brandon lee the crow


The Crow is one of those films constantly on the verge of reboot, but never quite managing it, much to the delight of its army of fans, who see any remake as sacrilege. Well, in this issue of Fangirl Unleashed, we’ll take a look at the original flick and ask  – has The Crow stood the test of time?

I went to see The Crow at the cinema when it came out in 1994 – yes, I am that old – and it blew me away. Dark, Gothy, but also sexy and funny and heartbreaking, it was of course tarnished by the death of leading man Brandon Lee during filming – a death which has overshadowed it ever since, making even talk of recasting a new version seem somehow disrespectful. But how does it stand up to rewatching all these years later – is it a genuine classic, or a movie given more affection than it deserves due to the tragedy that surrounds it?

Going back to The Crow after all this time, the first thing that leapt out at me was that it really *should* have aged badly. A fairly standard and slightly silly tale of revenge given an unpleasant kick by the brutality of the crime it avenges (the gang rape and murder of the hero’s fiancée, Shelly, and his own killing), it’s almost entirely populated by clichés. Count ‘em, they’re all there: the bad guys who did the deed can be easily divided into ‘giant scary black guy in cool outfit with big weapons’ and ‘dumb-as-hammers white trash’, masterminded by gravel voice dial-a-villain Michael Wincott and his bonkers but sexy half-sister/lover, a corset-wearing, eye-gouging, mad as a box of frogs Bai Ling. Eric’s only allies are the smart-mouthed, streetwise, old-before-her-time-but-secretly-vulnerable young girl and the decent, world weary black cop busted back to the streets for stubbornly wanting to fight actual crime while his officious, clueless white boss is all about the paperwork. Then take all of those characters and plonk them in an MTV world where Eric and Shelly’s romance is played out in sepia toned, candlelit flashback while the rest of the world burns on a set straight out of Dystopias-R-Us, complete with, of course,  generic Seedy Future Nightclub. Throw in some cheesy ideas about the redemptive power of love and some seriously clunky lines (“Morphine is bad for you” – gee, thanks, Eric) and Holy God, this film should be awful.

And yet, it still not only works, but works beautifully. The derivative nature of the setting means it actually hasn’t dated at all, since that’s still the go-to look for urban dystopia, and the cast have enormous fun with their roles – Wincott in particular is a scenery chewing joy, while Ernie Hudson’s cop brings real heart to the piece – and they actually manage to have a young actress play ‘plucky’ and still be genuinely likeable (whatever happened to Rochelle Davis?). Despite the occasional duff note, the script has some corking lines, and the story doesn’t sag for a second. The action scenes are still visceral and thrilling – the shootout at the nightclub manages to still look fresh and new, and the Crow’s cleverly apt revenge killings could be straight out of a Christopher Nolan movie. The material might be slightly hokey, but it has a truth at its core: created out of the writer Jamie O’Barr‘s own personal loss, there’s a core of emotional truth that runs through it that stops it from simply being comic book entertainment.

Then of course there is Brandon Lee. Watching him again, so long after his death, still feels heartbreaking, his loss magnified rather than diminished by time. His performance here hints at a talent that was never to be developed: he is sexy, charismatic and cool, with a sly, dark humour that nevertheless can’t hide the pain seeping out of every pore. You care about Eric, desperately, you want him to have his revenge and his peace; and you’re willing to forgive the film an awful lot to see him get it. Would Lee’s performance have had such resonance had he not died? It’s impossible to say, of course, but it’s hard to think this wouldn’t have been a star-making turn, as he towers over the movie – and in leaving us this as his legacy, he casts a long shadow over any remake.

So if you’re a fan of the film and you’ve put off going back to it in case you think it might not hold up to your memories, don’t worry. The Crow is a classic – and any reboot has an awful lot to live up to.

Agree? Disagree? Preferred the sequels and the TV show? Let me know in the comments.

I’ll be back in a fortnight but you can check out my blog at Body of a Geek Goddess. You can also check out my NEW book – just out this week – Wolf Night, which is available in the UK here or US here.


S#!T Talking Central

  • Jennifer St. James

    I am so glad you posted this! The Crow has been queued up in Netflix for a while, and I haven’t pulled the trigger. I definitely will now! I also think your comment about his death perhaps making the performance more poignant can also be applied to Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight….it’s a shame that we lost them both too soon.

  • Tom Jolliffe

    Excellent review. Couldn’t have put it better myself. I love this film. Lee had a lot of charisma. Compared to most of his action/martial arts star contemporary’s of the time he had a lot more range, charisma and vulnerability. I think he’d have been one of the big action stars of the 90’s. Such a shame.

  • D2thaMax

    Very well written and spot on! Grew up with this as my favorite movie and I watched it a few months back. Totally blew my mind still. Great movie that younger people need to check out

  • Tricksy Raistlin

    The timing of your article is crazy-coincidental! As another user says below, I’ve had The Crow ready in Netflix for some time, and I just watched it last night! I agree with your assessments; the movie really does still hold up in a lot of ways.

    On another note, having spent my formative years in the 80’s, I never felt there was much to like about 90’s music. That being said, The Crow’s soundtrack is awesome, and still sounds great.

    Normally I don’t care too much about what studios choose to do with their movie licenses, but in this case, I really can’t see that there’s a point to remaking this film. I’m also not sure who wants it. As you so aptly stated, Brandon Lee’s shadow will eclipse any efforts made at remaking this movie.

  • Tracey

    Thanks for the comments, guys. I must admit to being both surprised and pleased as to how well the film holds up – and how sad it still makes me over Brandon Lee’s loss.

  • Ian Mayor

    I still love The Crow for reasons you’ve all covered (and I too saw it at the cinema… dressed entirely in black with very, ah… *familiar* shoulder length hair). It’s a perfect B-Movie, a simply story delivered with passion, wit and love of the genre.

    Notably, it’s also the Hollywood debut of director Alex Proyas, who went on to direct Dark City (and i-Robot and, um, Knowing), there was a time when it looked like Proyas was the next Tim Burton, visually distinctive, inventive… a real voice.

    The Crow is his most successful film and, visually at least, still quite an influential one.