When you spend your days endlessly stemming the tide of evil, nothing could be more embarrassing for a superhero than to know there’s a relative nipping at your heels. Every major icon in the comic universe has dealt with this problem, but the Man of Steel has easily dealt with the highest number of spin-offs. From the adventures of Superboy to the surely drug-induced era of Krypto the Superdog (who actually led an entire team of Superpets, including a horse), there’s seems to be no limit when it comes to creating new foils for Kal-El. None of these half-baked creations are nearly as shameless as Supergirl, however, as she was bred out of political correctness and is essentially no different from her male counterpart. There’s nothing unique about her whatsoever, and Jeannot Szwarc proves this in her grandly stupid film adaptation of the character.
Glass-eyed Helen Slater stars as Kara, who in a boring coincidence turns out to be none other than Superman’s cousin. It would have been marginally more interesting if she’d been his sister, but I don’t think this movie’s goal is to captivate. In fact I think its only mission is to be as confusing and moronic as possible. My headache began as I learned about Kara’s home world, which I think is the last remnants of Krypton. I think. The ol’ plot gets moving once Zaltar, an inventor played an understandably bored Peter O’Toole, makes the heinous error of letting Kara play with her city’s power source, a shiny Xmas ornament known as the Omegahedron (commence moaning now). Being a twit, Kara watches helplessly after letting the paperweight fly out of the city, which from the production values looks like it was surrounded by a giant wall of wax paper. Everyone starts whining about how now the city will die without its power source, so Kara hops inside one of Zaltar’s spaceships and sets off to recover the doodad.
After flying through five minutes’ worth of psychedelic lava lamp footage Kara winds up on Earth. Wait, let me be more specific: She actually appears for the first time on Earth by flying out of a lake. Apparently her magic spaceship transported her there in one of the script’s more idiotic moments. Kara’s also wearing her Supergirl suit, even though she didn’t have it with her in the ship, there’s no reason for her to have it in the first place, and it’s completely dry despite her just coming out of a lake. Yep, this makes a lot of sense. Always nice to see filmmakers really caring, am I right?
Though I misspoke earlier when I claimed Supergirl has no unique abilities of her own, her exclusive powers are pretty lame. First, she wears a pretty bracelet that lights up to indicate the presence of the Omegahedron (call it a superaccessory). Second, she can change her clothes and hair color by walking behind trees, columns, and other objects that allow for quick, though choppy, edits in the footage. This astounding knack for altering her fashion allows Supergirl to enroll at a local boarding school, where she adopts the name Linda Lee and hands in a letter of recommendation from her cousin, Clark Kent. She writes this letter on a typewriter, by the way, even though technically she’s never seen one before and thus only operates one because the script needed yet another convenience.
More questions arise: How did anyone from the last remaining Kryptonian city know Kal-El went on be known as Superman, or, for that matter, Clark Kent? Why the heck is Supergirl wasting her time joining a school when back home it was made clear her city would die out in a matter of days? These queries become less important when Supergirl meets her roommate, who in a desperate move to even further connect this black sheep of a film to its roots turns out to be Lois Lane’s little sister, Lucy. And whom is Lucy dating at the moment? Why none other than Jimmy Olsen, being portrayed once again by Marc McClure in a performance one can only describe as pained.
In case you’re wondering how Supergirl manages to completely avoid meeting her cousin face to face, the movie throws in an obscenely offhand radio broadcast about how the big guy has left Earth on an unspecified “mission.” This leaves our gal free to attend classes, learn about ear piercing, and fall for a hunky gardener named Ethan, who she saves from the mouth of an out-of-control bulldozer in one of the film’s few action sequences. The ‘dozer was powered by the evil Selena, a power hungry sorceress who found the almighty Omegahedron after it literally landed next to her while out on a picnic. Selena’s plans are pretty convoluted, since not only does she use the device to possess the bulldozer so it can kidnap Ethan and bring it to her headquarters (an abandoned amusement park’s haunted house), she puts a spell on the guy that will make him fall in love immediately with the first girl he lays eyes on. Of course, Supergirl stops the bulldozer and saves Ethan, causing him to fall in love with her instead of the villainous Selena.
Faye Dunaway takes on the thankless task of playing the film’s villain, and no matter how much Mommie Dearest energy she tries to muster she simply cannot get the movie off the ground. Selena is just a poor antagonist to begin with, a second-rate witch who has no motivations outside of “ruling the world” and forcing some dimwit gardener to love her for all eternity. Her powers are also never really defined, since a large supply of dusty prop spell books, the Omegahedron, and a feather duster masquerading as a dastardly wand allow her to do anything the script requires (big surprise). One minute the extent of her abilities is making a coconut fly out of the sky and hit Ethan on the head (swear to God), and the next she’s summoning fearsome hell beasts that, thanks to the budget, are invisible to the viewer but perfectly seen by the characters.
And so the movie continues, getting progressively more ridiculous as it lurches forward to its inevitably victorious conclusion. At one point Selena actually banishes Supergirl to the Phantom Zone, only hinted at in the much more successful Superman II. The Zone turns out to be an icky place filled with tar pits that strips Supergirl of her powers, but Zaltar is there to, say it with me here, “conveniently” get her out of trouble. “There’s no way you can escape the Phantom Zone! It’s impossible!” he wails, only to later on admit, “Well, there is one way.” Go figure, Zaltar. Nothing’s set in stone when it comes to this dumpy little film, which fails in being anything but an amusing footnote in the Superman lexicon. It’s certainly not going to inspire any generation of girls to realize they’re just as powerful as the men, as Supergirl is quite possibly the blandest hero they could idolize, and it’s not going to entertain them, either. My advice: Consider Supergirl like you would an odd family member at a reunion: Walk away and don’t make eye contact.