Apparently, when I was a kid I was totally obsessed with the Supergirl movie from 1984. But before I sat down to watch it recently, I had no recollection of the movie. Turns out, it is a delightful cheesefest that’s not big on logic. The cast, truly, is what makes the film amazing. Peter O’Toole. Faye Dunaway. Mia Farrow. And Helen Slater is equal parts childlike and kickass as Kara/Supergirl.
The movie opens on a crystalline city of Krypton survivors that looks like Xandau and the ’60s had a baby, but I don’t care, because O’Toole is there, as Zaltar. He’s “borrowed” one of the two power sources for the city. He lets Kara play with his magic wand (no, seriously), and long story short: the power source ends up falling to earth and Kara goes after it. She arrives with all the powers of her cousin, plus the neat ability to alter her appearance.
Meanwhile, the orb fell to earth, nearly landing in the lap of Selena, deliciously played to the hilt by Dunaway. She is perfectly evil, a power-hungry witch: “Such a pretty world. I can’t wait until it’s all mine.” Her companion, Nigel (Peter Cook), is ruthlessly kicked to the curb, after she claims the orb for herself. The champagne, over-the-top picnic they were sharing was on a knockoff tiger rug, by the way.
Selena returns home, which is some kind of abandoned carnival that looks like every childhood nightmare I’ve ever had, minus a sewer-clown. Her friend, Bianca (Brenda Vaccaro), starts in on her about all their bills, and their lack of funds might explain why the décor looks like the ’80s threw up every cliché ever. But…probably not. Selena tucks the orb into an evil-looking box and begins to plot world domination. As one does.
Childlike to the max (it’s an ’80s movie; I can say that), Supergirl lands in the middle of the town’s street at night, trying to get her bearings. She’s harassed by two idiot truckers, who basically shrug and don’t care when she asks why they’re acting like inappropriate, grabby monsters: “It’s just the way we are.” Yes, it is entirely satisfying when she kicks their butts.
Next up, it’s party time at Selena’s house! Everyone there inexplicably knows about the orb (perhaps someone keeps secrets even less well than Oliver Queen. Or Barry Allen. Or…well, you get the point). Nigel tries to caution her and fails. Selena harasses a guest he began flirting with by turning her food into a scorpion and magically hurling her about the room. Sure, she doesn’t care about Nigel, but that doesn’t mean she wants anyone else to have him.
The next morning, Kara wakes up in the forest next to a bunny. (Again, I’m not kidding.) She happens upon a baseball game, spies a Hot Gardener (no, really. I swear), and adopts brown hair and the outfit of the students at an all-girls school. Posing as a student, finds the headmaster (Danvers), says her name is Linda Lee (cousin to Clark Kent, who she forged a letter from), and ends up rooming with Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy), cousin to—you guessed it—Lois Lane.
For an inexplicable reason, Bianca drives Selena to the school. After consulting her Tarot cards, Selena decides she’s going to make everyone love her as her plan for world domination—starting with the Hot Gardener (Hart Bochner). The power source lights up, causing confusion. Kara can hear it and starts to get up to leave her classroom (the computers, guys. They’re magnificently ancient). Nigel, her math teacher, starts to lay into her, but she correctly solves the math problem he expected her to be unable to. She could give Will Hunting a run for his money.
Two mean girls attempt to pick on Lucy, but Kara (as Linda) thwarts them at every turn. It’s a charming little subplot that dovetails nicely into a discussion of plans for the three-day weekend. Lucy is gaga over Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), who’s coming to visit. Kara elects to stay behind, but agrees to meet them at Popeye’s (the chicken joint) for lunch. Hello, product placement… (I mean, I do love their biscuits, so…)
Selena concocts her love spell, which involves a spider and a walnut. (No, really.) Hot Gardener shows up under the guise of doing work at Selena’s (guys, I’m not being silly—he doesn’t have a name until waaaaay later), drinks the love potion’d beer, and…passes out. When he wakes up, disoriented, he stumbles through the carnival, which is basically my waking nightmare. At the time, Bianca and Selena are distracted by Nigel, who arrives wearing the worst leisure suit in the history of fashion. He attempts to shame them: “You girls are rank amateurs playing with fire.” And Dunaway’s delivery is razor-sharp: “Because we own the matches.”
