This week’s double feature needs little explanation. The first Crow flick is a classic and simply a great comic book movie and it’s first sequel, City Of Angels is actually a decent film on it’s own and kind of underrated as it gets a lot of flack for simply having the audacity to be a Crow film without Brandon Lee. It has it’s flaws but, is still entertaining if you cut it a break for trying to tell a new story with a new central character and actor. Together with the first flick they make a cool night of dark themed heroics from beyond…
THE CROW (1994)
The Crow is a bonafide film classic and one of my all time favorites and one whose story of revenge from beyond the grave is made all the more haunting by the tragic on-set death of it’s leading man Brandon Lee. Though, I think this would have still been a great flick without the notoriety of Lee’s accidental demise but, you can’t deny it adds a chilling effect when watched.
Based on the graphic novel by James O’Barr, this supernatural superhero flick tells the ill-fated story of rocker Eric Draven (Lee) and his fiancé Shelly Webster (Sophia Shinas) who are murdered the night before their Halloween wedding when Shelly’s well-intentioned battle against tenant eviction gets the attention of bizarre crime boss Top Dollar (Michael Wincott). His thugs T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), Tin-Tin (Laurence Mason), Skank (Angel David) and Funboy (Michael Massee) kill Eric and then brutally rape and beat Shelly who dies a day later. But, Eric and Shelly’s love ran ran deeper then life itself and on the first year anniversary of their murders, Eric returns from the grave as an invincible avenger guided by a black crow and one by one starts to hunt down and slay the the fiends responsible for the death of he and his true love. But, Top Dollar has otherworldly assistance of his own and when he finds the source of Eric’s power, it now becomes his weakness and possibly the end of his quest for justice and revenge.
The script was written by David J. Schow and John Shirley and they really captured the essence and tone of O’Barr’s tale. Then when you add director Alex Proyas to the mix, you get a visually stunning and atmospheric adaptation that really nails the graphic novel’s look and feel. Proyas also gives us some great action sequences choreographed by star Brandon Lee and master stuntman, martial artist and stunt co-ordinator Jeff Imada, which make this a gritty, violent comic book come to life. But, it’s not all visuals and action as Proyas also gives this movie a heart and soul. Despite all the gunfire and explosions, the film is about eternal love and we are treated to flashbacks of Eric and Shelly’s relationship so, we get the full effect of how much these two meant to each other and it really is what makes this work so well. We believe Eric loved her so much that he would cheat even death to avenge the wrongdoing of those responsible for ending his happy life with Shelly. We are right along with him rooting for him to take out the despicable villains and once we realize Eric has an exploitable Achilles’ Heel, it adds some tension and suspense as our hero can be made vulnerable and be stopped by those he seeks to destroy.
The film is populated by some colorful characters, brought to life by an eclectic but, strong cast. Lee shows that he could act as well as kick ass and he had the charm to be a leading man had his life not come to such a sad and early end. His Eric is charismatic, strong and sympathetic as well. Despite his being driven by rage to avenge Shelly’s cruel death, there is still a melancholy that makes him as sad a figure as he is imposing as a vengeful force. Perfect casting and sadly proof of a potential that will never be realized. Shinas is seen briefly in flashbacks but, her Shelly is sweet and kind and we see why Eric loves her. Wincott makes a strong and very eccentric villain, sort of a modern day pirate with a taste for the supernatural provided by his spooky half-sister and lover Myca (Bai Ling). He makes a formidable foe as do Kelly, Mason, David and Massee as his detestable yet, oddly likable gallery of rogues that one by one meet Eric’s wrath. Rounding out is fan favorite Tony (Candyman) Todd as Top Dollar’s bodyguard Grange, Jon Polito as dirtbag pawnshop owner Gideon, the always good Ernie Hudson as Eric’s only ally, a cop named Albrecht who investigated the couple’s death and got busted down for it, Rochelle Davis as a young girl named Sarah who was a friend of Eric and Shelly’s and provides an emotional ground for the avenging rocker, and Anna Levine as Sarah’s mom and Funboy’s girlfriend, Darla. All really give their supporting characters three dimensional life and it all adds up to what makes this comic book movie a classic.
On the production side, there are some really effective visual effects on a moderate budget that give us a gritty and rundown near future Detroit where the film is set. It is a no man’s land of crime and violence bathed in darkness, shadows and almost endless rain. The cathedral setting for the climax is especially noteworthy as it gives the final act a Phantom Of The Opera-ish feel and… in my opinion… far better utilizes the setting then Batman did five years earlier in it’s similar climax. Finally, while Alex Proyas certainly gives this flick a heavy gothic tone, we get a really effective score by Graeme Revell which includes some great songs, from various artists, producing a film score and soundtrack that are as equally classic as the movie they represent. The music and songs interact with the story to a point of being almost another character.
Overall, I could pick out some of the film’s minor flaws but, what’s the point. The film is a classic and it is no small feat that the filmmakers where able to craft such a solid flick when their leading man was killed with weeks of filming yet to go. Considering how the film was reconstructed and the FX crew used alternate scenes to extract their star and include Lee in footage he was not there to film, I think we can cut it some slack that there is a film at all and it wasn’t scrapped as was one considered option. But, it would have ben a crime to not let the film world see Lee’s last and best work and like his on-screen hero and the legacy of the man who played him, this flick will live on. A great movie that remains strong and entertaining even now.
The film also has some personal resonance with me, as well, as Brandon Lee and I were the same age when he died and it impacted me deeply for reasons I, even today, can’t fully explain. There is now talk of a remake but, I can’t seeing it having the impact this one has had, even if it turns out to be a good flick.
