The Crow: City Of Angels (1996) – Review


Sequelizing the goth-tastic, 1994, comic book movie The Crow was never going to an easy task, especially since the movie achieved mythic status after the tragic death of Brandon Lee as he toiled on his breakout role. But even if the young actor had survived his freak, on-set accident, the movie still would have an incredibly tough act to follow as director Alex Proyas managed to craft a darkly beautiful superhero fable that took the dark corners of Tim Burton’s Gotham City and retooled it for people who listened to The Cure or Nine Inch Nails.
The result may have been possibly the most 90’s movie that ever existed, but it definately made the desired impact and so, thanks to Miramax (uh oh) we got a sequel two years later. However, despite bringing back writer David J. Schow and securing prolific music  video director Tim Pope (who provided visuals for people like Bowie, Iggy Pop and – surprise, surprise – The Cure), it soon became evident that The Crow may have been best left at rest.


In a Los Angeles that seems to never see the sun, a widower mechanic, Ashe Corven and his son Danny witness a mob hit committed by the freakish entourage of of drug kingpin Judah Earl (always run toward strange gunshots while in LA, kids), who promptly lash them both together, pump them full of bullets and tip their bodies into the harbour. However, a year after the traumatic pump and dump, Ashe is raised from his watery grave by a crow that acts as an emissary between the loving and the dead in order for him to get his well deserved revenge.
Witnessing this resurrection is Sarah, the small girl from first movie who has grown up to be a doe-eyed tattoo artist and who has a connection to Ashe thanks to her experiences with the previous Crow named Eric Draven. After she helps him to recombobulate himself enough to undertake his grim mission, Ashe sets off after the maniacal gang responsible who all boast names like Spider-Monkey, the voyeristic Nemo, the cruel Kali and Judah’s right hand man, Curve and Grant’s them brutal, yet photogenic deaths as he works his way up the food chain.
However, Judah isn’t exactly a noob when it comes to matters of the supernatural and with some help from his blind, vision having advisor, Sybil, he aims to take Ashe’s powers of invulnerability for himself and become all powerful.
Can Ashe and Sarah manage to negotiate this hellscape of a city and all the gibbering lunatics that seem to dwell within in order to take final vengeance for the murder of his child and put Judah in a well earned body bag in order to get the rest his soul is surely overdue for? Good luck giving a shit.


If nothing else, The Crow: City Of Angels makes you truly appreciate exactly how well balanced the original was. After all, this was a movie that pushed matters fully into dark, urban fantasy territory and the overly stylised look of black nail polish on dudes, gorgeous urban decay and nihilistic romance was still quite niche back in ’94 and thus could have unbalanced the movie if not handled with care – however, with this sequel, the filmmakers seem to have gone all out to make the movie feel as grimy, repulsive and pretentious as they possibly can.
Every shot is drenched in a dull, amber-coloured glow which gives every scene the sense that’s it’s being shot through a cloudy urine sample while people flatly state dialogue like: “They call this “The City Of Angels”, but all I see around me are victims.” and “Life is just a dream on the way to death” without a single shred of irony and eloquent drug barons take time out of their busy schedule in order to monologue endlessly like Pinhead from Hellraiser is feeling especially philosophical after a couple glasses of red wine. In short, it’s way to much and devastatingly obnoxious, as everyone involved seems to have forgotten that the whole point of the first movie (not to mention James O’Barr’s soulful source material) is that there’s still hope out there – be it the protection of a young girl or a reunion with a loved one in the afterlife. Even the repeated uttering of the line “it can’t rain all the time” was a necessary reprieve from the grotesque criminal element that was choking this hightened reality like drug dealing dry rot. However, City Of Angel’s seems content to have it metaphorically rain non-stop and ends up being jam packed full of vivid iconography and pretentious symbolism that ends up  being as empty as a coma patient’s to-do list. Having Eric Draven lay out a crow design in gasoline that ignites when the cops arrived made you say “cool!” – watching Ashe make someone splat on the pavement and having the spray just happen to make a crow pattern will make you scoff “bullshit!” every damn time…


Vincent Perez certainly looks the part of the new Crow, but he lacks Brandon Lee’s charisma and his thick french accent undoes a lot of his more fanciful dialogue, turning his lines to garbled mush as he bangs on about one crow meaning sorrow and two meaning joy  when I always thought that was for magpies, myself. Elsewhere, Mia Kirshner’s giant, pool-like eyeballs may have been made for this sort of shit, but the movie gives her literally nothing to do except follow Perez around and explain the rules to him like she’s a living, breathing help icon in a video game. Similarly the villains are now so overboard and cartoonish in their various deranged perversions, you could hardly imagine them being capable of popping out and buying a cartoon of milk let alone be effective muscle for a criminal empire. When they’re not obliterating brain cells with their own supply (would you let a guy called Spider-Monkey mix your batch of drugs?), they’re whacking off in porno booths and you sort of miss the vague control of the first movie’s villains. Still, the rogues gallery contains ex-Yellow Power Ranger Thuy Thang, an early role for Thomas Jane and even gifts us the surreal sight of Iggy Pop threatening to staple Iain Dury’s head to his pussy seat (whatever that means) or screaming “Fuck you, bird dick!” as he tears away from Ashe on a motor bike.
However, nifty stunt casting aside, The Crow: City Of Angels is a relentlessly dreary affair that often forgets to lace its scummy flair with anything approaching hope, wit, wonder or even a hint of excitement. Even the action sequences – usually guaranteed to raise the heart rate amid such depressing fare – is so poorly handled that it makes matters worse and a muddled climax featuring CGI so bad you wouldn’t even except it from a TV commercial ends up being yet another definitive nail in the coffin.


Falling in love way too much with it’s own gloomy aesthetic, The Crow: City Of Angels takes the promise of a franchise and murders it so brutally and cruelly, I’m astounded that crows didn’t raise the script from the dead a year later to take stylish revenge on the people who made it…
How crow can you go?


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