Sunday, November 3, 2013

Supergirl (1984)

This one I'd never even heard of.  Evidently it never got a US release.  But of the five films in the
original Superman series, it's not the worst.  It's not even the second-worst.  On the other hand, it is the third-worst...

What it does badly is pretty easy to identify.  It's borderline incoherent a lot of the time - like, on a basic narrative level, it's just hard to figure out who's doing what or why.  Or maybe it's just so poorly thought out that you don't want to figure out what's going on.  Why does it take us until near the end of the movie to realize that the villain's strangely decorated lair is actually a carnival haunted house?  What's the purpose of delaying that information?  It's not much of a payoff when it arrives;  more of a "huh." 

But plot holes aren't, in and of themselves, a real problem for me in superhero movies.  The bigger problem in this film is that the midwestern town it's mostly set in is undoubtedly the ugliest slice of America ever committed to celluloid.  Dirty, drab suburban sprawl, full of random power lines and no trees,  fast-food joints and strip malls, all crammed together in a shallow frame so we can make out all the corporate logos (product placement is always everywhere in this series), just before they get squashed by a not-terribly-fast-moving tractor.  Watching it I half wondered if the whole thing was a clever and hard-edged satire on American consumerism.  I almost wish it was.

The tone of this movie, at every turn, is just off.  Weird.  Sometimes it's weird in a good way, like Supergirl's first flight.  It's so wide-eyed and airbrushed that you expect unicorns to pop up, or Shaun Cassidy, but it works in a strange way.  A Girl's First Flight.  Similarly, the opening Argo City stuff with Peter O'Toole is bad, bad, bad, but strangely enjoyable - vaguely reminiscent, for sheer vervaciousness, of such Gallic s-f masterpieces as Barbarella or Fifth Element

The best part of it, the one really good thing, is the villains.  Faye Dunaway, Brenda Vaccaro, and Peter Cook as a trio of backbiting, not-too-imaginative witches.  The parts are underwritten - like I say, they're given a great lair but the filmmakers forget to explain it until it's too late to care - but all three of the actors camp it up marvelously. There's an opportunity for some kind of mythic resonance here - contrasting types of Girl Power - and it gets lost in the mess of the script.  But Dunaway and Vaccaro's chemistry almost delivers it anyway.

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