Musician Eric Draven is resurrected by a crow after he and his fiance are murdered by a gang of thugs. He then embarks upon a dark and gothic mission of revenge, guided by the crow and his undying devotion for his lost love.
Tagline: Believe in Angels
Starring: Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott, Rochelle Davis, xxx
Runtime: 1 hr 42
Space Krakens Earned:3/5
Warning: this review contains mild spoilers.
The Crow Review
The Crow (1994) is one of those films you have to be very careful of when reviewing, because both the movie, and its title star Brandon Lee, have such a massive, faithful cult following that you are instantly treading on stony ground by doing so. I’m aware that saying anything unforgiving about it is likely to summon a ravenous internet hoard, thirsty for my blood, so naturally I’m choosing my words carefully here.
That being said, I’ve never actually watched this film until today, and I think it’s nice to view something so many years after its release to gain a little perspective on the phenomenon. And phenomenon is the right word, because the movie is imbued with a sense of tragedy and intrigue before you even switch it on, and for very good reason: Lee himself was tragically shot and killed by a dummy bullet casing on set while filming. As is the way with these things, his loss of life sadly and inevitably propelled him to the status of an icon, and the movie’s success was no doubt partly influenced by that. Take into account that Lee was also the son of martial arts god Bruce Lee, and there is a level of infamy associated with The Crow that is impossible to disregard. Bruce Lee was himself only 32 when he died of a cerebral edema, an unfitting and premature end to such a heroic, vital person. That tragedy should befall both father and son compounded the lore and legend surrounding the men and their works, and so here we are nearly thirty years later: a movie around which a legion of fans gather, candles held aloft in remembrance.
This gothic-noir revenge-fest is based on the comic of the same name, created by artist James O’Barr. O’Barr was a former Marine who’s own fiancee was reportedly killed by a drunk-driver, thus, the comic was born of grief. The imagery is intense and vivid (you can see some of it here), and it’s this imagery which forms the main aesthetic of the film, in much the same way that it does with other movies of a similar ilk like Sin City (2005), The Punisher (2004) and Dark City (1998).
The plot is fairly par for the course. A young man called Eric Draven and his fiancee Shelly are murdered by a horrid gang of Detroit thugs. One year later, a crow resurrects Draven so that he can exact revenge upon the gang, one by one. What follows is predictable yet enjoyable, in that the set pieces are stylish, the music moody and the acting just leery enough to keep you interested. However, there is a lot lacking too- Lee has great on-screen presence, but the script is pretty sub-standard and doesn’t match the intensity of the set pieces. Also, baddies in the nineties were just terrible- about as frightening as a freshly crocheted toilet seat cover. In the nineties, the criminal element wore lots PVC, jewelry, hair gel and samurai swords. They were mostly high on speed, danced all night in awful nightclubs and didn’t actually spend that much time doing anything criminal. To counter this, police forces in the nineties were are also mawkishly awful, full of hacks, traitors and washouts.
Melodrama is the main word of the day here: there are moody rooftop scenes where Draven plays an electric guitar in the rain and then smashes it up, countless flashbacks where his virginal love laughs and looks longingly into his eyes, atmospheric lighting, wind machines and candles everywhere. The film progresses with a string of inventive revenge killings, including a silly remote-controlled car explosion that ends in a cool flaming crow symbol (later mirrored in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). And there is a lot of falling off of roofs and out of windows, capped off with a huge nineties shootout and an impaling on a church roof, which is all very Hunchback of Notre Dame. Its fun, it’s entertaining, and it’s memorable for the visuals, but not a lot else. Lee’s charm is drowned by the poor plot and dialogue, and although there are moments where his charisma and talent shine through, they are outweighed by the stodgy storyline and predictable tropes.
What I can’t get over, however, is how many parallels there are with this film and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight franchise. Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) feels like a deliberate homage to the Crow, albeit a richer, layered, more psychotic homage. In particular, there is a scene where an assembly of gangsters sitting around a table is interrupted by a sinister, makeup-smeared maniac walking in on them with a dramatic swagger- this could be a mirror image of a similar scene in The Dark Knight over a decade later. Ledger’s own untimely death is also an eerie echo of Lee’s, which is something that shouldn’t really be dwelt upon but keeps coming to mind nonetheless. The ideology also has huge parallels- at one point, in The Crow, Michael Wincott, playing baddie Top Dollar, starts talking about symbolism: ‘A man has an idea. The idea attracts others, like minded. The idea expands. The idea becomes the institution.’ This is the exact philosophy that forms Ra’s Al Ghul’s speech to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins (2005): ‘If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely. A legend, Mr. Wayne, a legend.’ Spooky, and once you start noticing these things, it’s hard to stop, but this only increased the enjoyment for me- I love spotting what may or may not have influenced directors in their future endeavours.
All in all, The Crow is probably essential viewing for the reasons listed above, but nothing, unfortunately, to write home about beyond the trivia associated with the movie, some nice visuals, moments of brilliance from Lee, and a fine turn from the ever compelling Michael Wincott- oh, how I love thee and thy gravelly voice and poker straight hair, Mr. Wincott.
There has been talk of a remake in the works for years, but it doesn’t ever seem to go anywhere, with multiple actors touted for the role but none seeming to make it further than the initial talks- Jason Momoa being the last, I believe, and he has subsequently moved on. Whether or not it’ll ever be remade remains to be seen, but I suspect this won’t affect the ongoing success of the original- indeed appetite for a reversion seems poor, if online forums and social media are anything to go by. And that loyalty from fans both old, and those discovering this film afresh, is a fitting tribute to a young and talented man who had his life cut so tragically short.