Friday, June 7, 2013

The Crow: City of Angels (1996)

Title: The Crow: City of Angels (1996)

Director: Tim Pope

Cast: Vincent Perez, Mia Kirshner, Richard Brooks, Iggy Pop, Thomas Jane


When I first saw Alex Proyas’s The Crow (1994) in theaters, I remember the film became an instant favorite of mine. I saw it a few times in the theater, and when it was released on VHS, I showed it to as many people as I could and I made it my own. Why? Well, it was a comic book movie, it was dark, gothic, and had that undeniable rock and roll feel to it. I liked the look of the film, the attitude that it emanated and the fact that it was so poetic and violent at the same time. Then of course, there was Brandon Lee’s powerhouse performance as Eric Draven, the titular Crow. Had he not mysteriously died while shooting The Crow, this would have been the film that would’ve catapulted him to stardom, no doubts about it. But alas, The Crow was to be Brandon Lee’s swang song, but hey, what a swan song! The first film was a complete success, so many elements helped make that film memorable. Of course, a sequel was a no brainer, so Miramax issued a second take on The Crow. Expectations were high for me with this sequel, how did it fare when compared to the masterful original?

Well, to be honest, when compared to the original, The Crow: City of Angels does fall short, mainly in its last half, but I can’t really bring myself to say that this is a bad film, because it isn’t. The film does have a flaw here and there, but I think the film has more pros than cons going for it. I guess the best way to enjoy City of Angels is not to compare it to the original, though you will find this difficult since this films major flaw is its lack of originality. Though this is not entirely the filmmakers fault, Tim Pope the film’s director and David S. Goyer, the films writer, wanted to make a film that distinguished itself both visually and story wise from the original and to an extent I would say the succeeded in this. But Miramax wanted a Xerox copy of the original and so they took the film away from the director and re-edited the thing to make it resemble the first film. Miramax is famous for messing with filmmakers visions, if you want to read a nightmarish tale of how Miramax treats filmmakers, look into the production of Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 (2009). Miramax has famously mistreated filmmakers to the point where they never want to make another film again! Rob Zombie has stated he never wants to work with them again, and Tim Pope the director behind The Crow: City of Angels never made another feature film again. Could it have something to do with the way Miramax treated his vision? Probably. Both director and writer disowned the film!

Still, even through all these production woes, a watchable film remains. The Crow: City of Angels, is not a total disaster in my book, it had enough redeeming qualities to keep me interested all the way through. So let’s go through the positive points shall we? First off, I enjoyed the films look, which is very obviously a different color palette then the original film, which was shrouded in darkness. At times, the original The Crow looks like a black and white film. In contrast, The Crow: City of Angels is a colorful film. It still retains the grime and filth and the almost post-apocalyptic look, but the visuals are drenched in yellows, reds and purples, loved that about it. I guess some directors think comic-book films always equal lots of primary colors. 

Another way in which this sequel differs to the original is in its setting. This film takes place entirely in Los Angeles, though it feels like a run down, post apocalyptic, maybe even futuristic version of Los Angeles? I don’t know how to describe it really, but it certainly isn’t the real Los Angeles, rather, it’s a fantasy version of Los Angeles where everyone celebrates the “Day of the Dead” as if it was Mardi Gras or something; an eternal festival where everyone is always walking around with skull masks, eating sugar candy. It kind of feels like you turned on a corner and ended up in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, this in my book adds to the uniqueness of this sequel.

Iggy Pop plays ‘Curve’ one of the films villains. Here he’s every bit as rebellious and loud as he is in real life. Thomas Jane is practically unrecognizable as Nemo, one of the goons who helps murder Ash Corven. He gets slaughtered by The Crow as he masturbates! Acting wise, the best one in the film is Vincent Perez as Ash Corven, this films vengeful zombie. Perez does a great job as The Crow in my book, he’s got the look for the part and the acting chops too. He successfully conveys anguish and despair over the brutal murder of his son. The weakest part of the film is the Crow’s antagonist, the villain Judah. The final clash between hero and villain is a complete letdown, nothing as epic and dramatic as Eric Draven vs. Top Dollar fighting on top of a gothic church in the middle of a lightning storm. So we get a cool cast, but a weak villain. 

