Monday, November 19, 2012

The Crow

Here's a little background on me.  I've always been excited for Christmas.  It is the one day all year I will wake up at an ungodly hour without setting an alarm because, apparently, I am seven years old.  When I was old enough for my parents to yell at when I woke them up at 4:30AM on Christmas morning, I had a choice to make.  I could either be an adult and sleep in until a reasonable hour, or I could find something to keep me occupied until dawn.  And so I began my tradition of watching movies in the pre-dawn hours of Christmas morning.  The first entry in this series was The Crow.  I was unfortunate enough to be a teenager when The Crow came out, which means that I have seen no fewer than 6000 people dressed up as The Crow for Halloween.  This movie has always had a weird appeal.  There are all sorts of people who will dress up as The Crow for Halloween: dudes who like action movies, guys who want an excuse to show off their abs, Goth kids, poor people who happen to own a black shirt and black jeans, bondage enthusiasts, people who love to pout, etc.
Yeah, like that, but less awesome.  And with more practical pants.
Anyway, back to Christmas.  I was lucky enough to have very permissive parents who realized that I was not going to kill people because of the music, video games, or movies I absorbed.  However, my mom happened to walk into the room as the climactic scene was finishing and she saw this:
Bizarrely, her reaction was not "That's totally bitchin', son!"
Yes, a guy impaled on a gargoyle, which is funneling his blood out of its mouth.  Merry Christmas.  I hadn't watched The Crow in many years, so I was wondering how well it held up.  The answer?  About as well as can be expected.

The Crow is the story of Eric Draven (Brandon Lee).  Eric and his fiancé, Shelly, were brutally murdered on October 30th, the day before their wedding.  Why?  Because October 30th is Devil's Night in Detroit, and Detroit is run by complete scumbags (NOTE: that probably means that The Crow takes place before Robocop and is, therefore, a prequel).  A year later, Eric crawls out of his grave  For whatever reason, a crow tapped on his grave and Eric woke up.  Not surprisingly, he was traumatized by memories of his death and the rape and murder of his soon-to-be-wife.  Quite a bit more surprising, though, was Eric's new-found ability to heal from any wound --- oh, and the fact that his body apparently healed from the sharp fall that killed him while he was rotting in the grave.  Like anyone else who has risen from the dead, Eric preached to others decided to share his experience with the people who killed him.  And by "share his experience," I of course mean "murder the hell out of."  But before he can wreak his terrible vengeance, he needs to put on makeup. his identity...or something.
That's a sad clown
Once he put on his face, Eric --- now The Crow --- hunted down each of the men responsible for his and Shelly's deaths.  As he works his way up the criminal food chain, The Crow's murderous ways have an unexpected effect on a young girl and a disillusioned cop; he gives them hope...which probably means they're pretty messed up in the head.

The Crow was undoubtedly Brandon Lee's best movie before his untimely death during filming.  However, his career up to this point was highlighted by his prominent chin and that time he complimented Dolph Lundgren's penis in Showdown in Little Tokyo.  Was Lee any good?  He turns in a solid action performance, but his acting is hit and miss.  He is suitably cool when playing the invulnerable Crow, but is wretched when trying to convey any emotions; when he is moaning for Shelly, Lee sounded like a drunk with a mouth full of marbles.  What really makes The Crow work is not Brandon Lee, but the surprisingly solid supporting cast of villains.  Michael Wincott played the unfortunately named Top Dollar, the lead baddie, and he was a lot of fun to watch.  Wincott has a fantastic villain voice, and it absolutely fits the ridiculous level of evil this character requires. 
Long hair and no tie?  This Top Dollar fellow is quite the rebel!
His right hand man was none other than Tony Todd, who simply is incapable of playing a nice guy.  You know you've got a solid bad guy cast when the Candyman is a henchman.  There are a few other minor bad guys, but the most important one is David Patrick Kelly, who managed to rock a Caesar cut and a ponytail at the same time.  Kelly is one of my all-time favorite baddies, and he has some choice moments here.  My favorite is when he orders an underling to grab some cigarettes and "road beers" because he's so evil that he makes drunk driving a priority.  A close second is his "Fire it up!" chant with his gang members.  It is totally intimidating and not at all comedic.
And it definitely doesn't look like a terrible Boy Band dance
The last of the noteworthy baddies is Bai Ling, who was suitably creepy as a weird witch-like lady.  She didn't act great, but Ling's natural smile looks genuinely frightening, so she came across pretty well in her small role.  Ernie Hudson got to swear and point out how ridiculous the rest of the cast was acting.  Rochelle Davis played little Sarah, and she was pretty bad.  On the plus side, she had a terrible and very 1990s haircut that you don't see too often in films.  This was also in that brief period where Anna Levine got to play almost every trashy whore character that Juliette Lewis turned down.  Levine has a tragic quality to her, and I thought she was surprisingly good in a role that wasn't very well-written.

