There is something timeless about the ‘Superman’ movies that starred Christopher Reeve. To this day, I can watch them and still appreciate them for an entertaining performance. It was more than just his handsome face – Reeve had that “Clark Kent” believable charisma down solid and was able to switch between the dual roles easily, even if the viewer can’t help but say “how can they not know he is Superman? Some reporters they are…”

The reason I’ve sidetracked, given that the subject of this piece is of Supergirl and not Superman, is because of the huge contrast between these two 1980s movies in the Super-franchise, spun from the same cloth, but not of the same quality at all. Both the characters of Kal-El and Kara are alien human beings from another planet. They are both attractive, extremely powerful here on Earth and eager to help the human race when they aren’t using hidden identities to blend in. But what they both are not are timeless, good movies. ‘Superman’ is, but ‘Supergirl’ is not.

When young and naïve Kara Sol-El uses a powerful alien tool called the Omegahedron and causes an accident, her home planet’s destruction is set in motion. Hoping to save the planet and fix her terrible mistake, she climbs aboard an interstellar flight ship capable of following the Omegahedron’s funnel through space and time. Determined to get the job done and return home, she assumes the secret identity of Linda Lee to aid her search on Earth. While on our planet, she matches wits against Selena, a human woman with the desire to be a supernatural powerhouse. If Kara can get the Omegahedron back, she can save her planet. But if she falls into Selena’s trap, she may never see her home again.

supergirl 1984

I’ll be honest, I love the idea of Supergirl. I truly enjoy seeing a strong female character in film and television cleaning clocks. Buffy & Faith (the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series), Alice (Resident Evil), Mystique (X-Men), Raven (the Teen Titans TV series), Selene (Underworld), V.I. Warshawski (Kathleen Turner)… you name it, and as long as I can relate, I probably like it. But it’s important to note: it’s not just about girls with attitudes kicking butt. I do have to enjoy the performance – the believability of the actor, too. ‘Supergirl’ just didn’t fit that bill for me.

Do you see the cover art to the movie? That’s a beautiful blonde in a great costume. What isn’t entertaining or inspiring about that? If you aren’t attracted to her, you want to be her (in essence). There is nothing about that image which isn’t entertaining. Whether it’s watching her trying to fit in as her alter ego Linda Lee or watching Selena try to fulfill her crazy little plans, it is fun in those regards. It’s a movie that manages to have some fun along the way while telling its story.

The plot, however, is where the film suffers most.  Obviously, the whole movie is pretty far-fetched, and it seems that the creative team almost went out of their way to change significant parts of Supergirl’s comic-book origins just because. Is the story as presented on-screen in ‘Supergirl’ something that you can relate to? Maybe in some places, but mostly it’s not something that can win awards on realism, even for a comic-book film.

SUPERGIRL, Faye Dunaway, Helen Slater, 1984, © Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection

The narrative of the movie felt displaced and forced, in my opinion. Kara’s instantaneous costume apparition felt a little like the movie said “let’s skip to the good stuff already, who cares how she does it?” It becomes apparent later that she can just envision herself a dye job and materialize clothes, but that’s never something Clark has been able to do. Why can Kara? And her flighty and silly introduction to Earth went on too long. I got up from the chair to get a soda and when I came back, she was still flying around like she was Tinkerbell. “Ohhhh, ahhhh.” Stop and smell the flowers a little less, will ya? While there is realism in being enamored by boundless beauty – especially when she had so little of that on her home planet – the whole scene was too purposefully theatrical in nature. It’s not a ballet and it didn’t seem genuine. She also seemed to have a lot of details about her cousin Kal-El (Superman) and other Earth-specific things that I felt really wasn’t earned by the time those details came up.

While I thought they cast Selena (Faye Dunaway) and Kara (Helen Slater) well, I was not overly fond of the movie as a whole, especially in recent re-watchings. I did, however, smile at a few of the cameos, specifically upon seeing Matt Frewer as one of Supergirl’s human antagonists and I catching Peter O’Toole in his mad little role. But nearly the whole pace and plot of the movie just felt rushed. Whether it was due to poor editing or because they pushed the movie into theaters quickly in order to cash in on the popularity of Superman, something just felt out of whack throughout the film. I feel that it needed some more screen time to develop.

On the whole, I liked ‘Supergirl’ for the memories it stirred up and the “ideal” of the movie, but didn’t enjoy watching it like I used to when I was younger. That’s a bummer for me since I went in to recent viewings expecting to be pleased. With the recent wave of female-centric superhero films being so well done – and a new ‘Supergirl’ film coming our way in the next few years – this film, unfortunately, has not aged well.  Ultimately, I think ‘Supergirl’ can still appeal to a younger crowd who enjoys superhero movies, but for adults who have seen better superhero films more recently, they may not be impressed.