The biggest detriment to the film is that it’s essentially a step by step remake of the original. Sure this is a different crow, but same as Eric Draven, Ash Corven is killed in a fit of rage and out of that rage he returns to avenge what was done to him. After his resurrection, same as the original, the film turns into The Crow killing each of the goons that were involved in the murder. And just like in the first film, the films main villain is a drug dealer who lives in a building, secluded from the rest of society. He is also accompanied at all times by a clairvoyant, same as Top Dollar in the original The Crow. So as you can see, this film merely follows a formula, this could have something to do with Miramax meddling with the film, or the filmmakers unintentionally following the footsteps of the original, all I know is the end result is too similar to the first film to ignore, which is probably what got this one such bad reviews.

The thing with these Crow films is that none of them have been able to top the classic original. All they’ve done is duplicate the formula of revenge, but they’ve never really tweaked it, they’ve never taken the ideas further than the original concept. Still, City of Angels isn’t a total disaster, it’s got an interesting look to it, and its soundtrack ìs filled with lots of cool, grungy, 90’s tunes. We get bands like Bush, Filter, White Zombie, Korn, P.J. Harvey and Deftones; who by the way cameo in one scene. We also get a catchy tune by Hole entitled ‘Gold Dust Woman’ which by the way was used to promote the film, I’ve always loved that song. This is the kind of film that has rock tunes popping up through out the whole thing, which is something they used to do a lot in the 80’s and 90’s in order to sell you that soundtrack, still, cheap gimmicks aside, the soundtrack for this film rocks and is a major plus in my book. It’ll definitely take you back to the 90’s alternative scene. This film was followed by The Crow: Salvation (2000) which has the same quality of not being horrible, but not being memorable either. It was the terrible fourth filmed entitled The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005) that brought the series to an end, now that one is truly atrocious there’s no denying that! I hear there’s a reboot in the works for this franchise, here’s hoping they can recapture the gothic grandeur of the original.

Rating 3: out of 5   


jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Mia Kirshner (as the bird was in 1993 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, I agree with you Franco. This is a very interesting if heavily flawed film. It's a shame it gets dismissed for being a pale version of the original.

I love the production design and the way LA feels like this foggy yellow nightmare. Such a shame Tim Pope's stepped away from directing. I really like Vincent Perez's performance as Ashe too.

I remember watching this film loads as a teenager. I was obsessed with it, even more than the original. I've watched it several times since and I find myself liking it less and less each time.

It's such a shame that the story got butchered. The original ending, with Ashe being damned to walk the earth, sounds awesome. Would love to see a director's cut but I can't see it ever happening.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, I think the biggest problem with this sequel is that it always gets compared to the original, but if we leave the original out of it, I like this one, it's not a total wreck.

My only real problem with it is the ending, the showdown between hero and villain should have been more spectacular.

I believe the directors version is available in the UK, I've never seen it though. I agree with you, the original ending would've been way cooler, and it would have given this version of The Crow a reason to come back for another film instead of having a different Crow on each movie.

Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, it's weird I think they released a DVD in the UK with a sticker on the front claiming that it's a director's cut but it's the old theatrical cut again.

Urgh, yeah that ending isn't nearly as cool as Brandon Lee and Michael Wincott fighting on top of a cathedral.

I like the idea that they were going for - all Judah's victims carting him off to hell - but it's just such a rubbish CGI effect. I'm willing to bet that Miramax's cheapness rather than the director's vision.

Franco Macabro said...

Yes, I'm certain this is what happened, Miramax messed with the ending.

In the original ending, he becomes vulnerable because he is trying to help Sarah, which had nothing to do with his revenge.

Because of his meddling, Sarah dies, and so in order to repay for her death, he must stay on Earth, for ever. He becomes sort of the Avenger of Los Angeles, protecting it from evil. I guess they were setting things up for more sequels, but Miramax decided otherwise.

I'm okay with all those crows coming down and all, but the fight between them shouldve been more epic instead of Judah simply whipping Ashe to death and hanging him.

What we got was okay, but not epic like the first movie, which had that amazing fight on top of the church, with crosses and swords and lightning and's such a superior ending!


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