Comic book films are the rave now, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Comics films dominating the box office. However, back in the 1980s, 1990s and even early 2000s, comic book films were still seen as childish and nerdy, with movies such as Batman and Robin and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace certainly not improving their image. With that in mind, comic book films often had to try extra hard to be taken seriously with some being successful, such as Blade while others were less so like 2003’s Daredevil. So what happens when you have a dark, Gothic comic book film starring the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee?
Eric Draven (played by Brandon Lee) is a guitarist in a rock band who is about to marry his girlfriend Shelly Webster (played by Sofia Shinas), when a criminal gang charged with evicting the couple, breaks into their apartment, sexually assaults Shelly and kills Eric. One year later, a crow appears on his grave, and becomes tethered to his soul, bringing him back to the living world as a nigh-immortal wraith. He begins to exact vengeance on those who killed Shelly and himself in a brutal manner, eventually catching the eye of criminal kingpin Top Dollar (played by Michael Wincott). Through relayed information, Top Dollar eventually discovers the key to Draven’s immortality: his crow.
The Crow was based on a comic book series of the same name written by James O’Barr who wrote the story to help cope with the death of his fiancée. The story featured a man named Eric who became a vengeful entity after witnessing the death of his girlfriend from a gang after their car breaks down. He is accompanied by a crow who acts as a guide and chastises him for his inability to move on from his grief. Unlike the film, the crow in the comics was spiritual and cannot be killed. While the film takes a few liberties from its source material, it manages to capture the original tone and feel of the comics.
My introduction to this film was a very particular one. I was introduced to this film when I was eight years old playing with action figures with one of my friends at the time and one of those figures was Brandon Lee as Eric Draven. My friend had the film on DVD and we both watched it later that night, to which neither of us could sleep at all. Years later, I would forget the title of the film, but part of it would linger in my memory until I rediscovered it when I was 16 years old. It was just as I remembered: Gothic, brutal and gorgeously grungy. While some may compare it to Tim Burton’s Batman, The Crow and Batman only share only surface-level similarities. The Crow masterfully combines Gothic and grungy rock elements into a cinematic masterpiece, from the set pieces, makeup and wardrobe, and music. Some of my favorite shots had to be the panning shots of the city of Detroit whenever Eric’ crow flew around, trying to locate he and Shelly’s killers.
The music was composed by Graeme Revell and mostly consisted of orchestral instrumentals and electric guitars, perfectly matching the tone of the film. Additionally, The Crow features many songs from the bands The Cure, Rage Against the Machine, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Helmet, with their title theme being Burn by The Cure. While I’ve had my gripes with films using songs from popular rock bands, as they can date the film, this is one of the few films that benefits rather than suffers from it. In fact, I credit this film for getting me into classic rock music to begin with!
But besides the technical elements of the film, let me address my question from earlier: what do you get when you have Brandon Lee star in a comic book film? The answer is nothing short of excellence. Lee is not only an actor but also a legit martial artist who did many of his own stunts. This was his sixth film which he starred in and much like his father before him, he has a type of charisma seen in only a few select actors. Speaking of Lee, production of The Crow halted when Lee was fatally shot during production. Due to Brandon filming most of his scenes for the film and the fact that there were only a few more scenes needed of him, his stunt double Chad Stahelski would step in for those scenes. Stahelski would later go on to work as a stunt coordinator on The Matrix films and direct the John Wick film franchise. When talking about Lee, Stahelski had nothing but nice words to describe him, citing his kind hearted nature and athleticism. The Crow was Brandon Lee’s big break into mainstream cinema, and unfortunately, he never lived to experience the height of his career.
The Crow was produced on a budget of $23 million and made around $95 million at the box office, spawning several sequels: The Crow: The City of Angels, The Crow: Salvation and The Crow: Wicked Prayer. All of them feature different characters since Eric’s story was completed at the end of the first film. While I normally dislike the idea of pointless sequels, these sequels in particular elicit nothing but pure contempt from me. I don’t see why it’s necessary to make sequels from a movie which is not only beloved, but also is a tribute to Brandon Lee and for Hollywood to milk that success is absolutely infuriating. From what I do know, none of the sequels lived up to the original and all I can say is: good. But if the sequels were not enough, recently there have been talks of a remake of The Crow starring Bill Skaarsgard as Eric Draven that has already wrapped up filming in 2022. Why did they decide to remake The Crow? I don’t know! This is a movie that while a product of its time, is a wonderfully entertaining and beautiful tribute to a lost time and legend. I sincerely doubt that any remake will do the original justice.
While comic book films of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s were seen as immature and for kids, The Crow swoops in and proves the naysayers wrong. Full of beautifully shot Gothic set pieces and makeup complemented by grungy music and wardrobe, not to mention a wonderfully entertaining performance by the late Brandon Lee, The Crow is not only a cult classic, but a truly classic piece of cinema that not only cannot be replicated by anyone else, but is also synonymous with the name and legacy of Brandon Lee.