“It can’t rain all the time” a line made famous by Eric Draven in The Crow, a line that seems the exact opposite of The Crow movie series. The first effort in this film franchise got off to a great start. Burgeoning action star Brandon Lee turned in his greatest performance ever and the tone and feel of the movie perfectly captured the spirit of the original James O’Barr graphic novel. That is where the good luck of this series ended unfortunately. During a reshoot of the climactic gunfight scene near the end of the film an error was made in preparing the blanks and a live round somehow made it into the scene and it struck Brandon killing him.
It seems since that moment this franchise has indeed been cursed, it feels more like Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven with Brandon’s looming spirit hanging over the franchise, rather than a crow rising from grave. Each of the sequels have been seemingly getting worse (not to mention the ill-fated television series) and then you have the often mentioned and constantly delayed (possibly canceled) reboot of the franchise.
However, this is not an article to dwell on the missteps of the franchise, rather this is an article to celebrate the triumphs of the very first movie.
The Crow (1994) opens on Devil’s Night (the night before Halloween where criminals set fires all throughout Detroit) with a crime scene and Detective Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) investigating the homicide of Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and the sexual assault and homicide of Draven’s fiancé Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas). Fast forward a year later where Shelly’s friend Sarah (Rochelle Davis) a street wise teenager, planting flowers at Shelly’s and Eric’s graves. This scene is what starts to set this film apart from other action and comic films of the 90’s. This scene begins the set the gothic themes that are present throughout the film and probably unintentionally gave birth to Hot Topic chain of stores.
From here it doesn’t take long for the action to kick off. Detroit gang leader Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) has his thugs lead by T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly) trash a local arcade to kick off the Devil’s Night festivities 24 hours in advance. T-bird, Funboy (Michael Masse), Skank (Angel David), and knife wielding Tin Tin (Laurence Mason) trash the arcade and make it go “boom”.
We are then back to the grave of Eric Draven and a Crow awakens his soul and we see Draven climb out of the ground. The Crow leads Draven back to his old apartment which is now condemned and every time he touches something from his past his mind and we the audience are flashed back to either the crime or Eric and Shelly’s happy life together. This is a great tool used by director Alex Proyas (Dark City, I-Robot) to give us exposition without it feeling clunky. Eric finds a Halloween mask that inspires him to paint his face white with black around the eyes and lips to give us the classic Crow image.
It doesn’t take long for Draven’s crow to find Tin Tin in an alley and for Draven to confront him about the murders a year prior and then to enact his revenge. From their Draven tracks down each member of T-Bird’s gang.
He tracks down Funboy who is bedding Sarah’s mother Darla (Anna Levine) and after he disposes of a drugged out Funboy Draven gives a life lesson to Darla about her piss poor parenting of Sarah, “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children. Do you understand? Morphine is bad for you. Your daughter is out there on the streets waiting for you.” And Darla rushes out and the next time we see her she is cooking breakfast for Sarah, so I guess the Crow’s message got through to her.
From there T-Bird is killed by Draven while Skank watches and then Skank runs off to Top Dollar for protection, but Top Dollar has a different plan, he wants to use Skank as bait to catch Draven. This leads to a climactic battle and to the end of the movie, which, in spite of the movie being 21 years old, I won’t spoil the rest of the film for you if you haven’t seen it.
Unlike a lot of movies from the 90’s this one still holds up, granted some of the effects do look dated (but that will happen with 90% of older movies) but the brilliance of Proyas’s film making shines here. The way the film is shot and the use of minimal effects and the ones used (with the exception of a few city wide shots) are all practical.
Each actor in the film fits their characters well and fall perfectly into their roles. Most of these actors don’t have many credits to their name, and the biggest star in the film is Ernie Hudson. Brandon Lee shines as the lead in what would have been a break out role for him, much like Heath Ledger who would die shortly after playing the Joker, he will always be remembered as The Crow.
This film is remarkable and whether you’re a comic fan, a goth fan, or an action film fan this movie is for you, and if you like all three genres the you’ve probably messed yourself with excitement. 1998’s Blade gets a lot of credit for shaping the way comic book movies are made today, but Blade borrowed a lot of themes from The Crow which doesn’t seem to get nearly as much credit as it deserves. Often this movies gets forgotten when people talk about the best and most influential comic book films, but it certainly deserves a mention in the discussion.
Final Verdict: In the end The Crow is a wonderful film that still holds up and is right up there with more modern dark comic films like The Dark Knight and is a damn site better than Man of Steel and The Watchmen. With very few non-practical effects in the movie the visuals all still look fantastic and the acting is pretty good as well. A strong cast and a strong story makes me wonder why anyone would want to reboot this. I think most Crow fans hold this movie very close to their hearts and given the tragic nature of the film’s lead dying while making the film makes a reboot seem almost disrespectful. This is a great movie and I encourage every comic fan to check it out so that is why I’m giving it our Retro Replay score of Relive It.