It’s been eight hundred and fourteen days, a little over two years, and a hundred and ninety posts since The Corvid Review first opened its doors.
And — at long last — here we are: at our hundredth (official) movie review.
I’m not one for celebrating anniversaries and the like, but this is an occasion that demands some special attention, I suppose. Therefore, the Azure-Winged Magpie and I have decided to do something a little special to mark the milestone (and it won’t just be us marking the occasion).
And is anyone surprised that this is the movie we’ve chosen for our Centennial review?
After all, there’s a certain poetry to this, isn’t there?
To clear some waters: I’ve not watched The Crow in years, despite its appearance on my list of Top 10 Comic Book Movies . I’m well-enough versed in the lore of the story and read some of the comics when I was much younger, but it wasn’t until my most recent viewing that I turned a critical eye towards the 1994 movie. And do I ever have a lot to say.
While the post is recommended reading in its entirety…
The Crow is a 1994 movie directed by Alex Proyas. Before I address anything about the movie itself, allow me a moment to talk a little about Mr Proyas.
on Alex Proyas;
a few Thoughts on Influential Styling and Set Pieces
Proyas is someone who has appeared not once — by virtue of his work), but twice on The Corvid Review. The excellent Dark City — which he helmed — ranked as an ‘honourable mention’ in my list of Top 10 SF movies , and really should have replaced The Matrix if I was considering a personal list and not one held in sway of populist “legacy” (which would warrant a revisit to said list).
I’ve watched most of the movies Mr Proyas has been connected to, and I find him a very divisive character to talk about. Dark City — as I stated — is excellent, and shares a distinct visual style with The Crow. On the other hand, I, Robot was far below subpar, Knowing was a little worse, and the less said about Gods of Egypt (which the Azure-Winged Magpie decided to torture me with, once), the better. I find it hard to say whether I like his work or hate it. I have no notion of his style of direction, or which parts his hand is most present in during production. I am not sure whether to give him much credit for the visual style present in his movies from the 90s, or whether to hand that to the team around him for both movies (especially Dariusz Wolski, who was the cinematographer/DP on both projects). Proyas’ movies since he teamed up with Simon Duggan (cinematographer/DP on all subsequent Proyas projects up until Gods of Egypt) have certainly lacked that distinctive edge, while gaining a more mainstream feel.
Dark City was a very strong influence on The Matrix — to the point where it should have been a little embarrassing — but the biggest influence on The Matrix is undeniably 1995’s Ghost in the Shell, which had entire sequences copied-and-pasted into the live-action movie. There’s even a story about the Wachowskis convincing producer Joel Silver to champion their project by showing him the aforementioned anime movie, although I can’t speak to the accuracy of that account.
Here’s where something strange happens. I remember watching 2004’s I, Robot (directed by Mr Proyas) shortly following my viewing of Ghost in the Shell: Innocence and thinking that an entire sequence during the final conflict was visually-thieved from the anime. I haven’t revisited I, Robot (because I really don’t like it), and can’t be sure if it indeed was a rip-off (although I’m loathe to use those words — art can always be referential and influences should be open to the taking), but if it was, it’d be an interesting little circle of visual influences that could be built between the five movies I’ve mentioned so far.
It’s just an observation I had. Thought you might find it interesting.
on Crows (first in general; and then in context)
For those who aren’t yet aware, I don’t just call myself “the Crow” for no reason. I’ve ‘raised murders’ before, and consider crows to be my people for all intents and purposes. Some of you might be familiar with my little brother Pickpocket, and might have heard stories about our many escapades.
In light of that knowledge, take it from me: a good rule to abide by is to treat all crows as you would your friends; and a second is to never piss crows off. A lone crow — or a starving murder — might not be able to retaliate, but a murder that is content will always be a nightmare to deal with. While crows typically follow a general rule of an eye-for-an-eye, it is the relentless nature of the vengeance employed that defines all long-standing conflicts involving crows. And this nature — I’m pleased to say — is something very present in this movie (more so than in the comics, thanks to their longer format). Whether or not is present with knowledge of crows or just as a coincidence, I cannot say.
That said, let’s hop up onto the branches high above Detroit, shake those feathers out, fluff up those chests, light a cigarette or two, and take a look at…
WARNING: This section contains MODERATE spoilers
Opening on Devil’s Night in Detroit, with a wide view of decrepit rooftops and blazing fires, The Crow offers us a summary of what’s to come. Spoken by Sarah (Rochelle Davis), the opening narration states:
“People once believed, that when someone dies,
a Crow carries their soul to the land of the dead.
But sometimes, something so bad happens that a
terrible sadness is carried with it, and the soul can’t rest.
The crow can bring that soul back
to put the wrong things right.”
