R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: More Super Stuff

I know I’ve owed you guys my V for Vendetta for a couple weeks now, but my Superman Returns obsession still prevents me from writing about any subject except Big Blue. So instead, I’ve been going through my video collection to look for something else to write that would be Superman related. Considering I covered all of the previous films in my columns last year, writing about them again would be a little repetitive (though I could probably write all day about Superman: The Movie and complain all day about Superman IV). Instead, I’ve decided to focus on some of the often overlooked Superman properties.

Supergirl Starring Helen Slater, Faye Dunaway, Peter O’Toole, and Mia Farrow. Directed by Jeanot Szwarc.

First up, is Supergirl. So for those that don’t know, the rights to the big screen Superman franchise at the time of this film’s release were owned by father and son Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind. Following the stumble of Superman III, the producing team decided to make a film based on Superman’s cousin in the DC Universe; Supergirl. In the comic book continuity, Supergirl was sent to Earth from Krypton, just as her cousin had been before her. Really, this would seem like a slam-dunk. Audiences who loved the Superman films would surely come out for another Kryptonian saga, and perhaps they could capture the imagination of young girls, much like they had with small boys with the first film.

Helping out would be a similar casting strategy to Superman: The Movie. Take an unknown actor in the lead, and then surround her with a tremendous supporting cast. For the title role, Helen Slater was chosen and given a three picture deal. She was certainly pretty enough and looked right in the role. The rest of the cast was filled with veterans such as Faye Dunaway, Peter O’Toole, Mia Farrow, and Peter Cook. While Christopher Reeve was scheduled to make a cameo appearance, he was forced to drop out right before shooting. On the other hand, fans did get to see Marc McClure, who had portrayed Jimmy Olsen in the previous films.

So with a cast like this, and a decent budget, you would think that this film would have a decent chance for success. Unfortunately, without the guiding hand of a director like Richard Donner, Supergirl is an unmitigated disaster. First off, the film is a bit incomprehensible. Superman: The Movie and its sequel worked because they took themselves seriously, but infused great action and humor into the pictures. Supergirl lacks most of those qualities.

First off, let’s look at Supergirl’s origin. Now in the comics, she came from Argo city on the other side of Krypton. Here, we find Argo city Not on Krypton, but in an apparent magical realm called “Inner Space” (not the movie starring Martin Short). At any rate this city, seems to contain an entire city of Kryptonian survivors, only it seems film makers couldn’t be bothered to recreate the reflective costumes from the first picture. Instead everyone looks as if they are simply at a flower child festival. Peter O’Toole, who plays Argo City’s resident scientist, Zaltar, simply looks like he showed up to film in whatever he was wearing that day, as it looks as if he’s wearing a sweater he bought at Sears. He also looks really bored.

And bored he is. Zaltar is fed up with the City’s non-stop peace and prosperity and wants to go exploring. To do so, he’s borrowed the Omegaheadron, the city’s power source. The thing is, if this thing was the source of an entire civilization’s power, wouldn’t it be guarded? Add to that, Zaltar was supposedly the man who founded Argo, so wouldn’t he be more respectful of its power and the consequences for his actions? Well after a clumsy sequence in which the Omegaheadron, which is about the size of a baseball, is given to Kara (the future Supergirl) and it flies out of Argo, which apparently is only separated from deep space by a layer of cellophane. You would think Kryptonian construction would have devised a better layer of protection for its last survivors.

At any rate, Kara gets in a spaceship to go after the Omegaheadron, and well, the rest of Argo City… um, dies. All of this is handled with little or no gravity at all, which makes the entire exercise completely insulting. To make matters worse, Kara seems to not care either. She’s simply enamored to be going somewhere I suppose. Sadly enough, when Kara reaches Earth, the movie gets worse.

First off, the Omegaheadron ends up in the hands of Selena (Faye Dunaway), a witch who plans on immediately ruling the world. Her first move, go back to her headquarters, AKA: the local amusement park, and start a coven. She then proceeds to use these great powers to get a boyfriend. These aren’t exactly really high aspirations she’s going for.

Now you would think when Supergirl finally shows up, there might be some improvement to the proceedings. You would be completely wrong. I think that there was certainly the possibility that this film could have had lots of charm. It’s got a decent cast and good special effects. Unfortunately, the film makers here treat its audience like idiots. First and foremost, everything regarding the main character is taken for granted. For example Kara’s ship lands in a lake, and she then immediately flies out of the water (which is actually a cutout of Helen Slater jumping out), and she’s already in full costume. That’s right, they don’t explain it at all, and she just already has the Supergirl costume. She also has full control of her powers, even though these are her first moments on Earth.

