The Crow December 9, 2016
Alongside other careers on track to be great (akin to River Phoenix or Heath Ledger), one can only wonder what might have become of Brandon Lee’s had his life not tragically ended in 1993 at the age of twenty-eight. The son of Bruce, who similarly met his end right as his career was beginning to kick off, Lee was meant to become a bona fide action star, his generation’s answer to the hero the generation before him never got to have. But during the filming of 1994’s The Crow, designated as the movie to bring him international success after just five leading roles, defective blanks used during an action scene accidentally killed the star. Only eight more days of production were scheduled, and its makers had to decide whether to shelve the project or make use of the finished footage and utilize the film as the solidifier of Lee’s legacy.
Smart it was, then, to throw caution to the wind and go ahead with one of the most troubled shoots to have stamped film history. In store is a spellbindingly crafted action movie so singular in its vision and so deliriously entertaining in its every revenge film subverting move that it’d perhaps be impolite not to soak up the glory that is its gothic cum steampunk dreamscape. Lee’s charismatic enough as it is — in no doubt would he have become a superstar had he lived to see the movie’s release — but his legend certainly would not be so ingrained in modern culture if not for the mystique The Crow so sensationally surrounds him with.
Written with a pulp tease by David J. Show and John Shirley and directed with film noir grit by Alex Proyas, the film spotlights the resurrection of Eric Draven (Lee), a rock guitarist brought back from the dead to avenge both his death and the rape and murder of his fiancee (Sofia Shinas). As explained by the narrator, a crow was responsible for escorting him to the afterlife. But sometimes when the spirit in question has unfinished business to attend to, their soul specific animal will take them back to the world as we know it to make things right. In Eric’s case, of high importance is getting revenge on the thugs, and the maleficent crime lord who did the hit hiring, who destroyed his life.
Like Tarantino’s Kill Bill, The Crow’s storyline is not much comprised of anything else besides its protagonist essentially moving through a hit list, us watching with delight as tables are turned and the scales are balanced. Lee, such a sly and expressive action star, is a superhero worth rooting for.
But aside from Lee’s undeniable star power, The Crow’s biggest triumph is its production design, which, like Blade Runner (1982) or Sin City (2005), is so immersive and so meticulously detailed that we can’t help but want to pause the movie itself and wander around its fantasyland ourselves. Every characteristic is distinctly of its own world — Proyas and his artistic team have outdone themselves. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, providing the film with its noiry intoxication, only heightens the extraordinary work set in motion by The Crow’s makers.
It’s a great piece of action filmmaking, and the bittersweetness that comes with the film’s synonymy with Lee’s death makes every moment all the more painful. How different the genre’s landscape might be had he gotten the chance to remain a part of it. One can only speculate, and that, of course, doesn’t feel like nearly enough. B+