Sunday, August 31, 2008

Supermonth: Supergirl Liveblogging

I remember watching Supergirl years and years ago, and being generally pretty confused by it. I only have vague impressions left; something about Argo City being underwater, and the Omegadrome, and a cardboard cut-out of Superman. All that's about to change, though, as I pop the DVD into the player and liveblog (so to speak) the flick from start to finish. Join me, won't you?
The opening titles are actually pretty well done; reminiscent of the Superman films without feeling too derivative. Also, very sparkly. Mia Farrow's in it? Interesting. And Peter O'Toole!
Is it bad that I cringe whenever I see one of the Salkinds' names these days?
All right, so we've got some kind of city in a crystal mountain, where people are dressed like it's the Valley of the Dolls. And I think I just heard someone called "Leia."
Apparently Zaltar, O'Toole's character, is some kind of crystal sculptor. Kara approaches him, asking what his new creation will be; he says "I think, a tree," which brings to mind a bit of Joyce Kilmer (and to my heathen mind, a bit of Yip Harburg) and sets Zaltar up as some sort of god figure. We'll see if that pans out.

Anyway, Kara asks what a tree is, and Zaltar tells her it's a lovely thing which grows on Earth. "Earth, you mean where my cousin went?" You know, I've never been keen on the idea that Kara knew where Kal-El was sent prior to her own journey; maybe it's just because in the Silver Age, she watched him through a telescope, which defies more physical laws and principles than most of her powers put together, but it's always kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
Zaltar wants to visit Earth himself, using the "binary chute," but Kara warns that he'd never survive the pressure. He thinks about going to Saturn instead, and then chastizes Kara for not thinking sixth-dimensionally. See, Saturn and Earth are in outer space, while Argo City is in inner space. Well, that clears everything up quite nicely. Wait, what?
Zaltar shows Kara the Omegahedron (not Omegadrome, which I recall now is the thing that made Cyborg all gold and liquidy), the city's power supply, which he'd "borrowed" from "the Guardians." It's a spinning ball that glows and produces a light show similar to the Cosmic Key.
Zaltar says "I think that I shall never see the branches of a living tree;" now I'm pretty certain that the Kilmer reference is intentional. The Omegahedron cannot create life, only the illusion or shadow thereof. Alura, Kara's mother shows up, and Zaltar creates a bracelet for Kara with his orange plastic wand, saying something about "inventing miracles." If the God thing isn't intentional, then the writers lack any sense of symbolism.
Zaltar apparently founded Argo City, though he wishes to leave, wondering what lies beyond the city walls. He has decided to go to Venus, and he surreptitiously kicks the Omegahedron over to Kara, who uses it to animate the dragonfly she created with the orange wand. I'm sure only good can come of this.
The dragonfly rips through a window, which appears to be made of wax paper, and the city begins to explosively decompress. Kara is slammed up against the hole. Some guy who looks an awful lot like Topher Grace shouts her name and rushes to save her, then Zaltar fixes the window with his wand. Apparently the Omegahedron went out the window, giving Zaltar the excuse he needs to leave the city, to look for it. While he's chatting, Kara gets into the chute, and the lotus-petals close up around her to form a pod. She leaves the city, via some kind of gravitational radiation, from inner space to outer space, and according to her parents, she'll never be the same again. If you're wondering why, join the club. Zaltar, as penance for losing the Omegahedron, suggests that he must be placed in the Phantom Zone.
Kara's pod zips through inner space (I guess) alongside some pretty trippy special effects. Kind of "Willy Wonka boat ride" trippy, not quite "the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey" trippy. I guess that means it's only half-full of stars.
We cut to two WASPs enjoying champagne on a high-class picnic. Selena, Faye Dunaway's character, muses about how awesome the world is, and how she can't wait until it's all hers. Peter Cook, her companion (who sounds an awful lot like Alan Rickman), suggests that the only way she can rule the world is to become invisible. What? He then explains how to do so, apparently, which involves a dead man's head and several black beans. Apparently he's some kind of wizard, and Selena's trying to discover the secrets of black magic.
The Omegahedron falls from the sky and lands in Selena's soup. The parallels to the Masters of the Universe movie continue.
Selena picks up the ball and starts to recite some kind of immortality spell. She then dismisses Nigel, gets into the car, and uses the Omegahedron to start it (since Nigel's still holding the keys). On the radio, we hear that Superman has set off on a peace-seeking mission to a galaxy that may be hundreds of billions of light years away. Kara, you have absolutely the worst timing.
Kara's pod opens up, and she comes out, then flies out of a pond, dressed in her Supergirl costume. Okay, wait, what? When did she get underwater? Where did she get the costume? Somehow, I doubt that I'll be given any satisfying answers to these questions.
Testing her new powers, Supergirl picks up a flower, then uses heat vision on it, which for some reason causes its petals to open up. She then discovers she can fly, and dances around in the air in a sequence that's actually pretty cool. The whimsicality of the Superman family, particularly with regard to how fun and awesome flying is, isn't explored often enough. The scene honestly reminds me of a more low-key version of that bit in Superman Returns where young Clark is jumping around the cornfield.
The bluescreen flying effects are less impressive. Helen Slater reminds me a bit of Alicia Silverstone.
There's a gorgeous shot where Supergirl is standing in front of a body of water at sunset, doing the classic Superman arms akimbo pose, with her back to the camera. If nothing else, the cinematography is pretty good so far.
Selena returns to, abandoned funhouse, which I assume she got real cheap from a police auction of the Joker's property. She calls out, and I swear it's for "Ianto." I guess this must be Torchwood Five or something.
Oh, Bianca.
Bianca comes in and suggests that they start their own coven in order to pay the bills. She suggests charging $5 a head for membership fees, which leads me to wonder just how popular covens are in this town. It's that damn Wiccan mafia, I tell you.

