THE CROW was a comic book movie masterpiece way ahead of its time. BRANDON LEE starred in this bleak 90s action flick. His performance alone makes this one worth watching – but there’s also crazy action sequences combining martial arts with Hong Kong gunplay. AND there’s dark comedy with great one-liners. This is one of the best action movies EVER.
Comic book movies have come a long way since the success of the X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN. Before that, movies based on comics were a rarity. The BATMAN movies were a random blip on the radar. And even though early Marvel movies included an R-rated PUNISHER (with Dolph Lundgren) and the popular BLADE (with Wesley Snipes) they never exploded like a WINTER SOLDIER. But the best one of the bunch – and arguably the best R-rated comic book adaption ever – is James O’Barr’s darkly poetic THE CROW.
Before the Goth scene really took off there was THE CROW, which borrowed its aesthetics from 80s Goth Bands like THE CURE. The hero was a musician returned from the dead to avenge his girlfriend’s rape & murder. He just happened to wear all black and face make-up. Instead of the Batman cowl, this hero wore the Face of Comedy – smiling at you as he takes your life.
A good example of how the violence and revenge is staged comes from the scene in the pawn shop. Lee’s character, ERIC DRAVEN, searches for the engagement ring of his slain girlfriend, SHELLY. He threatens the owner, dousing the shop with gas. Buddy forks over a box of rings. Eric opens it, and takes out a ring, he throws each one at the owner, “Each one of these is a life. A life you helped destroy.” It really drives home the message.
Eric finds Shelly’s ring, then proceeds to load the shotgun with these “stolen proposals” acting as buckshots – redeemers of stolen love. He aims a one-liner right for him, “Is that gasoline I smell?” With that, he lights the place up from a blast of the gun. Kharmic Revenge.
THE CROW was infamous for its star BRANDON LEE. He was killed on-set by an accident involving a prop gun. Brandon’s legacy ended far too early, like his father – the immortal BRUCE LEE. Brandon had charisma like his old man. He also had martial arts ability. Not as good as his pops, but then again that’s Bruce frickin’ Lee. However, Brandon had more acting chops. It’s a real shame too because (like Heath LEDGER) Brandon was just beginning to show the dimensions of his talent before this untimely death.
I’ll always remember the bonus interview included on the VHS. That’s right, video tape. During this interview I got super-freaky goose-bumps. Brandon is interviewed on set during a camera set-up break or something. He’s chillin’ out having a smoke and talking philosophically like his father would from time to time.
The portion that haunted me was when Brandon talks about his role and reflects on mortality. He says, “When you look up at the moon, don’t take it for granted, you never know it might be the last time you see that moon.” Now, perhaps he’s referring to his character’s girlfriend? But in retrospect, in a different context, we can’t help but think of HIS tragic early death. Much like the film, there is a sad undertone to it all.
I was a fan of Brandon Lee movies before I even saw this one. For me, the best one not called THE CROW is a little balls-to-the-wall action flick called RAPID FIRE. That’s the first one I saw, from my cousin’s dubbed VHS copy. As a kid, Chris always turned me on to the best movies. And I thank him for THAT. Then I saw him in SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO, co-starring Dolph Lundgren.
NERD ALERT 2000: How often does Dolph get written about twice in the same article for different movies? That’s gotta be rare. Let’s make it 3… remember MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE? How’s that? And I didn’t even hafta mention the giant Russian he played in ROCK—wait, I almost did.
Unfortunately, the tragedy of Brandon Lee nearly obscured the fact that THE CROW was an excellent genre movie. It nailed every aspect. Comedy & Tragedy. For 90s action fans, there are constant one-liners getting tossed around like empty ammo clips. Speaking of, the action is relentless. Each sequence is satisfying because we relate to Eric’s motives. We want to see these thugs pay. We want revenge.
There are even a few touching moments between a young street kid Eric has a history with. She remembers who he was. She remembers his music. And like the movie’s message, she quotes his lyrics to him, “It can’t rain all the time.”
Eric also develops a good relationship with a policeman (ERNIE HUDSON), after a confrontation. The cop finds Eric near the scene of a crime, “Freeze! Move and you’re dead.” Eric jests, “I say I’m dead… And I move.” Between Hudson’s character, and the young girl, these friends help us see the more human side of Eric. They are essential at selling us on the idea that he returned from the grave for a reason. His love was that real. That rare. His revenge will be weighed equally.
Eric confronts the kid’s junkie mother. He grabs her by the arm, squeezing the heroine out of an injection site, he threatens her with caution, “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children.” Basically, be a better mom, while you’re still here.
