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Review: The Crow (1994)

The Crow (1994)

Directed by: Alex Proyas

Premise: A rock musician (Brandon Lee) returns from the dead a year after he and his wife were brutally murdered by a street gang. While being led by a crow, he avenges the murders.

What Works: Comic book movies are all the rage from Hollywood at the moment and since the release of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City these movies typically take on a gritty, violent, and downbeat tone. What contemporary audiences may not remember is that it was not always this way and the comic book films of the 1990s tended to be lightweight and silly such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman Forever, and The Mask. In this context The Crow was a radical departure and it remains one of the great comic book films even though, for some reason, the picture has been largely left out of the popular discourse of this genre. The overlook of The Crow is strange because this film has quite clearly influenced many subsequent comic book films, including Sin City and Batman Begins, and it is unfortunate because a lot of superhero moviemakers could learn a thing or two from this movie. The Crow is a character driven picture and the performances of the film really leave an impression. Brandon Lee’s stars as Eric Draven and he brings a lot of psychological depth to the role of a man coming to terms with a life that is already over. He is in a unique position and between acts of vengeance Draven tries to improve matters for those he has left behind. That’s one of the outstanding qualities of this film; it’s very violent but the violence has justification and cost and underneath Eric Draven’s vengeance is a character and a story shot through with pathos. There is also a great villain to be found in Michael Wincott’s role as Top Dollar, the crime lord of the city. This is a very unique villain within the genre and Wincott is generally restrained yet still exudes menace. Compared to some of the overblown and overproduced comic book films of late, The Crow has a very modest scale but this works to the film’s advantage. One of the common pitfalls of pictures like this is a tendency to spend more time on the art direction than on the characters or the narrative. The filmmakers of The Crow avoid this, keeping the scenery in the background where it belongs and maintaining credibility in the action scenes. As a result of its pared down and drab look, the visual style of The Crow has aged very well in the twenty years since its release. Another element that has aged surprisingly well is its music. The soundtrack features a selection of mid-1990s industrial rock songs and they suit the movie well without dating it too severely. The rock music complements the score by Graeme Revell and the two mix very nicely, with both songs and score complementing the film’s art direction, low key performances, and melancholy story.  

What Doesn’t: In 1994 it was widely reported that star Brandon Lee was killed on the set of The Crow due to an accident. The production still had about a week of principle photography left to accomplish but without the lead actor there was a limited amount that could be done. The movie comes together well enough but there are some sequences, particularly in the very end of the picture, that are rushed through. Viewers coming to The Crow twenty years later are unlikely to know about Lee’s death. That may be to the film’s benefit; at the time of its original release Lee’s death overshadowed the movie. On the other hand, knowing about his death gave the story an added eeriness. Aside from shortcomings that may or may not have resulted from the accident, The Crow has other flaws. There are a lot of characters and subplots in this film but not all of them get quite the attention they deserve and in several sequences characters randomly show up for no reason. As a product of the mid-1990s, The Crow uses a few digital effects and these visuals have not aged especially well. Fortunately, these effects are used sparingly and the darkness of the film disguises many of them.

DVD extras: The blu-ray edition includes a commentary track, featurettes, deleted scenes, image galleries, and trailers.

Bottom Line: For some reason, The Crow has been left out of contemporary discussions about comic book adaptations. This is an important title that brought a maturity to the genre that came to fruition years later. It’s also an excellent production that deserves to be ranked with Superman: The Movie and The Dark Knight among the top films in this genre.

Episode: #231 (March 15, 2009); Revised: #508 (September 14, 2014)