Cut to Supergirl flying above the city, when her bracelet starts beeping and blinking. Why did Zaltar give her a signal watch? And if she asks him, will he make her big? She lands, and a semi comes to a stop in front of her. Two skeezy men emerge, making typically chauvinistic remarks to the Maid of Might. She naïvely greets them and asks where she is. The men respond that she's on "Lover's Lane." Great, another "LL" in the Superman mythos. I don't know what's dumber here: that two truckers are going to try to take on a girl dressed like Superman, or that Supergirl's bracelet apparently has an alarm that notifies her of good places to get sexually assaulted.
One of the men tugs her cape aside to get a look at her rear; the other one turns out to be Max Headroom. No, really. Supergirl explains that she's Superman's cousin, and that she's looking for the Omegahedron, the Macguffin that powers Argo City. This exposition doesn't fail our intrepid truckers, who are unwavering in their noble quest to score some Kryptonian jailbait this night. In the middle of a street, no less. You can probably predict what happens: Supergirl lifts Sid the Squid up by his chin, accompanied by the usual bone-cracking sound effects we've come to expect from Kryptonians using their powers on muggles normal people, and she asks why they're doing this. Big Russ's response: "It's just the way we are." Well, there's some anvilicious dialogue for you. That's right up there with Sandman.

Sidenote: I vaguely remember this same thing happening in the Superman/Batman arc that introduced the newest iteration of Supergirl. Except that Kara was naked at the time. But I'll check that when I get the chance.

Supergirl blows Matt Frewer...into a fence, with her super-breath. For some reason, the other trucker pulls out a switchblade and tells her she "shouldn't have done that." He is similarly unfazed when she uses heat vision on the knife. It's like he's consumed by bloodlust, only for sex...if only there were some term for this strange sex-lust.
Supergirl kicks him in the junk. He goes flying into a pile of garbage, and the Girl of Steel takes to the skies. And yet, the trucker must be wearing a frigging kryptonite cup, because he lethargically suggests (not even in falsetto!) that they don't mention this to anyone.
Selena's holding a party, and she claims that the attendees are her army of the night. This is the most incredibly '80s army of the night ever. No army of the night in history has featured so much Jheri Curl and so many white sportcoats with the sleeves rolled up. I was pretty much instantly reminded of this:
That's right, a Hocus Pocus reference.