Once Selena realizes Hot Gardener is gone, she becomes furious. The box the orb is in appears to be growing (it is a power source after all, apparently powering the magic of the box itself). Selena is able to see the Hot Gardener stumbling hideously about. The first person he looks at is who he’ll fall in love with—and yes, he’s been walking through main street and town traffic, but managed to make eye contact with…no one. Suuuuure. Selena enchants a frontend loading tractor to bring him to her, which interrupts Kara, Jimmy, and Lucy’s lunch. She turns into Supergirl and saves the day. Of course. Hot Gardener falls in love with her, but as Linda. This means, by the way, he starts speaking in insanely flowery poetic language, which made me chuckle. It’s everything you think Shakespeare might utter, if he were drunk on moonshine. Or peppermint Schnapps.
Later that evening, Selena goes vengeful crazypants and sends an invisible shadow monster after Linda. She changes into Supergirl, of course, and uses lightning to kill it. Annoyed, Selena quips, “Send a man to do a woman’s job, and that’s what you get.” (So, the invisible shadow has a gender? Okay, then.)
Bianca tries to talk some sense into Selena: “All I’m saying is you can’t go nuts over a landscape guy and a teenager in a blue suit.” Not going to lie, that made me laugh out loud. Selena, of course, pays her no mind. Kara follows her bracelet (it lights up when she faces a certain direction; Kryptonian GPS!) to the creepy carnival. But Hot Gardner has stalked her there with flowers chocolates. They have a moment together, and we finally learn his name is Ethan. They almost kiss, but Selena turns the lights on (while wearing a fabulous kimono), accelerates the teacup-esque ride they’re on, and is vexed to find Linda vanished and Supergirl arrived. The fight scene involves football-based bumper cars (Okay…) and random pipes that Supergirl uses to cage Selena.
Supergirl flies Ethan (in one of the bumper cars) to a lakeshore somewhere. From the carnival, Selena sends a coconut to knock him out. (No, really. That was a thing that happened.) Bianca advises Selena to call Nigel for his help, who shows up at the drop of a hat. He’s told that Selena merely wants Ethan so that Supergirl will follow, but he cracks the love spell walnut open just for spite.
Ethan wakes up with no memory of what happens, but remembers Linda and being in love with her. He and Kara kiss, but he vanishes because of Nigel (using something called the Burundi wand, which immediately reminded me of Eddie Izzard) and Selena teaming up. She double crosses him and steals the wand, which…duh.
Meanwhile, in town, a giant mountain appeared with a castle/fortress at the top. Kara shows up, finds Ethan chained in the fireplace, and ends up being sent to the Phantom Zone by Selena. She finds Zaltar, who was sent there for his misdeeds. But she convinces him to help her escape.
Back on Earth, Selena is still plotting world domination. The box shows her that Supergirl is en route to escape the Phantom Zone, so she sends fireballs through the opening. From three cages suspended from the ceiling, Jimmy, Lucy, and Nigel watch. (Jimmy and Lucy were captured for protesting Selena’s rule. Nigel was just captured for being himself. Although, there’s some delightful snark from Lucy about him being her math teacher.) Zaltar helps Supergirl escape, but sacrifices his life in the process.
Supergirl bursts through Selena’s mirror, gets her friends to the safety of a random alcove, and challenges Selena. Selena summons up some kind of white, cloudy shadow monster that looks like a devil/bull creature with horns and claws. She’s controlling it like a voodoo doll, and while Selena is distracted, Ethan crawls to the box and puts on the lid. Just as she’s about to give up, Kara hears Zaltar’s voice in a very Obi Wan Kenobi way: “You can. On girl.”
Breaking free, Kara whirls around Selena creating a white tornado and shoves her back into the mirror. (How? Why? Where does it go? Pretty sure no one knows or cares.) Jimmy, Nigel, Lucy, and Ethan (who knows Supergirl is Linda/Kara) agree to keep her secret, and Kara takes the orb back to her city.
I absolutely understand why I adored this movie as a kid. Not only was the hero a woman, but the villain was too. Sure, the plot was a little nonsensical. And yes, the representation of magic was a bit fugazey. And okay, fine: the very idea that there were other survivors of Krypton living in a magic city that could be found by swimming through the ocean (into “inner” space, as opposed to outer space) is total rubbish. But it was honestly amusing and delightful. Faye Dunaway is, as ever, an absolute queen. It doesn’t compare to the show Supergirl, because they’re entirely different mediums and so much time has passed since the movie was made. It can’t be judged by the same standards. But I’m thankful the movie exists, because it was one thing among many that sent me down the Geek Path.