodness that her uncle is there to explain everything to her in the most patronizing manner possible.
Worst. Bad Guy. Ever.
Rather than have Kara face off against a villain who is actually threatening, the big bad of the movie is a pair of bumbling wannabe witches. Our first intro to them? One dumps her boyfriend and then they are complaining that they can't pay their bills. They just seem generally useless, and rely on a witches handbook to get stuff done. They find a power orb, but neither of them can actually figure out how to use it, making them pretty crappy opponents. In fact, they seem to use it to do nothing except throw parties, until, of course, the men get involved. Zelina (our big bad) uses her powers to light a cigarette for her ex, deal with a cute blonde who is flirting with her ex (by flipping her upside down in a dress. Because underwear.) and then cast a love spell on a total stranger. Make way, Joker! Stand down, R'as Al Ghul! These two might just light your cigarettes!
Love At First Sight
Here's where we get to the real crux of the issue. This isn't really an action movie, or a superhero movie. This is a romance. This is a love triangle with a twist, pure and simple. It's not even a romance on the side - instead, "hot guy" is basically the whole plot. After Zelina casts her love spell, it goes horribly wrong (as they traditionally do), and hot guy falls for Supergirl. Supergirl, showing great presence of mind, falls for him as well (after about two minutes, in a romance that makes Disney look positively slow). Ethan becomes the absolute center of the movie - which seems completely unnecessary. We already had a missing artifact that would destroy Argo city if not returned, and some evil women who want to use it to take over the world. Could Supergirl not have simply fought to regain the orb because, y'know, her parent's lives depend on it? The plot was already there, so changing it to make a fight over a man the central issue seems borderline offensive.
The unnecessary rape-y scene
When Kara first interacts with a human, of course she meets two scumbag truckers who make some thinly veiled rape threats. This scene is entirely unnecessary. There is absolutely no reason to include it in the movie at all - Kara dispatches with them incredibly quickly and then flies off, and we never allude to it or see the truckers again. Why is it there? What the heck? Is this actually just a scene to allow the audience to get a good look at her ass?! I have no problem with this kind of scene as long as there is a point to it, but this was utterly pointless. It would have been just as easy to show her powers in a fight with a mugger, or better yet, fighting off a mugger who was attacking someone else (showing her altruistic nature as well).
All kind of other unnecessary stuff
The entire two hours is basically chock-full of completely unneeded add ons. Kara finds her way to an all-girls boarding school, and enrolls. I can understand why it makes sense for her to make some friends, it's part of the whole "learning about humanity" sub-plot, but surely there was a way to do this without the shrieking half-naked girls running through the dorms? Maybe a summer camp, which would have made far more sense, and also allowed her much more freedom to fly off and save the day. Not to mention her roommate as Lois Lane's sister. There could have been a reason for it, after all, she is in the books! But no, she's just a random person and a way to allow Superman to be name-dropped left right and center. Then we have her inexplicable hair color change. As Linda Lee, she is a brunette....but why? No one knows her, so she doesn't exactly have an identity to preserve. It's just another random moment.
Men To The Rescue!
Throughout the movie, the women start to mess up, and then luckily, a man comes along to help and sorts it all out. It's hard to miss, and incredibly frustrating. Luckily it doesn't go as far as having Superman come to save the day, but almost. Our villainess only truly becomes usefully powerful (building fortresses and taking over the town and such) after she gives up on figuring out the orb of power herself and calls in her ex to help. Just to really hammer the point home, she actually calls him because she needs his rod. Literally - he has a wand that allows her to control the orb. (I can't make this stuff up.) Supergirl, when she is banished to the Phantom Zone (I would say spoilers, but it's thirty years old) doesn't find her own way out. Nope, that trusty uncle is actually the one who saves the day and lets her get back to earth and save her new boyfriend. Can we all join me in a giant facepalm?
Eighties FX for the win
This one isn't really the fault of the movie, because let's face it, they did what they could with what they had at the time. In fact, the flying was probably pretty impressive for thirty years ago, judging by the amount of time that they spend showing it off. So. Much. Flying. And some great laser eyes, of course. If you are ever feeling nostalgic for not-quite-invisible strings holding things up and that fuzzy blue haze around effects, settle in and watch Supergirl.
A Comedy-Free Zone
Sure, superhero movies don't have to be all about the funnies, but a laugh or two is nice to see in any movie. It helps the audience connect, and it acts as a balance for those scenes full of tension and imminent death. There was not one line that I laughed at in Supergirl, with the exception of one or two moments where either the lines or the delivery were unintentionally comical. These guys definitely spent some time at the William Shatner school of acting, which makes for some fantastic accidental hilarity. It's also easy to giggle at some of the now-outdated language ("you're putting me on!") and terrible hair and clothing choices.
Worst. Demon. Ever. (And More Men To The Rescue)
(Warning: Thirty-year-old spoilers!) In the "epic" final battle (and I used that word loosely), Zelina conjures up a giant shadow-demon, and it looks like we actually might get some kind of battle between our two main characters that isn't about a man. Sadly, it's not to be. The demon itself (a masterpiece of 80s bad effects) essentially stands there and roars, while Supergirl leaps directly into its hands and is slowly being torn apart. Luckily, she hears her uncle's voice in her head encouraging her, which allows her to break free. Even more luckily, Ethan (Mr Hot Guy) has apparently broken Zelina's hold over him and manages to shut off the orb so that the demon can't be controlled (luckily, because it's clear Supergirl actually can't beat it). Zelina's man also gets in on the action, as her panicked face makes it clear that she is lost. He tells her to confront Supergirl with it, but it's too late, as she has already flown toward her, and....uh, creates a tornado around her that sucks up both witches and the demon, transports them to the phantom zone and...fixes a mirror? Magic tornado, obviously. Especially as no one else is sucked in.
Back to Lover Boy
The movie closes with an "everybody wins" scenario. Ethan reveals that he knew Linda was Supergirl (fairly obviously, because her face doesn't change!!), and gives her a quasi-kiss to show that he still loves her even when the spell is broken. Lucy Lane also gets to make out with her chosen man, so obviously she is happy too. Funnily enough, they don't show Kara making it back to Argo city (or how she gets there, seeing as she had a craft on her initial trip, but lets just buy that particular plot hole) and saving her parents, which you would think would be the actual happy ending. Clearly less important than a two-day romance with a stranger.
So there you have it. A confused and less-than-funny mash up of a romantic comedy (sans comedy) and an action movie. The logic is worse than the FX, and it's clear that while Supergirl's name is on the box, the creators did the bare minimum of research before putting this together.
It's no wonder that it's taken so long to make another female-fronted movie if this is the standard for comparison. It wasn't unsuccessful because audiences weren't ready to see a superheroine take front and center, it was unsuccessful because it was bad.
Thankfully, Supergirl has another shot at a decent live-action portrayal, as DC is currently pitching a TV series about her to add to their small-screen universe. Fingers crossed that this time around, she is more than just a dumb blonde with a crush and a cape.