We are then brought to the scene of a crime. Disgraced former Detective Sergeant Albright (Ernie Hudson) is on the scene, where a young woman — Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) — is fighting for her life following a violent home invasion. Six stories below the broken window we first see Albright standing by, her boyfriend Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) lies dead.
It isn’t without a sort of morbid irony that The Crow would be Brandon Lee’s final credited movie role, as he died during production. A series of small mistakes and unfortunate oversights led to a prop bullet, with a real brass cap attached, being fired during the scenes flashing back to the crime — killing Lee. All footage of his death was immediately destroyed and the movie entered a sort of “coma” as the difficult decision over whether or not to continue it was pondered. Of course, Lee’s father Bruce had also died before completing his final movie (Game of Death ).
The Crow is dedicated to both Brandon and his then-fiancé Eliza Hutton (who was also working on the production). Personally, I feel a third dedication should have been included with the movie: to Beverly — the girlfriend of Crow creator James O’Barr. After all, O’Barr created the character — and subsequent series — whilst trying to come to terms with her death at the hands of a drunk driver.
As Shelly is being taken into an ambulance for a transfer to a hospital, Albright meets Sarah — the narrator from the beginning of the film. She corrects Albright in his assumption that Shelly is her sister, telling him that the couple were her friends, and that they “take care of [her]” — a fact that becomes significant later on. It’s a simple, short moment of foreshadowing that could easily slip past even the critical eye.
The movie cuts to one year later, where Sarah is paying respects to the deceased Eric and Shelly (who died from her injuries). As she is about to leave the cemetary, she notices a crow atop Eric’s gravestone. Following her departure — and some scenes of the rot that has been festering in the backdrop of the city — Eric is resurrected and thrown back into the world.
At first, he is confused. He wanders the inner streets picking up physical markers of his interrupted humanity until he reaches his “home”, guided by the crow who is heralding him. There, he recounts the events on the night of his death in jarring, broken flashes. Following a period of disorientation, Eric refashions himself into a wraith, bent upon exacting vengeance upon those who ended his life with Shelly.
Again, in that vein of bitter irony, the scenes following Eric’s ressurection were completed following Lee’s death. And even in the view of how far CGI and compositing techniques have come in the past 24 years, these scenes do not look out of place at all on a first viewing (less can be said about certain other scenes, but I’ll get to those later). Armed with his new lease on life, and a plethora of ‘gifts’ bestowed upon him by his guide the (adorable) crow, Draven sets out into the night to achieve his one goal. But — as always — no story is so simple.
The Crow doesn’t concern itself with anything outside of Draven’s life. He sets out to avenge Shelly, and he protects Sarah. Those two focal points of his life are made clear within the first ten minutes of the movie and they remain until the end. To hell with the rest of the world, is what The Crow says.
The Crow is unabashedly a comic book movie. That’s the one aspect of the production that earned it such a lofty spot on my Top 10 list back in 2016. While Superman can claim to be the first major comic book movie in the mainstream, with Tim Burton’s Batman being the second, The Crow occupies a special place in the list of comic-book-movie-firsts in the sense that it doesn’t care about ‘upscaling’ the character from the comics. It delivers what the comics have as they exist.
Following that ethic, it evokes a feeling that this character and this world belong to the realm of comic books. The city buildings (apart from the set pieces) look stacked upon one another like drawings upon drawings do — only rendered in three dimensions. It’s a feeling that’s most closely replicated by 2005’s Batman Begins (soon to appear on The Corvid Review), and the influence of this relatively-little-known comic book can be felt in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (especially when considering the scenes around ‘the table’ relating to “chaos” and “anarchy”).
The editing is something I had a slight issue with, but in light of the circumstances surrounding the production, I can look past the use of strange freeze-frames and shoddy slow-motion. In a way, they can be seen as renditions of the action of reading a comic — the fluttering of a page after a weak attempt at turning it, or pauses preceeding a turn — but that might be giving too much credit to what could just be ways of extending the few minutes we have with Brandon Lee on screen, made to look “normal”.
As stated earlier, there are some scenes in which the CGI stands out as particularly annoying. These are all related to Draven’s regenerative capabilites, and I’m sure there must have been better ways to pull these effects off, given the rest of the movie’s accomplishments. They’re not such a significant detraction from the movie, but should be included in any discussion, given how much of a visual feast this movie can be.
The editing — on the whole — has a degree of snappiness to it, and it works quite well, given the events happening on screen and the nature of the story’s origin. The lighting and set design work beautifully together to create a world that is equal parts film noir and action thriller, toeing a line between 90s B-grade action movies and high-concept 80s successes such as Terminator. All-in-all, The Crow is a damn fine looking movie, and it moves at a stunning pace, despite how sparse its plot is.