This bothers me to no end. When Richard Donner directed the original, so much care went into showing WHY Superman was the hero he was. Here, we just skip to the flying. Then when Kara gets an urban environment, the movie gets WORSE!!!! Somehow, even though she has never been on Earth before, Kara knows Clark Kent is her cousin and works at the Daily Planet. She also knows instinctively that she must have an alter ego to disguise her true identity.

Everything about this film is sloppy. You simply sit there, watching as the film gets dumber and dumber and then finally the doe eyed Supergirl finally takes on the overacting Dunaway in a preposterous finale. I’d go into more detail about how much I hate this movie, but I think you guys get the point. Instead I summarize by simply saying that when it comes down to it, Superman IV is a better movie than this one. That’s not saying a lot.

On to something I do like. From 1996-2000 perhaps the best version of the Superman mythos outside the movie series was Paul Dini /Bruce Timm Superman: The Animated Series. This is a brilliant cartoon series, with the creators bringing the same sort of magic they had been able to bestow on Batman: The Animated Series before and Justice League afterward. Much like those other series, this was primarily an action series that was able to incorporate some of the Man of Steel’s greatest enemies including Lex Luthor, Metallo, Darkseid, and Mr. Mxyzptlk. Starting off the series was a Direct to Video feature length animated movie Superman: The Last Son of Krypton.

Superman: The Last Son of Krypton Voices by Timothy Daly, Dana Delany, and Clancy Brown. Directed by Curt Geda, Scott Jeralds, Dan Riba, and Bruce W. Timm

This is a story we all know very well. Jor-El (Christopher McDonald) a brilliant scientist on the planet Krypton decrees that the planet will explode within thirty days. Laughed at for his theory, Jor-El sends his only son, Kal-El, to Earth in hopes of saving him. Raised by Kansas farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent, Kal-El, now Clark Kent, grows to become Superman, Earth’s greatest hero.

This is basically just an introduction to this universe in an animated form, and it does so very well. First off, unlike Donner’s live action version from 1978, Krypton is not such a cold, crystalline setting, but more of a technological utopia. Also, the portrayal of the Kryptonians is much more human than before. A lot of time is taken to develop Jor-El and his wife Lara (Finola Hughes), before the destruction of Krypton.

If nothing else, I have to say that all the voice actors for this were perfectly chosen. Timothy Daly is an awesome voice for Superman. There’s warmth in his voice that is unmistakable and is largely missing from his successor to the role, George Newbern who took over on Justice League. Other voices, including Dana Delany as Lois Lane (who would have probably made a great live action Lois), and Clancy Brown as the most sadistic and calculating Lex Luthor put on any screen.

For being such a great “setup” to the series, the movie itself is a little underwhelming on the action side. Supes does defeat a huge robot, but viewers are left wanting as so much time is devoted to the hero’s origin that there isn’t much time for anything else. Fans would get a much better adventure in the next straight to video release though, in a movie that would finally allow DC’s greatest heroes to appear on a screen for the first time since Superfriends was on the air.

The Batman/Superman Movie Voices by Timothy Daly, Dana Delany, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin and Clancy Brown. Directed by Toshihiko Masuda.

Now this is more like it! Not only combining DC’s two greatest heroes, but also their two great villains, The Batman/Superman Movie has Mark Hamill’s Joker traveling to Metropolis to make a deal with Lex in order to destroy the Man of Steel. Of course, everything for the villainous duo goes awry when Batman shows up in town to stop the madness. The results are brilliant as the film is high on action and even drama, as Lois falls in love with Bruce Wayne.

Combining all of these excellent voice actors together is an amazing experience, as The Batman/Superman Movie is probably the most exciting movie about the Man of Steel outside of the live action film series, being even more compelling than Superman III or IV. Seeing these two titans fight their greatest foes on screen is something that I hope will find its way to the big screen someday, and if it does, I hope its as well thought out as this piece.

So that should about do it for Superman columns, unless I get an urge to write about the Max Fleischer animated shorts, the Kirk Alyn serials or some of the fan films that can be found online, such as World’s Finest or Grayson. Next week I PROMISE I’ll get that V for Vendetta column up and then get on with covering movies that have nothing to do with Superman or DC Comics. Promise.

Picture Credits: needcoffee.com, impawards.com, amazon.com, argocity.8m.com/