4 classic crows.
THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS (1996)
This review is of the director’s cut and not the original theatrical version which is 7 minutes shorter…
In hindsight, it might have been best to leave the success of The Crow as a testament to Brandon Lee’s legacy and let it go but, money talks and a sequel was made, opting to tell the story of a new character then try to recast a part already immortalized by Lee. The film gets a lot of flack for trying to continue the Crow series without Brandon Lee and Eric Draven but, while the film does not come close to matching it’s predecessor, I think it is actually pretty entertaining and succeeds in having it’s own personality and feel. Given a chance, it’s not as bad as it’s bitterness fueled reputation makes it out to be.
This film takes place years later in an equally seedy Los Angeles and tells the story of single father Ashe Corven (Swiss actor Vincent Pérez) who is gunned down along with his son Danny (Eric Acosta) when Danny mistakes gunshots for Day Of The Dead fireworks and runs straight into an execution being carried out by the four henchman of crime boss Judah Earl (Richard Brooks). The story also includes a now grown up Sarah (Mia Kirshner)… who, aside from Eric and Shelly’s cat Gabrielle, is the only character to return from the original… who is a tattoo artist living in L.A. and has premonitions of Ashe and his impending return accompanied by the crow. She is there to guide him when he rises from his watery grave to exact revenge on Earl and his minions Curve (punk icon Iggy Pop), Nemo (Thomas Jane), Spider Monkey (Vincent Castellanos) and Kali (ex-Power Ranger, Thuy Trang). But, Ashe’s quest for vengeance has complications as Earl has also discovered the secret and weakness of the crow’s power and Ashe is starting to fall for Sarah, knowing that the completion of his mission will return him to the realm of the dead. Will being torn between wanting to stay with Sarah and yearning to see his boy again give his adversaries a deadly edge over the undead avenger?
The sequel was this time written by frequent comic movie scribe David Goyer and directed by feature film newcomer Tim Pope who does a good job in giving the film it’s own distinctive look and feel despite glaring plot similarities. The film follows what is now the basic Crow formula with a wrongfully murdered person returning to avenge a loved one and battling a foe with an interest in the supernatural. The original had Draven battling Top Dollar and his weirdo half sister Myca, while here it is Ashe going against Earl and his sooth-sayer Sybil (Tracy Ellis). The only real difference is Earl is far more sadistic then the brutally practical Top Dollar and Sybil more of a pawn than a willing participant unlike the gleefully sadistic Myca. The film uses the same ‘kill the crow, kill the man’ plot device to weaken the invincible Ashe as in the last film, as it also again presents Sarah as hostage bait to lure our hero in… and it is already wearing out it’s welcome. But there is a lot of pluses too, the film does give us another cast of colorful villains and there are some very well done sequences of Ashe taking them on one by one, including his battle with the vicious martial arts expert and she-devil that is Trang’s Kali and his mythology laced showdown with Iggy Pop’s wacko Curve. Pope’s action scenes are styled differently and help give the film it’s own flavor. The director also gives the film a lot of strong atmosphere, it has an even spookier edge then the previous film as this one is also set at Halloween but, focuses more on the Latin “Dia de Los Muertos” which gives it a far more spiritual tone and aura. The original was centered around the destructively festive ‘Devils’ Night’ but, here it is the mournful Day Of The Dead celebrations that add a more somber tint to Pope’s canvas.
The cast are fine, though, not all as lively as those Proyas had to work with. Vincent Pérez certainly looks the part especially with the face paint and his brown leather outfit and motorcycle. His accent does get in the way and he tries hard to give Ashe his own personality and while he isn’t as memorable as Lee, he actually does OK on his own. Kirshner is pretty but, bland as the grown-up, emo Sarah. Her delivery is very monotone and her gloominess kind of goes against the feelings of hope given her by Eric at the end of the first movie. Our bad guys are fun with Brooks making a strong villain whose Earl actually echos his Jubal Early character from Firefly that he would play six years later. But, Early had more restraint and an odd whimsy despite being an equally dangerous man. Pop and Thrang’s baddies stand out the most among the thugs while Castellanos and Jane really aren’t given much to do aside from meeting their doom at Ashe’s hands. Pop’s Curve is delightfully demented while Thrang’s Kali is a sadistic dragon lady with a taste for sadism and twisted nursery rhymes. Last but, not least, is the late Ian Dury as the cantankerous Noah, the owner of the tattoo parlor where Sarah works.
As for the rest of the production, the film looks really cool yet, drastically different then the first flick and the model work and visuals are more then satisfactory. Graeme Revell contributes another strong score that echos the first film’s just enough yet, adds more haunting choral vocals and it also comes with a really good soundtrack of music from various artists that is a good listen on it’s own.
Overall, I like The Crow: City Of Angels, it’s got it’s flaws and was never going to live up to the instant classic that the first became. But, especially with it’s director’s cut, it is actually a decent enough flick on it’s own and has enough of it’s own style in telling the classic Crow story of revenge after death. Sure it’s ending is a little overblown but, when all is said and done, when cut some slack for not being what it couldn’t possibly be, it is an entertaining enough sequel that doesn’t dishonor what it follows. Give it a chance if you haven’t seen it. Followed by two direct to home media sequels, the weak The Crow: Salvation with Eric Mabius and Kirsten Dunst and the abysmally awful The Crow Wicked Prayer with Edward Furlong and Angel’s David Boreanez.