Published on November 21st, 2013 | by Clint Davis
The Crow 
Summary: This film's visuals are certainly memorable and influential but ultimately its repetitiveness keeps it from being great. Brandon Lee's untimely death greatly affects the final product.
R | 102 min.
Director: Alex Proyas | Screenplay: David J. Schow & John Shirley (from James O’Barr’s comic series)
Starring: Brandon Lee, Ernie Hudson, Michael Wincott
Studio: Dimension Films | Distribution: Miramax Films
When a star dies in the middle of filming a movie, it can often have one of two effects on the production. In the case of Chris Farley’s death mere weeks into recording voiceovers for Shrek– it leads to a total casting switch, when Heath Ledger passed away while shooting The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus–the filmmakers opted for a major change in how its story was told, and in the case of 1994’s The Crow–Brandon Lee’s demise came so late in filming that the movie was finished and likely benefited from the tragedy.
If you want to know more about Lee’s infamous on-set death, you can find stories all over the web, but the consensus is he was accidentally shot with live ammunition after inexperienced prop handlers failed to check the weapon closely prior to a scene. The careless circumstances that led to his death have spawned countless conspiracy theories–aided by the similarly strange death of his legendary father Bruce Lee following filming of Enter the Dragon twenty years earlier.
The younger Lee stars in this film as rock musician Eric Draven, who is murdered along with his fiance on Devil’s Night, which also happens to be the eve of their wedding. Almost a year later, Draven rises from the grave as a revenge-seeking antihero known as The Crow. Once he rises, The Crow seeks to punish those responsible for he and his wife’s murder, while making his presence known to criminals throughout Detroit.
Director Alex Proyas (Dark City, I, Robot) creates a visual style that is somewhat reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Batman films but also very original. From the movie’s grim opening, the production team is successful at creating a comic book on film that would later be perfected in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City–this movie’s visual influence can also be seen on the Blade series as well as in Christopher Nolan’s seminal The Dark Knight. Production values is where The Crow soars (pardon the pun), as it’s not particularly well-written or acted, spare a couple of supporting turns.
As the film’s lead, Brandon Lee will certainly remind you of Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the Joker–but mostly because of the similar makeup and hair. There is something rare in Lee’s performance among action antiheroes though, an undeniable sweetness. It’s clear that Eric Draven was a kind person in life, as even when he’s going on a vigilante killing spree after death he still keeps an innocence when talking to the film’s sympathetic lead Sarah (Rochelle Davis, who is apparently the only child living in Detroit). Knowing that this would be Lee’s final role certainly adds a morbid intrigue to his performance, but he does a fine job carrying the film despite not being a particularly frightening presence.
The central theme The Crow tries to get across is one of true love transcending all, as Eric and Shelly (Sofia Shinas) are depicted as soul mates even connected through death. The movie continually reminds you of the couple’s undying love for one another through flashbacks and voiceover, but I feel the screenplay didn’t do nearly enough to invest us in their relationship and thus fails to drive home this motivation. Also, the movie stays true to its comic book superhero roots by presenting an ideal image of justice at any cost–audiences will always love the idea that no matter what horrible criminals may exist in the world, there are forces of good that will make them pay if the traditional justice system fails to.
Another place the writers undersold their storyline was in both The Crow’s antagonist and a thorough explanation of his powers. We’re never really sure what he can and can’t do, we just know he’s seemingly invincible and that he seems to be able to squeeze 200 rounds out of a 15-shot clip of ammo in a single handgun. This invincibility eliminates a lot of tension from the film’s physical conflicts and leads to The Crow‘s biggest flaw: repetitiveness. There’s only so many times we can watch our hero get shot by a confident baddie, only to see their expression when he pops back up and kills them after uttering a badass one-liner (“Is that gasoline I smell?”). Also, I think this movie sets the all-time Hollywood record for dropping people off of buildings or throwing them through windows.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the most memorable supporting performances of the film, Ernie Hudson as a down on his luck NYPD beat cop and Michael Wincott as the story’s generic villain Top Dollar. Wincott’s menacing voice and total disregard for human life keep this from being a completely stock character–as he’s working with zero backstory in portraying a guy that decides to use a sword (???!!!) to fight The Crow on a rooftop in the film’s climax. Hudson is the cast’s most legitimate actor and he actually lifts some of the film’s emo-ness in his scenes by simply being a friendly face. The movie fell apart in its last half-hour for me, turning from a stalk-and-kill exercise to an all-out shoot em up, with thousands of rounds and explosions popping off by the end.
The filmmakers faced some tough decision following Lee’s death toward the end of filming The Crow, and I’m not going to debate whether they were correct in going ahead with the film’s release given its death-heavy material, but I think it serves as a fine swan song to his short career while also adding to the movie’s legacy. Also, if you were a goth kid who liked their mascara heavy, their clothes pitch black, and their music industrial, you’ll feel right at home.