So, she lights Peter Cook's cigarette with her finger as a demonstration of her awesome powers. He shows her...something; it's not clear what, apparently to demonstrate that ambition is dangerous. As a response, she toys with one of the partygoers, again to demonstrate her amazing abilities, which now extend to telekinesis and beverage-based scorpion-generation. She sends Nigel away angrily.
We cut to a forest, where Supergirl is asleep on the ground, wrapped in her cape. She wakes up and bids a rabbit good morning. Then, all the woodland creatures help her make a pretty new dress so she can impress Prince Malverne at tonight's ball.

No, wait, scratch that last part. A couple of kids run in to retrieve a lost softball, then return to the diamond, which appears to be separated from Supergirl's sleeping place by a single row of trees. She starts watching the game, seemingly surprised to find it. Because, you know, someone with incredibly sharp super-senses can't possibly hear a loud softball game being played thirty feat away. Supergirl may be the world's soundest sleeper.

She checks out one of the girls in the audience, who appears to be wearing some kind of school uniform. Somehow, by walking behind various trees, Supergirl is able to change her costume into a matching uniform and backpack, and turn her brunette to boot. By comparison, Superman's superweaving skills are like the guy who learns how to sew buttons back onto his shirts before he goes to college.
Sidenote: I think I've linked to that super-weaving page more often than any other single page on the web.
Supergirl, incognito, goes into some kind of private school and begins looking around. The name "Danvers" is dropped fairly casually by a passing student; it apparently belongs to the headmaster or principal or whatever. Supergirl says she's a new student; and noting a portrait of Robert E. Lee on the wall, gives her name as "Linda Lee." You know, I want to go to a private girls' school where the headmaster has a picture of a Confederate general on the wall; I imagine there would be nothing but totally progressive values in such a place.
Nigel barges in to complain about all the nasty new Gryffindors students, who have played pranks on him. While the headmaster is out of the room listening to him grousing about his Potions class, Linda forges a letter from Clark on the typewriter and sneaks it into Danvers' file. How did Linda find out her cousin's Earth name?
Holy crap! Girls in bras! That's honestly racier than I expected. And girls in bras with towels inexplicably wrapped around them from chest to knee. That's...more bizarre than I expected. Linda gets a tour of the campus, including the "girls who lounge around in their underwear" dorm that exists solely in movies and college males' dreams. Linda gets placed in a room with Lucy Lane. What a coinkidink! Danvers puts two and two together about their relatives working together on the same paper. Strangely, though Lucy claims that she was supposed to have a single, the room is clearly a double, and Lucy has decorated it as such, including signs that say "It's mine beyond this line." She also appears to be reading a She-Hulk comic.
Linda sees a poster of Superman on Lucy's wall; I may have misremembered the cardboard cut-out. Lucy offers to introduce Linda to Superman. Irony!
Selena's playing a game of "He loves me, he loves me not" with Tarot cards, and comes to the conclusion that people will do anything for love. Thus, she concludes, she's going to make everyone fall in love with her. Some kind of tchotchke on the armrest starts pulsating, and the camera cuts briefly to show Linda in class nearby. Eventually, Supergirl's bracelet starts blinking and beeping, and she uses X-Ray vision to see Selena's car driving away. She is about to leave when Professor Snape chastizes her.
After class, Linda and friends are playing what I can only assume is field hockey. One of the other girls is apparently trying to kill Lucy Lane for no reason besides pure malice, and Linda rushes in to save her, allowing the field hockey ball to shatter against her body. And then, girls in the shower! And girls peeping on other girls in the shower! And the mean girls are fiddling with the pipes in order to give the girls a good scalding. Ah, the wholesome fun of an all-girls prep school. Linda, naturally, turns the tables on them with a bevy of super-senses and some heat vision, leading to their eventual humiliation.
Lucy offers to pierce Linda's ears. That can only lead to great things, I'm sure. It'll be like those old comics where Jimmy tries to cut Clark's hair. Oh, and Lucy's in a bra again. And Linda's putting a bra on over her uniform...and stuffing it. What the hell?
Speaking of Jimmy, Lucy talks about how she's having him come up from Metropolis.
Linda Lee is Willow Rosenberg. Especially in her voice.
