The Crow: City of Angels (1996)

1994's The Crow, starring the late Brandon Lee, contained many very specific pleasures. Lee's acting was wonderful, the concept of a truly "dark" superhero--so dark he's already dead--was original and interestingly handled. The film also used miniatures, cityscapes, and fast-paced action shots to create a film with a deep mood and texture. Of course, there were some hokey elements, such as the plucky little heroine (Rochelle Davis), the almost inexcusably over-the-top villains (Michael Wincott and Bai Ling), and Ernie Hudson. Still and all, the stunning visual elements combined with some genuine emotional impact to produce a very affecting and entertaining film that, largely because of the death of star Brandon Lee during shooting, has been labeled a "cult classic."

This is not a review of The Crow, of course, but a review of its pathetic, drooling sequel, The Crow: City of Angels. When the first news about this movie surfaced, it seemed like a terrible idea to some and an exciting one to others: bring back the Crow character and basically the same plot with a new actor and try to reproduce some of the successes, both artistically and commercially, of the first film.

So there are two ways to look at it. First, does it succeed in reproducing any of what The Crow did? And second, does it stand alone, avoiding being too derivative of the original or devoid of its own character as a film?

As far as the first question, the answer, unfortunately, is a resounding no. The second answer is no, too. Didn't want to keep anybody in suspense. This Crow is deeply, deeply bad. The screenplay, credited to David S. Goyer, seems like it was written by the proverbial thousand monkeys at typewriters. Basically, a guy and somebody he loves (Eric Draven's girlfriend in The Crow, Ashe Corven's son in City of Angels) get killed by a bunch of punk-rocker/occultist drug dealers, and the fellow comes back as a mime-faced killer ghost escorted by a spirit guide in the form of a crow. Hence the name. But Goyer wasn't satisfied with just this straightforward scenario; he clutters the screen with portentously named loser drug dealers and pseudo-mythological weirdos and sets the whole thing in an apparently plague-ravaged L.A., for no other reason than that he wants to mix in the celebration of the Day of the Dead, a plot device so extraneous that I will say no more about it.

Goyer also mixes up the timeline, a technique that can be used to reveal character and explore connections in a more complex story, but which here just ends up being annoying. We start out with Sarah, a holdover from the first film, now played by Mia Kershner. Apparently she is obsessed with death or something, who knows. It's hard to care. She lives in this big dank loft and paints depressing pictures and lights candles. Then she starts dreaming about this guy drowning. Well, in fact, he has drowned. He's the new Crow! Surprise!

Withholding information from the audience that they already know coming into the theater is just plain dippy. And adds nothing. So anyway, they get together somehow and the Crow goes to kill all these folks who killed him and his little son.

Now you'd think that they could just go on with the story, kill everybody, and let us go. But no. We keep getting these annoying, out-of-sequence, green-tinged flashbacks of the murder. Why? There's no mystery here. They got killed, and they died. It doesn't need to be repeated.

And the action is hardly inspiring, either. Vincent Perez, the French actor who does Brandon Lee duty here, sounds like Jean-Claude Van Damme uttering his ridiculous Schwarzeneggerian one-liners as he dispatches scumbag after scumbag. "Are you ready to die?" They all scream in horror, "B-but--we killed you!" No! I wish somebody, maybe the horrid Iggy Pop (as the curvaceously named "Curve"), had redeemed his lifeless character by just breaking out laughing. At least there would have been someone in the film with whom to identify.

And get ready for this one. In the original film, Brandon Lee lights some gasoline to set a fire after one of his revenge killings. The camera pulls back to reveal the fire, in the shape of the outline of a crow. Cool. Understated. A one-shot deal. In City of Angels, hey howdy, EVERYTHING TURNS INTO THE SHAPE OF A CROW. Flowers float in the shape of a crow. A demon tattoo morphs into a crow. Broken glass falls in piles that look like a crow. I wondered why I was sitting through the thing, but one thing I didn't wonder was whether I was watching The Crow.

In addition, the use of miniatures, so effective in The Crow, looks silly here, largely due to a lack of attention to detail and poor shot planning. The cityscapes are blank and very artificial looking, with absolutely not one shred of style. And the director, Tim Pope, who did not direct the original (Alex Proyas was "unavailable" for the sequel), seems determined to move the camera quickly away from anything visually interesting that might happen, featuring close-ups of dunderhead actors if the long shot ever looks good.

Stay away! If you simply can't, at least stay for Hole's "Gold Dust Woman" over the end credits. It's the best part of the movie.

Links for The Crow: City of Angels

Internet Movie Database Entry


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