The following review was written in August of A.D. 2000. It was written
in the early morning, moments after an inconsolable Joe Crowe and an embittered
Shane Ivey survived the trip back to their hotel after attending a midnight
screening at DragonCon. That screening turned out to be one of the only public
presentations of this film ever. Now the film is available for purchase or rental.
Heed this review, and rent or purchase it not.
I went into the screening of "The Crow: Salvation" wanting to love it. I loved
"The Crow." I thought "The Crow: City of Angels" was a misfire, but I could
see the kernels in it of what made "The Crow" great. With "Salvation," I wanted
to see a Crow movie which would return to the thematic and stylistic roots while
exploring new ground, new storylines and permutations of the themes. Of course,
I've heard many fans say we can't compare the Crow sequels to the original film,
but that's just wrong. If it's not supposed to be related to the original, then
drop the original from the title: there's no examining "The Crow: Salvation"
without looking back to "The Crow." That's the price of capitalizing on a franchise.
The best moments in "The Crow: Salvation" are those when it most resembles "The
Crow," when the mystical crow itself takes wing and flies over bleak, glowing
cityscapes to a grinding post-industrial soundtrack. In those moments, it's
easy to feel a little of the grim, vengeful glee which The Crow manifested.
Unfortunately, those moments are the exception.
"Salvation" opens with scenes of a prison and a young man, Alex Corvis, on Death
Row, convicted of brutally killing his girlfriend. Guards haul Alex into the
execution chamber. They strap him down and cover his face with a Man in the
Iron Mask helmet. Asked if he has any last words, Alex protests that he loved
his girlfriend and did not kill her; he has said all along that a man with a
zig-zag scar on his arm planted the killing knife in his car. As executioners
in full-body black Ninja garb pull the switch, Alex sees the zig-zag scar on
the arm of someone in the observation chamber--and at that moment, lightning
hits the prison, overloading the circuits (or something) so that he fries spasmodically
for a good thirty seconds before they shut it down. We see the mystical crow
flying outside, heading for a window, heading for the cold chamber where Alex's
corpse is stored awaiting autopsy. Alex wakes up, and it's time for Crow-styled
Poor Little Crow Guy
The Crow -- and, by extension, its sequels -- is about outsiders overcoming
their isolation, victims beyond the protection or care of the mainstream taking
their own justice from those who abuse their isolation. It's about death and
our primal reactions to it, our fear of it and anger at it, brought to a quick
head by the inexcusable violence of cold-blooded murder. Director Bharat Nalluri,
who apparently helmed two English action flicks in 1997 and 1998 ("Downtime"
and "Killing Time" - does that make this "Crow Time"?), frankly makes a mess
of the juxtaposition of moods, the sorrow and wrath, which originally gave "The
Crow" a sense of depth and brooding Gothic style beyond its teen-Death Wish
"The Crow" gave just enough of a glimpse into the hero's memories and mourning
to make him sympathetic without distracting us from the well-deserved savagery
that he was there to visit upon his enemies; "Crow" director Alex Proyas is
hardly the most prolific of directors, but between "The Crow" and "Dark City"
it's clear that he has a knack for this sort of thing. If only they had called
him back for the sequels. The pacing in "Salvation" is disjointed, the dialog
is too often stilted, and the symbolism and preachifying are as heavy-handed
as you can get. (About to take his final vengeance in a prison, Alex stands
beneath a big sign that reads "Retribution". Get it?) "The Crow: Salvation"
trades the gruesomely over-the-top bondage shots and eyeball abuse of "City
of Angels" for lengthy, weepy, clumsily-cut tearjerkers, sepia-toned flashbacks
of his dead girlfriend and moonlit back-alley crying jags with his dead girlfriend's
sister, and the result is just as poorly-balanced.
It doesn't help that young Eric Mabius simply lacks the emotional and physical
presence to pull off such an archetypal anti-hero. Brandon Lee's performance
in "The Crow" complimented the director's stylish darkness perfectly, defining
"brooding intensity" for the entire genre. Lee had an uncanny physical presence,
a sense of feral, graceful menace and power that literally embodied the vengeance
he represented. In "Salvation," Eric Mabius manages a few terrific psychopathic
smiles, but mostly he just looks lost and lonely. (Actually, he looks a lot
like Blossom's older brother. No, not Joey Lawrence. The other one.)
We feel sorry for poor undead Alex, sure, but is the audience's dominant reaction
to him supposed to be little-brotherly pity? "Oh," you think, "poor little Crow
guy. He looks so vulnerable." A more accomplished director, or one with Proyas'
enthusiasm for the dark material and scenery, might have worked Mabius' persona
into the story; instead, it's like watching a half-rate director pull a "Crow"
remake with an inexperienced lead.
Oh, right. That's exactly what it is.
Mabius co-stars with the better-known Kirsten Dunst, of "Interview With the
Vampire" and "E.R." fame. Dunst pulled off her "Interview" performance ably
as a child, as the cruel old vampire trapped in a child's body, but here she
just doesn't have much to do and she doesn't do it very well. She cries a lot.
She tearfully confronts people a lot. She eventually pulls stitches out of her
face. Emily Dickinson, this isn't. (Although sometimes I wished it was -- and
I never thought I could say THAT with a straight face.)