The Crow was directed by Alex Proyas, and was his first widely-released film. If absolutely nothing else, he took a story that could have been laughably cheesy and added enough edge to it to make it pretty cool.  Proyas wasn't too impressive from a technical standpoint, but he played it pretty smart.  Why mess with fancy angles or try to milk a great dramatic performance from this cast, when it is far easier to go for spectacle and overlook its inherent stupidity?  My favorite instance of that comes from this scene:
Heroes/antiheroes leaving a calling card is a long-honored comic book tradition, so it's not shocking that The Crow decides to let the police know that he is the one, um, murdering scumbags.  The effect that this scene has on Ernie Hudson's character is to make him roll with it; if a victim wants to kill the city's biggest scumbags that the law can't seem to prosecute, he's willing to light a cigarette and enjoy the show.  But think about this scene for a moment.  This isn't Spider-Man leaving a purse snatcher somewhere for a beat cop to find and arrest.  This is someone who is murdering people who, in a strictly legal point of view, are innocent.  From that perspective, The Crow is a lot closer to a serial killer than a hero.
"Ha!  Logic!"
Of course, nobody watching the movie actually comes to that conclusion but me.  And no, I don't really give a rat's ass that the bad guys are being killed.  That's all good clean fun in my mind.  What I would like to know is how The Crow managed to pour the gasoline so precisely to make his flame art.  The city always looks wet, he operates at night, and I don't see any streetlights in the area.  Is that a superpower from beyond the grave?  Sure, why not?

Most of the time, movies with antiheroes rely on the main character to draw the audience in.  What's the difference between the murderous Punisher (1989) and the murderous Punisher (2004)?  Thomas Jane is actually sympathetic and Dolph Lundgren deserves everything he gets because he's a godless Communist (that is a continuation of the Ivan Drago story, right?).  The Crow doesn't work that way.  Brandon Lee is just too much of a ham to be truly appealing.  What makes his work look good is how evil the bad guys are by comparison.  When your villains are crazy bastards who live to rape and murder, you don't really need an awesome hero, as long as the bad guys pay.
Although, let's be honest.  How long were these jerks going to live, anyway?
That's really what separates The Crow from the rest of its comic book movie ilk.  This is a whole lot less about the protagonist avenging a single crime and more about the need for bad people to die horribly.  And that's okay.  This is a ridiculous story that gets juuust the right amount of edgy attitude without going overboard, and The Crow winds up being a lot of fun to watch.  That is a delicate balance, though, so it isn't terribly surprising that the sequels didn't quite hit the mark.
"If you mention the sequels again, I will stab your face in!"

So, yeah.  The Crow is not a legitimately great movie, even with action movie standards.  It is, however, a unique blend of violence, melodrama, and villainy that somehow manages to take itself seriously.  That is what makes this movie work; if the characters were winking at the camera or camping it up, The Crow would be unbearable to watch.  And's actually still pretty cool.

The Crow soundtrack was also a pretty good sampling of moody, mid-90s "alternative" rock.  Nine Inch Nails and Stone Temple Pilots got most of the attention with their contributions, but my favorite track also happens to be the unofficial theme song to the film.


  1. How perfect is it that The Cure did the theme for this flick? It is good to know that The Crow has held up over the years. I remember when this movie first came out, I saw it with my cousin, my brother, and his friend. My cousin and I (both the same age) were shocked to find out after the movie that my brother and his friend (both 6+ years older than us) did not share our opinion that this was obviously the greatest movie of all time. Even more bizarre was their point that Brandon Lee was not absolutely perfect as the main character. A few years later, my cousin and I would also blame the sequel's shortcomings on Lee's absence.

    It is a true shame that David Patrick Kelly is not a villain in every movie. Maybe he will be the next Bond villain.

    Was this movie based on a comic book or does it just have that feel and look?

  2. Yes, the Crow was based on a comic of the same name. It was never a major comic book (not DC or Marvel) and was adapted to the big screen fairly quickly.

    I would love David Patrick Kelly in a Bond movie, but recent pics I've seen of him make me think he's gotten a little old for the part.

    You know, I remember this movie being a lot more awesome when I first saw it, too. It hasn't aged like a fine wine, but it's still better than a lot of the crap I enjoyed as a kid. And I can't believe you ever ranked this movie over Terminator 2. Even kids aren't that stupid.

  3. I disagree with you slightly but you have good points so I wont let it bother me.

    Have a nice day!