Who doesn't love a good montage? The Russian film technique in which time and events are compressed to illustrate a single theme grew to become a staple of 1980s Hollywood movies, often set to pop music. Why is "You're the Best" so iconic? Because of the montage in The Karate Kid.
Stargirl, DC's newest live-action DC, strongly evokes yesteryear's Gen-X movies with not one but two montages in its second episode. The result is Stargirl relishing in its own joy and upbeat tone, as well as nostalgia for a bygone era. It's also an exercise in demonstrating one of the few advantages TV and movies has over comics, one that series creator and comic book superstar Geoff Johns told Inverse about and is clearly capitalizing on now.
In Stargirl's second episode, "S.T.R.I.P.E.," trust is the word of the day as Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) learns to trust her stepfather Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson). Following the events of the pilot, Pat busts out a giant muscle car-inspired mech suit (proudly made in Detroit) to save Courtney. The rest of the hour sees the two clash over how exactly they should go about being superheroes — Courtney is eager to dive in, while Pat does his best to keep her out of trouble.
Meanwhile, the two get their own montages that illustrate what they have in common: persistence, stubbornness, and resilience. In Pat's montage, set to "One Piece At a Time" by Johnny Cash, Pat tries (and fails) to get S.T.R.I.P.E. in fighting shape. In Courtney's montage, set to Danger Twins' girl power anthem "Girl's Gotta," her super suit is born in her high school's home economics room where she tailors Starman's bulletproof costume and breaks virtually all the sewing machines in the process.
There's nothing revolutionary in these montages, but they're a lot of fun. You just don't see montages like these anymore, especially not in superhero shows preoccupied with season-long plots and brooding antiheroes. In the Arrowverse, montages marked only very special occasions. A montage was how Oliver Queen built his Arrow Cave; how in Supergirl learned to be a superhero; and in Legends of Tomorrow, well, Zari was stuck in a time loop.
But Stargirl uses it for moments that emphasize characters, not story. Both Pat and Courtney's montages reveal just how similar they are despite their differences in age, experience, and wisdom. While Pat has more "experience" than Courtney, he never quite got his due during the heyday of the Justice Society. That Pat is also on his own journey to become the superhero he secretly always wanted to be is emphasized by just how much his montage resemble's Courtney's, just with a completely different Spotify algorithm.
These montages also show what TV shows and movies have over comics and books: Music. As Geoff Johns told Inverse, music lets you create mood and atmosphere in a way he never had writing comics.
"One of the things I love having in Stargirl that I never had in comics is music," Johns told Inverse. "It's such a massive element. It helps the tone come across even more."
Montages are a classic movie staple that arguably peaked in 1980s Hollywood. Stargirl's use of montages in its second episode, while entertaining on their own, speaks to the show's yearning for Spielberg-style movies where adventure isn't just dangerous, it's also funny.
Stargirl isn't changing the world, but it is showing fans that there's more than one way to tell a superhero show on TV.
Stargirl airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern on The CW.