According to Linda's map, Midvale is near Peoria, IL. Next thing we see is Supergirl on a flying tour of Chicago. At least they're not trying to pretend that Chicago is Metropolis or anything. I'm glad that the modern films have been better about masking their locales; no more Statues of Liberty in Gotham and Metropolis.
Selena's making a love potion. Kind of makes me wonder what the heck the point of the flying scene was. Gosh, this movie's long...there's still over an hour left.
Oh, right, Bianca.
Selena lures a landscaper into her secondhand hideout and gives him a dose of the love potion. Then Nigel shows up, wearing what appears to be a Members Only jacket.
Ye gods, I can't imagine how boring it must be to be reading this. Especially if you're not watching the movie while doing so. Many apologies.
The landscaper wakes up in a daze and ends up walking through the still-active haunted house; Nigel tries to talk Selena into doing something with Mosaic. I didn't realize that Green Lantern was going to show up.
Jimmy Olsen takes Lucy, Linda, and his friends out for a classy dinner at a generic fast food restaurant. They happen to see the love-potion-struck fool staggering through the street. Apparently he hasn't looked up from his shuffling feet since he left the funhouse, since he's supposed to fall madly in love with the first person he sees. Also, since he's not kissin' everything in sight, this must be Love Potion No. 7 or something, not #9. Lucy calls him a dingleberry; Linda asks what a dingleberry is. Oh Linda, be very glad that Lucy didn't explain it to you.
Jimmy pops by to offer some anti-drug propaganda from behind his bowtie and sweater-vest. Jimmy, you're a tool.
Selena uses the Omegahedron, which is either stuck inside a dragon-shaped box, or has grown to be shaped like a small leaden dragon tchotchke, to send an earth mover chasing after her lovestruck gardener. In the entirety of the chase, he apparently sees no one. Lucy runs out to climb into the runaway piece of construction equipment, hoping to stop it. Instead, she's knocked rather easily unconscious, while calamity ensues all around her. Cue Linda's quick change in the bathroom.
Supergirl surveys the area, apparently trying to figure out which problems to stop first. She actually manages to take care of things pretty efficiently. Supergirl changes to Linda for some reason before opening up the jaws of the earth mover (having taken it away from the chaos), and naturally he falls in love with her. Selena, watching through her magic mirror, is terribly upset. This naturally could have been avoided if she'd chased after him in a car rather than trying to remote control construction vehicles to capture him. Don't supervillains ever do anything simply?
Somehow, despite watching the whole thing through a magic mirror, Selena and Bianca miss that Linda and Supergirl are the same. She sends some kind of spell to kill Linda or something.
Supergirl shows up to fight the invisible wind or monster or something. It's invisible, and it's stormy, but it's not totally clear what the threat is supposed to be.
Okay, it's invisible Godzilla. Supergirl stops it (revealing its shape in the process) with a makeshift lightning rod that generally defies the physics of lightning rods.
Linda finally figures out that the bracelet is a kind of tracking device for the Omegahedron. She follows it to the funhouse, where the gardener-stalker shows up with chocolates and roses.
Lovestoned landscaper gets a name--Ethan--and continues talking in wannabe Elizabethan. He proposes to Linda, and they both act kind of dumb.
Selena starts spinning the lovebirds on a magically out-of-control Tilt-A-Whirl. Linda, as you might expect, disappears, and Supergirl drops in shortly thereafter. So far Selena still hasn't made the connection. She's not particularly bright. She also claims to be a "Siren of Endor," which I think means she's supposed to be a tall, bald Ewok.
To demonstrate her awesome power, Selena tries to kill Ethan. With bumper cars. Supervillains are dumb.
"You got hit on the head with a coconut." "Supergirl" = "Gilligan's Island."
Selena has brought Nigel in to teach her Occlumency or something. He uses the Elder Wand to help her with the Omegahedron, and together they capture Ethan just after he apparently figures out Supergirl's identity.
Selena feels up Nigel so she can steal the Elder Wand (or whatever), and uses it with the Omegahedron to make Nigel look like a hobo in drag. She also turns her funhouse into a mountaintop castle with a decor strangely similar to the Luthor place in "Smallville"Selena entrances Ethan and puts Supergirl into the Phantom Zone, complete with the classic spinning square motif. Which is actually pretty cool. The glass pane breaks, and Supergirl is in a dark, barren wasteland of a world, which is (I presume) the movieverse Phantom Zone. She quickly discovers that her powers are gone completely. So she starts walking. I know it's not going to happen, but I think it'd be pretty awesome if she ran into Mon-El or some Phantom Zone prisoners. So far, though, she just falls into a tar pit.
