Movie Review: “The Crow”

On December 28th, 1997, the WCW World Heavyweight Champion “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan went head-to-head with “The Icon” Sting at Starrcade.

For those of you that aren’t wrestling fans, this match was a big deal. Hulk Hogan had turned heel (became a bad guy) for the first major stint in his career, forming the New World Order and wreaking havoc throughout World Championship Wrestling. The company man Sting who once dawned bleach blond hair and a excitable “surfer” gimmick had changed. For an entire year, Sting didn’t speak a word, hanging out in the rafters in a dark getup, white face paint and a leather trench coat. Now, at Starrcade, it was time for the dark avenger Sting to save WCW – a battle of good versus evil.

What I remember most about that encounter (which wasn’t exactly the best match) were the entrances each wrestler made for it (wrestling fan or not, look up Sting’s entrance at 1997’s Starrcade – the opening monologue, the music, the atmosphere). It is one of my favorite moments as a wrestling fan.

What does this have to do with The Crow film?

In a lot of ways, that moment at Starrcade helped bolster the legacy of The Crow film (at least for me). In Sting’s pursuit of becoming an icon (from borrowing more than a few things from James O’Barr), The Crow became iconic as well.

Obviously, that isn’t all that made The Crow such a storied moment in cinema history – during production, Brandon Lee was fatally wounded during a scene involving a firearm.

This was a tragic moment.

The outcome was a lot more than changing perception about a mere film. Brandon Lee’s fiancée Eliza Hutton lost her future husband, and his friends and family found themselves without him.

That in mind, The Crow now had a certain mystique to it. A new wrinkle, if you will. I would compare it, perhaps, to Heath Ledger‘s death shortly before the release of The Dark Knight. It became less about The Crow as a film and more about it as a moment or even a memoriam for Brandon Lee.

What about the film? All of this chatter about The Crow’s legacy, what about the actual film?

Directed by Alex Proyas in his sophomore effort (he went onto direct Dark City, an apt successor, I think), The Crow is, roughly speaking, a classic story of revenge.

A musician named Eric Draven and his fiancée Shelly are murdered by a group of thugs on Devil’s Night (a night in Detroit associated with serious vandalism and arson). After, Eric Draven returns from death and seeks revenge on the men responsible, guided by a black crow.

I was worried about revisiting The Crow again. As a child, I loved the film. Then, in my later years, I reflected on it as a decent, but dated superhero film. I was worried it wouldn’t meet the expectation I had of it. Thankfully, I believe The Crow is a great film.

The cinematography is dark and gritty in a way that feels unkempt and filthy. “Gritty” superhero cinema isn’t exactly out of the ordinary these days, what, with Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy (which I enjoyed a lot), but, as a consequence of Nolan’s films, I feel a lot of films haven’t been able to capture what The Crow does. Whether it is the newer Fantastic Four or the Snyder films (which I also enjoy), a lot of films feel like they try to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak. They look like a super-expensive high-production, but also try to have that edgy, unkemptness to them. What comes from it is something less gritty and more dreary.

The Crow is not that. Although certain scenes do show their age, I would argue it has so much style and kinetic energy behind every shot that I honestly wouldn’t even acknowledge it if I hadn’t had the preconceived notion about it. In some ways, I would equate it less to the newer Batman’s and more to Tim Burton’s Batman Returns meets David Fincher – specifically Fight Club or Seven.

As a film, The Crow is more about style than substance, I believe. The villains aren’t particularly layered – they’re baddies that need stopped. However, the story is romantic and infectious, the atmosphere is lurid yet Gothically beautiful, and it truly flies by.

Brandon Lee’s performance is the most bittersweet aspect of the film. If I had even a inkling of doubt about him – it went away revisiting this film. The man was charismatic as all hell and blew me away with his performance throughout. Every scene he is in, not only is he commanding, but he feels fun, fun-ny even, without ever feeling tonally dissonant from the subject matter. This is a feat that the later sequels showed is a difficult task (and is exactly the reason why Bill Skarsgard is, at least in theory, the best candidate to don the face paint). I loved his performance and it is so sad to think of what he could have done next. Likewise, too, the lightning and how he is shown, and his makeup is ace (compare it to the next film and see what I mean).

This is Brandon Lee’s show, through and through, but I will also say everyone across the board plays their part well. Rochelle Davis as the young girl Sarah who had a father-daughter relationship almost with Eric, and the Detective played by Ernie Hudson, who helps ground the film.

If I had any criticism at all about the film – the last half hour is a little messy. Ernie Hudson’s character’s involvement feels brushed aside and undercooked, whereas the end with Eric confronting Top Dollar is a little anticlimactic / underwhelming. I have never looked to see for certain, but I could see this partly explained away by the circumstances surrounding the film’s production.

Overall though, still love The Crow. The film is nicely shot with a terrific atmosphere, and it is heightened by a fantastic leading man and a classic, complete (no sequels, spin-offs, follow-ups, truly necessary) story. I highly recommend it.

Rating: – 4.0 out of 5.0