Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Crow (1994)

So let's recap.  Superman comes out in 1978 and invents the modern superhero film.  But its sequels nearly kill the genre.  Batman comes out in 1989 and rejuvenates the superhero film, establishing it as one of the pillars of Hollywood blockbusting.  Ever since then, superheroes have ruled our world.

But it's a little more complicated than that.  The '90s saw quite a few superhero movies, but precious few were about the real gods.  It wasn't really until the 2000s that the real, old-school, iconic characters started to make it to the screen - your Spidermans, your Fantastic Fours, your X-Men.  Instead, in the '90s we had a studio rush, not to the classics, but to the contemporary comics.  '90s alternaheroes were better represented in theaters than their more famous predecessors.  I don't know why that is.  And I certainly don't begrudge them or their fans the jollies this phenomenon offered.  But it does give the superhero film a somewhat odd generic trajectory.  The Image and Dark Horse heroes of the '90s, and even some of the Marvel and DC print titles, were in large measure responses to, critiques of, the canonical heroes of previous decades.  Taking the films in isolation, what that means is that we get the deconstruction of the superhero film almost before it's fully constructed as a genre. 

The Crow is a perfect example.  The concept is perfect for the '90s.  It's a blank-meets-blank genre-mixer:  superhero story meets horror story.  Pure pulp joy, that.  And as an action movie that goes all in on goth atmospherics and doomy aesthetics, it both flatters the alternative aspirations of its audience while satisfying their very mainstream needs.

Is the Crow a superhero?  Good question.  He kicks ass like a superhero - the movie's rhythms are those of a superhero movie, its action sequences are those of a superhero movie.  The horror trappings can't disguise this.  And as a superhero, he's one of the greats - great origin story, great powers, great weaknesses, great mythic overtones.

With one problem.  Unlike all the others, he's a single-serving superhero.  Once he has avenged the death of his girlfriend, he's done.  He goes to meet her.  His is a story with a definite beginning, middle, and end.  Which makes his story that much more satisfying.  But it of course created problems for the filmmakers - sequels essentially had to make Crowness a transferrable quality.  Which is not a bad idea for a superhero...but which was clearly not a concept that was contemplated for this movie. 

Which means that in this movie we get to see the superhero stop being a superhero.  The god dies.  This takes us out of superhero territory - when Superman abdicates, we know he has to come back.  But the Crow, at least as Eric Draven, won't.  I think that's where a lot of this film's power lies.  It has an ending.  It's not about immortality, strange as that may seem in a film about a guy who comes back from the dead.  It's about death.  There's the horror, and more than that the goth, sensibility for you.  It's fundamentally at odds with the superhero sensibility, which is, body counts aside, about immortality and invincibility.  Superheroes are about being.  But the Crow is about doing.  And once he's done, he's done.

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