Like he means, “Life is fleeting and you’re toying with it through a needle. Your daughter needs you to be a mother.” I’m paraphrasing and working off memory here but there are several other moments like this that goes to show this bleak action film has a heart. And its heart is larger than a lot of dramas.
By the end, we have a real stand-out stand-off involving a long board room table, a hailstorm of bullets, and samurai sword slicin’ & dicin’. Fans of no holds barred action will enjoy every spent shell. Brandon Lee just owns the scene. It’s like an orchestrated ballet of blood & death & bladed carnage. The man was unleashed by this point.
ALEX PROYAS, the man behind the camera, is responsible for the energetic flow of this dark romantic action flick. He films with such gloss and style. While everything’s dark and black, it all shines slick. The director somehow managed to pull in romance into this bleak story of revenge. It never gets cheesy or melodramatic. There are just touches here and there. Proyas is one of those directors I wish got better recognition.
NERD ALERT 2000: His follow-up picture was the equally impressive underrated hidden gem DARK CITY. You have to find that too. It’s like a neo-noir sci-fi fantasy horror mystery. Yeah. A melting pot of genres. A man awakens with no memory – and he’s not part of the BOURNE project.
It seems like every time the city sleeps the city morphs. It changes its appearance. Small buildings grow tall, streets turn down different corners… It’s like that scene in INCEPTION. Not only do the buildings change, but also the citizens within. Their minds are wiped, and their place in society altered on any given night. Alas, I digress…
The visionary, Alex Proyas, never pulled back to please the studios. He sticks to his R-rated vision and never dials it back. His atmosphere is choking thick. He makes the movie he sees in his head. Now, if Proyas dialled back and made his movies PG he would surely have had more success, and we might have seen more movies from him.
But for me, I’m glad he stuck to his vision. I’m so thankful he was able to make the movies he did. It’s hard to imagine if THE CROW would be released now-a-days in its current form. I wonder if the remake will be pressured to tone things down for a PG rating.
It’s not like R-rating makes movies better. It all depends on the subject matter. AVENGERS doesn’t need to be R, Spider-man doesn’t either, but something like DEADPOOL or THE CROW does. And with James O’Barr’s masterpiece, the levels of violence are essential for us to better empathize with Eric.
It needs to feel savage & brutal. Eric’s life has been shattered because of violence – and that can’t happen OFF screen. His revenge, while brutal, is viscerally satisfying. I imagine if the same thing happened to me, this would be my go-to movie for venting those stresses & dark revenge fantasies.
THE CROW slowly built a cult following through word of mouth. It even invaded pop culture through it’s impressive Alternative SOUNDTRACK to its GOTH fashion sense. The sequels weren’t nearly as good and could never capture the intangible magic of the Brandon Lee original.
The best one of the bunch has to be CITY OF ANGELS (part 2). I’m aware it’s on some lists for the Worst Movies Ever, but it exuded the same stylish visuals better than any of the others. It’s the most beautiful, with the best one-liners (aside from the original).
A remake is coming and I’m a little hesitant to say the least. There’s this saying, “It is unwise to f*ck with the infinite”. I think it applies here. Make another? Sure. Remake Eric Draven’s story? No way. Brandon Lee is Eric. Let’s leave it at that.
THE CROW touched me on a deeper emotional level than any other action movie. I would compare it to the character work and emotion in LEON (a.k.a. THE PROFESSIONAL). I just wanted to see him get revenge. At first, the movie drew me in from its visuals, dark humour, and the promise of extreme violence. I was a teenage boy, I didn’t know I desired emotion from a movie. I didn’t know until I felt it.
I’m not trying to get too cheesy here, I’m just trying to impress on you how important character work is in an action flick. You can have a ridiculous premise like returning from the grave to get revenge because a crow tapped on a tombstone. The viewer can go for it. Especially, if we care. That emotion almost overrides all other aspects until we just want to be satisfied like the character. And we won’t rest until it’s done. Until he sees Shelly again.
It’s a movie so you know Eric will succeed in his mission. By the end – the atmosphere, the music, the visuals, the performances – all rhyme. This harmony makes for an excellent comic book movie. A near perfect translation of the original source material. A conveyance of pure emotion.
If you haven’t seen this movie. I implore you. Watch it. Don’t let this one SLIP THROUGH the cracks. And if you HAVE seen it, hopefully I inspire you to pull it off of your shelves and watch it again. That’s what I’m going to do.
What did you think? Have you seen THE CROW? Where does it rank amongst 90s action flicks?
Would you like to see more adult comics hit the big screen? If so, which ones?