Why ‘The Crow: City of Angels’ Is Worth Bringing Back from the Dead

Whether you consider The Crow: City of Angels cursed or simply made in bad taste by a studio (Dimension Films) that couldn’t care less, a rewatch more than twenty years later is a real eye-opener in terms of the film as a standalone experience.

I remember being a kid who thought Brandon Lee as The Crow was one of the coolest things I’d ever witnessed in my life. For the record, I still feel that way. For years we donned black and white face makeup on Halloween night. Hell, the wrestler Sting is still doing it. I don’t know how adults reacted to The Crow at the time but I know us eleven-year-olds were rocked by it.

I bring this up because two years later I would leave the theater immensely bummed out after witnessing The Crow: City of Angels.

I remember hating the movie and vowing never to waste my time with it again. There was something about it that just felt cheap and wrong. I don’t think I realized it at the time but that disappointment wasn’t actually due to the quality of the film. Rather… you could just sniff a sense of dishonor about it all.

In some ways this was true, in others it was unfair. Some information I didn’t learn until researching for this very article was that there was a major effort from writer David S. Goyer and director Tim Pope to not disrespect the legacy of Brandon Lee or the original film. They went out of their way to structure City of Angels in a way that didn’t feel like a sequel to the film Lee gave his life making. Enter Dimension Films, who took over after filming was complete and had everything completely restructured to more closely resemble the original. They took the entire narrative and re-assembled it, even turning important story points into flashbacks so that they would remind the viewer of director Alex Proyas and Brandon Lee’s original film.

It feels important to note that while there are moments of tacky studio decision-making that can be sniffed out, those who were boots on the ground making the film seemed to have nothing but the best intent. And so, I feel comfortable saying that I was completely wrong about this movie and more than twenty-five years later, have found it to be both underrated and underappreciated.

One of the things City of Angels had right from the get-go and something a lot of fans (including myself) wish future iterations would honor is that the film did not re-cast someone else to play Eric Draven but rather told the story of a new tortured soul brought back for revenge. As Tim Pope told Cinefantastique back in 1996, “What we suggest at the beginning of this movie is that this has been happening all the way throughout history, so that there have been hundreds if not thousands of people brought back before Eric Draven and there will be more afterward. That person could be a man; that person could be a woman; that person could be a child.”

Enter Ashe Corven. Along with his young son, Ashe is murdered by a gang after witnessing them attacking someone else.

Vincent Perez (Queen Margot) had the unenviable task of following the footsteps of Brandon Lee as the next Crow. Though they were thankfully different characters, not a soul in the cinema wasn’t comparing the two whether intentionally or subconsciously. It felt “off” at the time for this reason, but watching Perez play the character today is a revelation. Using strange movements and spastic physical reactions, Perez did a great job physically communicating the unknowable feeling of fitting back into your body post-death. It didn’t feel like an imitation of Lee, but there was something about the way Lee had played the Crowe that Perez seemed to understand.

Nobody may want to admit it because of the serious emotional baggage the character and story walk around with but the Crow has to be fucking cool, too. Perez had all the “goth dude who will beat your ass and then cry on a rooftop afterward but still look badass doing it” ambiance one could ask for. Not a soul in this world has the voice of a Brandon Lee but Perez was able to capture the violent yet broken cadence of a dead man with a broken heart who’s ready to do violence with pizazz. He’ll likely never get his due for the performance due to all the external factors surrounding the film and that’s a damn shame. Nobody will ever top Brandon Lee, but any future iterations of The Crow will have to do a hell of a job to compete with Perez’s work here.

The Crow City of Angels sequels

Though the overall similarities between the villains of City of Angels and the original are overbearing, it’s no fault of the actors who played them. Iggy Pop had maybe the most natural performance I’ve ever seen from a musician as one of the main gangbangers, Curve. The great Thomas Jane had the thankless role of being the bad guy who dies pleasuring himself in a peep show booth when the stripper is hilariously replaced with Ashe. You might assume this to be awkward for an actor but Jane goes for it as if there were an Academy Award on the line, and the results are electric. Long Live Thomas Jane.

The soundtrack featuring PJ Harvey, Seven Marty Three, Iggy Pop himself, Korn, Bush, Filter, The Toadies, and The Deftones (who are awkwardly in the film) pairs amazingly with the all-timer soundtrack of the first film and ignites the mood for some awesome revenge murder to occur; and occur it does. Apart from the aforementioned peep show booth scene that ends with Thomas Jane dead with a blow-up doll between his legs and a paper mache crow stuffed in his mouth, there’s a moment that the warehouse scene in Batman Begins (also written by Goyer) no doubt owes inspirational credit to. In the scene, Ashe taunts his first victim (Spider-Monkey) by stalking him around the dark corners of a drug warehouse bellowing “I am all your nightmares rolled into one!” before blowing up the entire warehouse and walking away as palm trees burst into flames while a crow flies past them. It’s a lot. It’s intense. And I love it.

Ashe will go on to have a full-blown karate fight with Thuy Trang’s Kali prefaced with a dialogue exchange that shouldn’t work but somehow does due to the way the actors sell it when ”Do you know how to fight??” is answered with, “Do you know how to die?” Ashe eventually sings to her “Hush little baby, don’t say a word. Daddy’s gonna buy you a big BLACK BIRD!”… before yeeting her out of a window to her death. Later, Curve reports the death of Spider-Monkey to the lead bad guy, Judah (Richard Brooks), with the diction of someone getting a pack of smokes and a lottery ticket from a gas station attendant: “Spider-Monkey’s a fuckin’ crispy critter.” Scenes that seemed so terrible so many years ago have a strange charm to them now.

Finally, Ashe makes his way to Judah. Though Judah is fantastically creepy and makes for a daunting bad guy, this is where the film unfortunately falls apart. His big plan is to capture the literal crow and drink its blood. He does so and this not only gives him Ashe’s power but also takes it from Ashe because… science? Meanwhile, as Ashe loses his power, an entire Day of the Dead festival decides to kick the shit out of him for some reason. Probably just because it looked cool for the scene. The ’90s were wild, man.

When Judah comes down to face Ashe, he has absorbed all of his power and beats him up for a while, even stringing him up and hitting him with a whip. A grown-up Sarah (Mia Kirshner) from the first film then runs up and temporarily saves the day, stabbing Judah in the face. Sarah is a super moody character who really adds to the whole goth vibe of the film as a tattoo artist used by the forces at hand to help and guide Ashe. You almost wish this anti-climactic moment would have kept Judah down because what’s next is a bummer.

[Related] ‘The Crow’ Reboot Starring Bill Skarsgård Will Release in June 2024!

As Judah does the bad guy thing and waxes poetically about how he’s defeated Ashe, Ashe inexplicably summons a murder of crows to fly through Judah, killing him. I mean, we could have just had a cool fight scene here, guys. That’s kind of what everything was building to.

In the end, Ashe returns to the afterlife to be with his son and his new love Sarah, whom Judah killed in the fracas, and we’re left with the happiest ending a Crow movie can really offer. With our characters at peace. The Crow: City of Angels is in no way perfect but it certainly has a lot more to offer than many will ever accept. I’m glad to have resurrected it all these years later and maybe you will be too. Don’t go any further into the sequels, though. Trust me on this one.

The Crow City of Angels actor

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