My friend Sean Williford characterized the 1990s as "the Decade of the Dork," an era in which American popular culture finally began to reflect the tastes of the nation's long-submerged nerd population. You couldn't have easily proved it by looking into movie theaters, however. Very few decent science fiction movies debuted between 1990 and 1999 - just Terry Gilliam's inventive 12 Monkeys, the entertaining space-opera satire Starship Troopers, and the Trekkie spoof Galaxyquest. (One might add The Matrix, if one considers it science fiction rather than just an elaborate videogame.) There were no fantasy films to speak of, certainly nothing comparable to the druggy fairytale movies of the 1980s or Peter Jackson's more recent Lord of the Rings trilogy. And, with one exception, there were no good superhero movies in the 1990s, despite the huge popularity of Tim Burton's Batman just before the decade began.
The exception in the superhero category was The Crow (1994) a film about a supernatural vigilante, Eric Draven (Brandon Lee), who returns from the dead to kill the gang members who murdered him and his fiancee. Presuming that my readers have already seen the movie, I can safely report that Draven, who has returned to the land of the living with a panoply of superhuman powers - super-strength and agility, invulnerability, limited clairvoyance - successfully and rather ostentatiously dispatches his foes. In the process he runs afoul of the city's crime boss, the elegant, dissolute Top Dollar (Michael Wincott), who exposes Draven's vulnerability, the eponymous crow who is his bridge between "the land of the living and the realm of the dead." Ultimately, Eric prevails in a climactic rooftop fight with Top Dollar, and returns to the embrace of ghost-Shelly. It's a straightforward revenge story, satisfyingly-plotted, and gifted with first-rate actors: Wincott, Ernie Hudson as Draven's police sergeant friend Albricht, David Kelly as the gang leader T-Bird, and Jon Polito as a sleazy pawn-shop owner. It did well in the theaters, in part due to notoriety generated by Brandon Lee's death during filming. It then went on to spawn several dreadful sequels and a Canadian TV series, the latter of which I've avoided watching for fear it might cause brain tumors.
I have watched the original Crow, however, at least once a year (on average) since I first viewed it at the U.K. student center two decades ago.* It falls squarely within the category of "good bad" media first described by Chesterton and Orwell: works that continue to give pleasure even to readers or viewers who recognize their flaws. The Crow's flaws are significant. Some of the dialogue is, and most of the flashback scenes are, nauseatingly sentimental. The director, Alex Proyas, lays on the pathos and the "gothic" detail pretty thick - Draven dons his "mime from hell" outfit to the tune of a Cure song, runs across the rain-soaked rooftops to the sound of Nine Inch Nails, fights his climactic battle atop a cathedral (complete with gargoyles), and assails Top Dollar with what one can only call a Psychic Anguish Attack. Puh-lease. Meanwhile, the lead, Brandon Lee, had almost no acting talent. He might have become a good actor with time and practice, but his premature death makes it impossible to know. This is a pity, because Eric Draven is a far more sympathetic superhero than, say, Superman or Batman; he is an ordinary person whose superpowers come from the terrible wrong he has suffered. As a character, Monsieur Crow is one of the movie's strengths; so are its well-edited action scenes, the professional casting of the rest of the film's roles, the generally competent and occasionally witty** dialogue, and the satisfying structure of its revenge story, which offers a sense of closure usually lacking in real-world confrontations.
I understand that a remake of The Crow, stripped of the gothic elements of the Alex Proyas film, is in development. Personally I think this is unnecessary, unless the director of the new film intends to make it a comedy. And to cast Paul Rudd in the lead. That, I would see.
The image above is from Wikimedia Commons. The Crow is copyright (c) 1994 by Miramax Films.
* I could have done without the drunken frat boys who sat behind me and said "The crow!" every time Draven's familiar appeared on screen. It got old fast.
** "Mime from hell," for instance, isn't my line; it's Officer Albricht's.