Helping the “snappiness” and the “feel” of the movie is Brandon Lee (and others)’s physical acting. While I think the actual acting in the movie is just a little above average (with Michael Wincott turning in the most solid performance out of the starring cast), and the line delivery is subpar, Brandon Lee’s physical acting is a certain 8/10. There are small mannerisms and tiny hints of a more inhuman — crow-esque — nature in his performance leading up to Draven’s encounter with Albright in the officer’s home.
A tiny thing I have to take umbrage with is the rushed transformation of Draven from a resurrected corpse into the avenger in all his KISS-styled glory. Personally, the scene feels far too quick, and misses a great opportunity at adding depth to the movie. The reveal still carries a lot of gravity, but could have been handled better. Whether or not this was due to lack of footage, I do not know.
The four men at the centre of Draven’s quest are distinctly underplayed. Apart from Tin-Tin, they are caricatures of lowbrow villainy. In a way, this works to the movie’s credit, even though one might be inclined to think that it doesn’t. These men are not important — a notion reinforced by Top Dollar (Michael Wincott, the de jure Big Bad of the story) — they are just symptomatic of the filth that exists in the world that our protagonists walk. The violence done to Draven and Webster is senseless up until Top Dollar explains it a little more to us. It’s treated as matter-of-fact and everyday. What happened to our happy couple was not special.
To Draven, it changed his life. It changed Shelly Webster’s life. It changed Sarah’s life. But to Top Dollar, it was only October the 30th. Even to the four men involved: it was nothing special. Only one of them even really remembers Draven.
Eventually, Draven and Top Dollar are drawn into a head-on conflict, but again: the rivalry is asymmetrical. Both men approach it from different perspectives and with wildly different goals. Thrust into the centre of the action is Myca (Bai Ling) — the mystic-woman-apparent and Top Dollar’s incestuous lover — who lusts after the Crow’s powers, and is shown to be a harvester of organs she believes hold special meaning. She adds a further dimension to the conflict, and is ultimately the one who causes the true superhero — the real supernatural element — of the movie to come under duress.
Until her designs come into play, the movie has been parading along this notion that Eric Draven is the “superhero” at the core of the story. And in a way, it’s true. It’s Draven who is out for revenge. It’s Draven who’s done all of the work so far. And it’s Draven engaging with the faces of evil. But he’s not the real “superhero”.
The true hero is the titular character: the Crow (played by adorable feathery friends). While each member of the gallery of characters Draven belongs to can very well be called “the Crow” for convenience, they aren’t. The Crow is the only continual character in the lore of the comic series. And it’s the Crow who is the unsung hero, here. The Crow is a hero who goes through the ages and offers the victimised the opportunity at vengeance. It asks for nothing in return, and bestows not only superhuman abilities to its agents, but acts as both guide and fellow warrior in their quests for personal justice.
(A further word to the wise: please don’t think having a crow perch on your shoulder is as pleasing as it seems in the movie. I have scars to prove why it’s a terrible idea without adequate preparation.)
It’s obvious that people might find the protagonists of the (atrocious) subsequent movies to be due to Lee’s untimely death, but that’s just how the series was conceived. In any case: watching the other movies in The Crow franchise should be out of the question for all.
This disconnect between hero (both Draven and Crow) and ultimate villain is somewhat unique. Draven isn’t aware of any personal connection between himself and Top Dollar until the very end of their conflict, and Top Dollar — despite knowing who Draven is and what he wants — is dismissive of the man, before recognising what he’s become as an enemy after their first encounter.
Rendering Draven susceptible to damage is a smart choice on part of the team behind the movie, since it wouldn’t have been as interesting to watch the murder(ha!)-machine Draven becomes just steam-roll through his victims without so much as blinking once.
Lee’s version of Draven is softer, and less prone to spells of numbing depression (I point to the lack of space for adequate character moments for this fault) than his comic book counterpart.
It makes for a more interesting conclusion, especially in light of Albright’s heroic bid — and eventual failure — at bursting in “all guns blazing” leading up to the final confrontation. A killable hero, no matter how thick the audience might know their plot armour is, makes for actual interest in the story. And even the Crow isn’t spared this choice. If anything, the physical and contextual distance between Draven and the Crow is what makes this example of the suspension of disbelief work all the more.
