Poor Helen Slater. SUPERGIRL was the film that was supposed to rescue the Superman franchise, and the unknown Slater was chosen over such more famous actresses as Brooke Shields and Melanie Griffith to play the title character. The film bombed at the box office bigtime and was nearly the final nail in Superman's cinematic coffin. Despite appearances in a few other high profile films, Slater quickly became the obscure answer to the trivia question "Who played Supergirl?".
Yet when the film is viewed today, Slater is probably the best thing about SUPERGIRL. That's not saying a whole lot, but Slater had the looks plus the ability to complete capture the innocence and wonder of a young girl from far away who, unlike her more famous cousin Superman, did not grow up on Earth and knew little of its customs. It's just too bad that she wasn't supported by a decent story or an enthused cast in this one and only Supergirl film. In retropsect, she might have had better success had SUPERGIRL been developed as a small scale television series rather than a movie blockbuster.
The story revolves around a lost energy ball Supergirl must retrieve in order to save her race of Kryptonians living in a place in inner space called Argo City. The energy ball winds up on Earth in the hands of Selena (Faye Dunaway), a two-bit sorceress whose powers could be so much greater if only she had something like, oh, an energy ball. Although Selena says she wants to rule the world with her power, what she really seems to want to do more is have sex with a local young hunk, but her love spell backfires and the local hunk falls in love with Supergirl instead. So, in short, Selena vows revenge on Supergirl because she ruined Selena's chances to get laid. That's your plot in a nutshell. Faye Dunaway and Peter Cook play the main villains, but despite their talent and credentials, they seem too embarrassed or bored with the material to come up with memorable performances. The sorcery segments are played on the juvenile level that would later be the hallmark of the TV series Charmed, with a touch of the 1960s Batman to boot.
Better than the main plot are the opening segments on Argo City and the "Supergirl in School" side story. The Argo City segment has a nice '70s sci-fi feel to it, and it's a damn shame that the writers couldn't come up with something a little more believable than Supergirl accidentally losing the energy ball (within seconds of obtaining it) to get the plot rolling. Supergirl's scenes in college are greatly helped by the bubbly Maureen Teefy, who plays Lucy Lane, Lois's young sister. Her humor and energy play wonderfully against Slater's wide-eyed innocence, but unfortunately, the writers don't give the two actresses enough scenes together.
The best part of SUPERGIRL, by far, is the "flight ballet" Supergirl does when she first arrives on Earth. The effects are wonderful as Supergirl flies, spins and somersaults over trees and races with a pack of wild horses to celebrate her newly discovered power of flight. It's too bad that after such a lyrical and high-flying sequence, the film immediately plummets back to Earth with a rock-stupid plot.
FORGET IT, JAKE... IT'S SMALLVILLE
Like almost every other prominent living actor and actress who
played in the Superman franchise through the years, Helen Slater made
an appearance on the WB's popular series Smallville.
HIGH FIVE FOR JIMMY OLSEN
Mark McClure, who plays Jimmy Olsen in this film, is the only actor who appeared in all five Superman films of this particular era.