Grant Shaud (Miles Silverberg from "Murphy Brown") supports as Alex's loyal
lawyer. His character has some good emoting, but mostly he's a plot device to
point Alex toward the final villain when the Crow magic stops working. (From
now on, I think every darkly violent action film should have a cast member of
"Murphy Brown" in it.)
As for the villains, a gang of corrupt cops, they are mostly interchangeable.
After Alex does the Crow thing to the first one, you've pretty much seen it
all, with slight variations in the special effects. He stabs them (just like
they stabbed his girlfriend!), he blows them up (funny how that one car going
up will cook off a half a dozen cars nearby and a helicopter overhead), he shoots
them, and he smiles nastily at them.
Poor Fred Ward is just pitiful as a villain straight out of "The A-Team" (if
it was an R-rated A-Team, of course, with a lot of knives and scalpels and some
lackluster sex-club shots), the sort of bad guy who gets stuck with gloating
impromptu speeches for all the plot exposition that the screenwriter forgot
to include earlier in the movie. A police captain in apparently a big city,
he works out of a tiny, poorly-lit office with peeling dark green paint, exposed
pipes, and a giant American flag hanging on one wall (for, you know, the irony).
Its treatment of police culture is the last place to start talking about the
script's credibility issues, but you get the idea: Fred Ward always seems like
he has some acting chops in him somewhere, if only he could quit doing B-movies
with dialog that's bad beyond camp.
Who Stole the Script?
So, what about this screenplay? Writer Chip Johannessen has producing and occasional
writing credits in two other dark genre classics, "Millennium" and the brutal,
brooding "Beverly Hills 90210." But his resume as screenwriter before "The Crow:
Salvation" consisted of exactly zero motion pictures, and I'll be surprised
(and disappointed) if it gets any fatter after this. The dialog is bad. It's
just bad. The villains sneer or scowl; the hero smiles coldly and mourns tearfully;
the hero's innocent young friend learns her lesson--this episode's theme is
Learning to Cherish Life--after much weeping and violence.
Goth clichÈs like graveyard statues crying blood and sub-dom gear in a blue-lit
sex club seem like a haphazard attempt to capture some of the style of the first
two movies. (Although they do update it for the 21st century by showing cameras
in the sex club attached to what is meant to be an Internet server, complete
with a real-time counter showing how many hits they're getting microsecond by
microsecond, because the bad guys are just evil like that.) And the plotting
is, well, unsubtle. A gunshot victim leaves a clue, while his murderers watch,
by circling a face in a newspaper with his own blood and standing a game piece
upright. The plot isn't advanced, it's bludgeoned along.
There are a few good one-liners (it's a Crow movie, there have to be a few good
one-liners), but whenever the characters have to interact, things go downhill.
When Fred Ward's evil police captain gets rolling, it just gets laughable. "The
crow... a sign of death returned to life. The dead can return, given sufficient
motivation. I've studied this phenomenon before." When I mean laughable, I mean
the crowd of hardcore Crow freaks, guests at a free screening of the only domestic
print of this movie months before it will hit theatres, was laughing out loud.
As for the hero, Alex shifts from whining to sadism without a blink. Kirsten
Dunst's job as grieving young sister is to learn from all the tragedy and come
to cherish her life and not waste any of it, so when she starts crying that
she wants to die Alex jumps down, grabs her head, and gives her flashbacks of
her sister being stabbed and shot to death. The dead sister fought for her life,
so how dare the baby sister talk about giving it up? Okay, he has a point, but
it's a little hard to maintain sympathy for Alex when he's psychologically traumatizing
his dead girlfriend's sister.
Will Salvation Kill The Crow?
I love good horror, good fantasy, and good science fiction. Those genres serve
a vital function in literature and cinema, expanding the perceptions of readers
and viewers and priming us for a sense of wonder, grandeur, and dread that other
genres can rarely achieve. By the same token, I loathe lousy genre work. When
a writer or director or producer thinks he can cash in on the genre with nothing
more than a few flashy effects or costumes, that lousy product gives the whole
genre a bad name and makes its fans look like fools. Not to mention that it
wastes our valuable time.
If you love "The Crow," read the comics. Watch the first movie. I've heard the
TV show isn't bad. But don't bother with "Salvation." In the four or five hours
that I spent viewing and then writing about "The Crow: Salvation," I could have
been writing a story of my own... or I could have been reading something great...
or watching old "X-Files" reruns... or playing with my kids... or trading jokes
with my wife or my friends. Instead of stewing and shaking my head in disappointment,
I could have been enriching and cherishing my life. And wasn't that the whole
point of "The Crow: Salvation?" Of course it was. Kirsten Dunst said so at the
end. And I bet she didn't see a bit of the irony in that.
Where Are They Now?
RevolutionSF.com producer Shane Ivey has spent the last four years working with
a guy named Crowe, so he knows ALL about it.
Writer Chip Johannsen's talent was apparently reborn thanks to a mystical crow,
for he has now found redemption as a writer for "24." Of course, as far as we
know, he may just write the crappy parts with Jack's daughter.
Kirsten Dunst went on to appear in a far better superhero movie, one in which
the hero did not inflict psychological pain upon her, except in the end when
he kicked her to the curb.
Eric Mabius, the brightest star of the new millennium, went on to portray "Jake"
in "Resident Evil." Apparently, he has been working out. Bow before the power