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DCs Stargirl: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
I was a Marvel teen in the early ‘80s. Sure, I would also read DC comics, and loved many (Teen Titans leaps immediately to mind). As I moved away from reading comics, more or less, I still dipped in upon occasion, especially for those DC comics that revived and legitimized the genre for many (I'm looking at Watchmen and The Dark Knight). But even with Michael Keaton and Tim Burton, and Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan, it always seemed to me that Marvel just did it better. Tone, story, special effects, all top rate. In my biased opinion, DC always seemed to try too hard. And then came Stargirl, a print-property about which I had zero knowledge prior to seeing this season set appear on the screener table at DVD Talk headquarters. Being a comic movie fan, one who hasn't dipped into the modern slate of comics television AT ALL, I am the proverbial viewing blank-slate. So! Let me say that from this standpoint, Stargirl is the bomb! So much fun, such great performances, good special effects, great casting, pacing, and a deft balance of tone: funny, heart-felt, intense, creepy and exciting. If, like me, you tend to poo-poo DC properties, or can't imagine Stargirl star Luke Wilson being serious in anything, or would tend to overlook a TV series about a teenage girl, check yourself, pal, because Stargirl ain't nothing but a fantastic party.
Stargirl unfolds over 13 episodes in the first season, each about 42 minutes long, and is eminently binge-worthy, as each episode naturally ends with a cliff-hanger. The series starts with a bang and some laughs, setting the tone. What seems like it might be the depressing end to an earlier series introduces us to a bunch of superheroes, including Starman, (Joel McHale) leader of the original Justice Society of America, as they're picked off easily by the evil Brainwave (Christopher James Baker) in an all-out battle. Flash-forward then a few years to find teenager Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) still missing her father, who disappeared on a long-ago Christmas Eve, when she was just four-years-old.
Courtney's mom Barbara (Amy Smart) takes a job back in her hometown of Blue Valley, Nebraska, taking with her second husband Pat, (Luke Wilson) Courtney, and Courtney's younger step-brother Mike (Trae Romano). Courtney encounters not only difficulty as the ‘new girl' trying to fit in at high school, not to mention the usual uneasiness found in moving from a big city to a small town, but she also experiences serious challenges when she finds a magical staff in her step-dad Pat's belongings, a staff that imbues her with super powers!
Over the course of the first season, Courtney learns a lot about Pat, as well as a little group of heroes known as the Justice Society of America, not to mention that group's rival faction, the Injustice Society of America. Everything centers on Blue Valley and a plot to take over America. A second season of the series is teed-up and slated to premier in 2021, but season one presents a complete, satisfying story arc, so if you like your superhero entertainment thrilling, funny, and pretty perfect, season one of DC's Stargirl is a treat!
From a great soundtrack to solid special effects, suspense sequences, fight scenes, and teen drama, Stargirl has it all, but what makes the series truly special are the interpersonal relationships. Best being Courtney's relationship with her step-dad; she's mistrustful of his actions at first, for a variety of reasons including the usual strained parental relationship, which is complicated by Pat's past as a superhero sidekick, and his need to both discourage, and then train Courtney in the life, desperately trying to keep things secret, protect his new family, and also accept that as things get serious, he might need to allow a group of hapless teens to take on pure evil. Bassinger plays the teen to perfection, vulnerable and brash, chafing to hit escape velocity while also depending on Pat to be her safety net. Her exchanges with Pat crackle with as much energy and excitement as the regularly-timed special effects sequences. As Pat, Luke Wilson seems to have found a signature role, one that balances his ‘aw shucks' Jimmy Stewart comedic mannerisms with a deeper well of strength and wisdom. Not only is Wilson convincing as a mentor to heroes-in-training- he's also note-perfect as an interloping father-figure who not only wants to protect his family, but also simply wants to be accepted by them.
Containing a multitudinous cast, Stargirl presents goofy teens getting in too deep, with standout performances from Yvette Monreal as edgy maybe-friend Yolanda, Anjelika Washington as nerdy Beth, and Jake Austin Walker as a conflicted teen straining mightily against his father. But there really are too many great performers to mention, as well as lots of goofy DC Comics-style plot-points, characters, (always nice to see my ‘70s Saturday Morning favorite Solomon Grundy) and hero names, (those names, hoo-boy!) all of which meld perfectly. The dour, self-serious attitude of erstwhile DC stalwart Zack Snyder's movies is entirely absent, replaced by a confidence that seems almost careless in comparison. Plot elements are allowed to be creepy when needed, and emotional, but also exciting, funny, and above all, fun.
DC's Stargirl plays out over 13 episodes, each about 42-minutes in length. The series is both human-scaled and pretty fantastic, with superhero battles matched only by the goofy-realistic squabbles of teenagers. Performances fit the material nicely, especially the interplay between stars Brec Bassinger as Stargirl, and her step-dad Pat, played by Luke Wilson, in the surprise performance of 2020. If you're looking for guilt-free superhero fun that's binge-worthy and can stand up to repeat viewings, Stargirl is for you. Though free of extras, this 3-disk set (plus Digital Download Code) is nonetheless Highly Recommended, no matter which comic company is your favorite.
Stargirl comes flying at you in an MPEG-4, 1080p, 2.35:1 ratio image that looks great for TV fare. Some of the effects shots approach in clarity and quality decent earlier superhero movies, so if you're expecting a lackluster small-screen image, you'll be disappointed. Details are sharp, recreating textures faithfully (as that's what superhero costumes are all about these days, texture) motion is smooth, and colors are fairly naturalistic, with good saturation. Black levels are fairly deep as well, which is good since there is a fair amount of night-time and dungeon activity to be had. Overall, a great presentation.
Audio is delivered in sizzling fashion through the English 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Dialog is clean and clear, and there is a fair amount of dimensionality in the mix, to put your secondary speakers to use. Of special note is the soundtrack, featuring a wide variety of tunes the mix well both in the soundscape, and as part of the plot too.
A Digital Download Code for the series is the sole extra in this set.
DC's Stargirl, to my semi-disinterested eye, (meaning I have no dog in this hunt) is a ton of fun, balancing heroics with teen-drama, fun and fear, and featuring across-the-board great performances from its unusual cast. (If you've ever thought of Joel McHale as a superhero type, you were ahead of the game, while E.T.'s Henry Thomas will also surprise you.) Filled with great hero characters (albeit with corny names)and plenty of action, Stargirl is Highly Recommended (even without extras) for comic-book fans of all ages.
- Kurt Dahlke