PG – 124mins – 1984
RED & BLUEBIRD
“Oh God that’s awful – that’s never going to work!”
These less-than-supportive words are uttered by an unimpressed sorceress (Brenda Vaccaro) after hearing her sister’s (Faye Dunaway) unpoetic conjurings of an invisible fog to find and destroy an incognito Supergirl (Helen Slater). Unfortunately, these were not words utter by Warner Bros. movie executives when they were pitched this half-baked superhero spin-off movie, borne out of a need to reinvigorate the flagging franchise following the less than stellar reaction to Superman III (1983).
Okay, so it’s not irredeemably bad, but it is frustratingly riddled with flaws, namely: dreadfully trite plot coincidences (stranded on Earth, our leading lady ends up bunking with Lois Lane’s sister, while Peter Cook’s warlord just so happens to be one of their teachers), shoehorned callbacks to franchise characters who they could never convince to appear (Superman is handily “out of the system”), a script over-complicated with jargonous nonsense (Binary shute? Quantum vortex? Omegahedron?!), less than stellar special effects (see main picture) and a sickeningly cheesy tone.
In another humorous case of the film unconsciously reviewing itself through its dialogue, an early scene in the trans-dimensional Kryptonian outpost of Argo City sees the well-intentioned but mishap-prone Zaltar (Peter O’Toole) describe the journey from inner to outer space as being filled with “airy, glittery stuff” – which sums up what the majority of Supergirl is made up of as young ‘Linda Lee’ attempts to familiarise herself with such human conventions as kissing and falling in love…
The grimmer and grander Phantom Zone conclusion (not to mention the return of a slightly mad, exiled Zaltar) is unquestionably the film’s highlight – it’s just a pity it feels so analogous to the slighter, frothier tone of the preceding hour and forty-five minutes, which largely comprises of middle-aged witches standing around in an abandoned Fun Fair ghost house, moaning at mirrors!
Likewise, the monstrous shadow demon Dunaway’s power-hungry foe summons is a decently ominous special effect, but it is just too little too late, arriving just three minutes before the end credits. Adventure may well run in the Zor-El family, sadly consistency does not. Those who have recently struggled with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice may well argue film-makers are still failing to nail that balance over 30 years later.