In the early 80s, following the death of his fiancee at the hands of a drunk driver, comic book writer and artist James O’Barr decided to channel his sadness and frustration into a comic book, which would eventually become The Crow. A tale of loss, loneliness, and revenge, the book was published in 1989 by Caliber Comics. The book went on to become an underground success, going on to be the best selling independent black-and-white comic of all time and even winning the Storyteller Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. Naturally with this kind of success and popularity, it wasn’t long before Hollywood wanted to adapt the book into a feature film. At the time, comic book movies were going through somewhat of a resurgence, especially after the massive success of 1989’s Batman and 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So, in 1994, Miramax Films released a film version directed by Alex Proyas, written by David J. Schow and John Shirley based on O’Barr’s work, and starring Brandon Lee, son of famous martial artist Bruce Lee, as the titular anti-hero, The Crow.
Set in the crime-ridden streets of Detroit, the story centers around Eric Draven, played by Lee, who on October 30, otherwise known as Mischief Night, is shot several times before being thrown out of a window by some thugs after they break into his apartment and proceed to beat and rape Eric’s bride-to-be Shelly Webster, played by Sofia Shinas. One year after the incident, Draven is somehow brought back to life by a crow, and he vows to track down and eliminate the thugs responsible for both his death and the rape/death of Shelly. In the midst of this, there’s a burnt cop named Albrecht, played by Ernie Hudson, who was investigating the incident shortly after it happened, and is now on Eric’s trail as he goes around killing the gang members who wronged him. There’s also Sarah, played by Rochelle Davis, who was a friend of Eric and Shelly, has a mother who’s addicted to heroin, and eventually gets caught in the middle of the action as she’s soon targeted by the head crime boss in Detroit known as Top Dollar, played by Michael Wincott, who wants to use her to get to Eric when he starts ruining things for him.
With this being a review of The Crow, I know there’s something I need to discuss concerning its lead, but I’ll save that later. For now, I just want to talk about why I absolutely love this movie before I get into that. First off, the movie looks great. Its got a very dark, gloomy, and gothic look to it, especially with how it’s almost constantly raining. There’s an overall sense of doom and gloom about the movie, but there’s also a glimmer of hope as well, with Eric being driven not only by revenge but also by bringing justice to others who have been wronged by the gangs of Detroit. Proyas directs this film in a way that it feels like it’s straight from the comics, almost like they used the panels of the comic as a reference for the look of this film. The cast is also fantastic, with some standout performances throughout. Ernie Hudson as usual shines with his very likable and charismatic presence, Michael Wincott is great as the ruthless Top Dollar, almost playing him as a character who’s driven not by greed or power but simply by wanting to cause chaos and anarchy, and Rochelle Davis as Sarah, the only other thing Eric cares about and who serves as the light that keeps Eric going in spite of everything around him. There’s also some great supporting players in here as well, including David Patrick Kelly as T-Bird, the leader of the gang members that initially attack Eric and Shelly, Bai Ling as Myca, Top Dollar’s main woman who is instrumental in finding Eric’s weakness and trying to cut off his ties to the crow, and Tony Todd as Grange, Top Dollar’s righthand man who’s just as sadistic and calculated as he is. And of course, there’s the star, Brandon Lee. Before I get into it, let me just say that Lee’s performance is so good in this that it’s tragic. He plays Eric both sad and sympathetic, but also as a total badass and almost reveling in dispatching the gang members and anyone who gets in his way. If he were able to go on after this movie, Brandon Lee would’ve been a force to be reckoned with.
Now, here’s where I have to get to the elephant in the room. While filming a scene involving a prop gun, something went wrong and Brandon Lee was tragically killed on set. There’s a lot of details about what led to this, but let’s just say that it was a matter of the prop department having to make due with what they had given their time constraints and some people not knowing how to properly handle prop weapons on and off set. Sadly, much like his father, Brandon Lee’s most famous film ended up being his last film. While there were talks off possibly just stopping the film, the cast and crew pressed on. Since Lee had shot most of his big scenes, they only needed to do some pick-up shots. So, they achieved this by having his double stand in for him and then digitally superimposing Lee’s face on the double. Unfortunately because of his death, there were many scenes that were supposed to happen but were never filmed cause of Lee’s death. After the movie was released, there was a major overhaul in handling prop weapons so that something like this could never happen again.
That all being said, this is still a fantastic movie that’s still as good today as it was back in 1994. With a great final performance by Brandon Lee, excellent action sequences, a gripping and tragic story about loss and revenge, and some great supporting characters, The Crow is one of the better comic book movies to come out of the mid-90s. It’s just too bad what happened to its sequel, The Crow: City of Angels, but that’s for another time.