Selena's driving through the city, where some of the college students (Lucy included, also Jimmy) are protesting her. She really asserted her omnipotent dominance over Midvale rather quickly.
Wow, maybe we will get to see some Phantom Zone prisoners, because someone just pulled a sleepy Supergirl out of the muck.
Oh, it's Zaltar. He offers her a "squirt," which is less dirty than it sounds, and he's clearly gone a bit mad, or at least a bit depressed.
There's a way out of the Phantom Zone, but it's impossible. Which I'm pretty sure means there's no way out. Eventually Supergirl's super-perkiness convinces him to help her try to escape via some kind of singularity or something.
One thing I'll say about Selena, she knows how to pace herself. Some villains are all "Today the city, tomorrow...the world!" but she's all, "Today Midvale, by the end of the week the contiguous bits of North America, and after that we'll see." Good for you, Selena. Don't spread yourself too thin.
Supergirl and Zaltar make their way through Disney's The Black Hole, while Selena tosses fireballs at them from afar. That doesn't do much, so she decides to summon "the demon storm." Zaltar sacrifices himself to let Kara go on without him, and the god parallels from earlier go largely unfulfilled, except maybe in some Nietzschean way, but it's been awhile since I read Zarathustra, so I can't be sure. Supergirl escapes and flies into Selena's lair. Selena threatens the lives of Kara's friends, as you might expect, and Supergirl neutralizes her trap, as again you might expect. Supergirl demands the Omegahedron, but Selena uses it to power up the Elder Wand so she can do some flashy but ultimately lame magic tricks to the general environment. In the meantime, I should say that it's really a good idea to have a magical villain in this flick. It allows for some more entertaining encounters than you get with the traditional beat-em-up of superhero flicks. I wish one of the Superman sequels would remember his other weakness like this does.
Selena summons Stampede to stop Supergirl. There's some weird stretching, and Supergirl's writhing in pain, but she hears Obi-Wan Zaltar's voice in her head and it gives her the resolve to call on the Strength of the Bear and break free. Ethan disturbs the Omegahedron, and Nigel tells Supergirl to "confront her with it," which is singularly vague advice. Somehow, Selena and Bianca--who really feels like a bystander in all this--are sucked into the magic mirror, and the monster vanishes. That's kind of a confusing climax.
Supergirl takes the Omegahedron and swears Jimmy and Lucy to secrecy about her existence. Ethan says he'll explain to the others about Linda, and they share a tender moment. Supergirl flies off.
Supergirl goes back underwater and we see Argo City in the distant darkness. I think that must have been the source of my confusion as to Argo's whereabouts as a kid. The credits roll, the theme song plays, and the movie's over.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Much like my experiences with "Lois and Clark" and "Superboy," I expected this to turn out to be absolute crap, but it was actually pretty decent. There are some nasty plot holes, and some things aren't entirely clear, but overall it's a decent flick, and Supergirl is made into a distinct character. At no time does this movie feel like it's just Superman in a skirt, or like the plot is interchangeable with the Man of Steel. It's very much a Supergirl story, and Supergirl has enough whimsy and pluck (though her naivete is frequently overplayed) to carry the film. The film is easily better than either Superman III or IV, and doesn't suffer from the blatant bad ideas of those movies. My biggest complaint is that it sometimes feels like there are ideas that don't get followed through all the way, and points that don't quite get complete closure. At the very least, it's worth a watch, and it's worth the $7.50 I shelled out for it. I'm happy to put Supergirl onto my DVD shelf.


Jason said...

Man, you know, I've avoided this movie like the plague, but I guess I'm gonna have to check it out. Very good liveblog, I'll have to follow along once Netflix gets the DVD to me.

David C said...

It sounds like the version currently kicking around the low-priced DVD bins is the U.S. Theatrical Cut, which is a real mess. The Director's Cut version on the Anchor Bay 2-disc set from a few years back is a significant improvement.

It's still weak in many ways, but it's a lot more coherent, at least.

LurkerWithout said...

I want a teen Super-girl/All-Girls Hogwarts fanfic now...