At this point, I’m going to make something excessively clear: The Crow has been a distinct influence on the first two films in the Dark Knight series. There’s no argument about it. The Crow‘s Detroit and Batman Begins‘ Gotham City are sisters; the walking-up-to-the-table scene in the kitchen near the beginning of The Dark Knight‘s main plot could be seen to be almost a shot-for-shot remake of a similar scene in The Crow; the scenes featuring the “Crow emblem” on the side of a freight container or burning on the ground; the tiny rhetoric Top Dollar spouts about “disorder, chaos, [and] anarchy” while talking about fires; even little details such as the rooftop chase and Draven’s make-up slowly fading as time goes by — akin to how the Joker’s degrades in The Dark Knight — all point to direct visual influences. But that’s what these influences are mostly restricted to: visual.
In a way, The Crow is made better by the existence of the excellent Dark Knight series. This is the reward one can gain from successful influence-reference relationships. There is a strong intertextual bond between both this movie and the Nolan Batman movies. The Dark Knight series matures concepts alluded to in The Crow of its own accord (or perhaps after taking them as a starting point). The Crow doesn’t deal with the chaotic world that Draven lives in. It only sets a scenario to “normalise” the horrific violence that spurs Draven. And let’s face it: the Dark Knight series features a far richer tapestry of plot than The Crow ever bothers with. However, the relationship does exist. And The Crow benefits greatly from it in retrospect.
Grungy, unafraid of brutality, and with a soundtrack that has no illusions to whom the movie is catering to, The Crow is a great movie, and a stellar example of what comic book movies can be when ‘unchained’. The only other comic book movie I can name that is this proud of being what it is would have to be Dredd — which is another excellent movie. The Crow doesn’t want to upscale anything. It’s not trying to sell anything. It is proud of what it is and where it comes from.
It’s for the best that The Crow wasn’t shelved following Brandon Lee’s death. It’s certainly one of the best comic book movies ever made, despite its many flaws. The acting could’ve done with better direction (without question), the editing could have been better, the line delivery is often poor; there are a great number of issues with the movie, although none of them are especially crippling.
The movie nonetheless manages to avoid falling into any pits on accord of these problems by establishing a strange sense of charm within its own little world. Draven is at once wise-cracking and dangerous, but never — oddly — really menacing. Top Dollar is loud, boisterous, and — well — over-the-top. Myca is muted, mysterious, and disturbing. The four men in Draven’s sights are street-rats that never become anything more. Sarah is a ray of light in the world, as is Albright — although his light is fading fast. And yet, The Crow shines strong as a movie. Its like will be hard to replicate, and it might just remain the only movie of its kind for a long, long time to come.
Overall, The Crow comes highly recommended by us at The Corvid Review. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the stronger recommendations I could have for anyone who likes anything that could count as “90s” and includes the word “action” in it.
And that’s all from me for now. This review was honestly a joy to write. It’s amazing how after forty-nine “solo” reviews, and a hundred of the same reviews over these two years, a movie can still bring out the crow I wanted to be when opening the doors to The Corvid Review.
The Azure-Winged Magpie wanted to add a little section onto the review, so I’ll leave you with her for now. Until next time.
— Crow out.
Thoughts: The Azure-Winged Magpie
(✿Φ ◡ Φ) 🎸 kaw! kaw! chatter! chatter!
I loved this one! But yeah… what the Crow said up there.. ╱╲
I mean… the guy talks to crows… he’s a Crow who talks to crows who’s reviewing a film called The Crow. I think he knows what he’s on about. I kinda wanted to write like a quick! review of the film, but he’s gone and covered everything already I think. (Fun fact: the only time he got done up for Halloween, he was Eric Draven. I have pictures!!!)
I haven’t read the comics and never watched the film until yesterday. But I LOVED it. I don’t really have a problem with the slo-mo but the still shots were a bit weird. The acting was a bit… off, but it’s okay. It’s not BAD or anything. It’s just not anything to yell to mum about.
And yeah. I see it. Batman Begins got a LOT of its setup from this film. But they’re also totally different things. Let’s just say they’re all three of them great films. The youngins (the Batman films) just learnt a few tricks from old man Crow.
The Crow left something out of his review. He told me he was going to talk about the franchise a bit. He was going to have this dramatic bit about how the series was “shrouded in death”, but I guess he left it out. This series does sound cursed af but we’re smart enough to know that these things are all just things going f-up like they always do. It’s kinda funny though, how that’s what this film’s all about, too.
Anyway. I just wanted to say that I loved this one. It wasn’t anything like I thought it was going to be and it was amazing. I’m gonna go ahead and watch at least the second one since the Crow’s not doing it. Let’s see if it’s really THAT bad (I mean… if it is, I’ve always got my bucket…).
— A-W Magpie up! up! and awayyy! *BONK!*
THE CROW: 8/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 9.5/10
PICKPOCKET THE SIR: 10 KAWWWS/10
Here’s the official poster:
Here’s an alternative fan-made poster (art by Rhys Cooper):