Although the character of The Crow is a supernatural super-hero, he’s quite a different kettle of fish from most career-driven crime-fighters. In Alex Proyas’s 1994 thriller, the only cause that Eric Draven takes up is his own; revenge. So while this is an origin story, based on the comic strip by James O’Barr, The Crow doesn’t suffer from earnest world-building or setting up unwanted franchise extensions. Instead, it’s a straight up revenge drama, and one that plays far better than might be expected, largely due to unforseen and tragic events on set.
The elephant in the room is the death of the star, Brandon Lee, shot dead by a malfunctioning prop while in costume and in character as Draven. Given that this film is entirely about a man living in a limbo between life and death, so ably capturing an other-worldly mood only adds to its studied ghoulish lustre. The parallels with Heath Ledger’s death before The Dark Knight’s release, playing a Joker remarkably similar in costume and make-up to The Crow, are obvious. But Lee had three days of filming left when he died, meaning that the remaining script pages had to be hastily re-shaped, and some padding involving a little girl had to be added in place of a motivational angle that was never shot. That doesn’t sound promising, but somehow the less we know about the Crow, the better; he’s a mysterious figure throughout this stylish, elusive film, and it’s probably for the best that we never actually get to see the murderous act that Draven is revenging.
And style is the key here; pop star Eric Draven is killed, as is his fiancé, and Draven returns from the grave to gun down those responsible, namely a chief hood played by the always intense Michael Wincott, monologue-ing like a true 90’s villain. Ernie Hudson also makes an empathetic cop, although Michael Berryman’s role was cut due to Lee’s death. Proyas was well ahead of the curve in terms of dark superhero stuff, and several scenes and images could have come directly from today’s DC Universe, or even the new The Batman film; there’s a great shot of the Crow’s symbol drawn in fire that’s still iconic. We’ve reached the point where CGI is intended to blend seamlessly with the action, rather than stand out, and The Crow certainly passes muster in this department; the whole look of the film predates DC’s current ‘lowlifes with masks’ vibe. There’s a few jarring MTV edits and excisable effects, but in general, The Crow looks far better now than it did back in 1994.
Setting the notoriety aside, The Crow is still a shockingly effective movie, one that plays with mythic ideas while also depicting a gone-to-hell world in which the fire-raising Devil Night seems like an early precursor of The Purge. Pretty much every male star in Hollywood has been linked with a reboot, but it’s hard to say that anyone could have done this better than Lee. Having provided a great lead in Rapid Fire, Lee was set for an illustrious career before tragedy intervened, and The Crow is arguably the best of a short but impressive resume. This DVD pressing comes complete with a short, on set interview with Lee just before he died, and his words couldn’t be more prescient.
‘Because we do not know when we are going to die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well and yet everything happens only a certain number of times…How many times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood? An afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you cannot conceive of your life without it? Perhaps 4 …. 5 times more. Perhaps not even that. How many times will you watch the full moon rise? …. Perhaps twenty and yet it all seems limitless…This is the point of view this character is coming from in the whole film, because it has brought sharply into focus how precious each moment of his life was.’