The Crow City of Angels

The Final Verdict On ‘The Crow: City of Angels’

When talking about films that were set up to fail right from the get-go, Tim Pope’s The Crow: City of Angels should be front and centre. A sequel to the 1994 film The Crow, City of Angels had the largest of shoes to fill and though it was initially steered in a new direction, studio tampering and a writer and director both disowning the film didn’t do it any favours. For this edition of The Final Verdict, we thought we’d revisit the 1996 action/revenge film and see which side of the coin it ultimately falls on.

How The Crow: City of Angels Came to Be

Mia Kirchner in The Crow: City of Angels

Back in 1994, if you were an angsty young goth kid, the only film that mattered was Alex Proyas-helmed The Crow. Already a legend before its release, tragically due to its star Brandon Lee being accidentally killed on set, the film quickly became a cult and box office hit, making way for an infinite amount of kids painting their faces for Halloween. This writer even spent every penny of his allowance on the graphic novel, soundtrack, VHS copy, mall artist portraits, posters and any and everything in between for the film. The black and grey-heavy aesthetic, the all-time great soundtrack and an ungodly amount of other factors made The Crow one of the most beloved films around.

When the inevitable sequel came two years later, there was no way The Crow: City of Angels would ever live up to the status the first film had going for it. Taking the story in a different direction from The Crow, Miramax hired writer David S. Goyer (Dark City, Death Warrant) to tell a new tale of face paint-heavy revenge. Goyer took the core of what made the first film work and crafted City of Angels, the story of a man being brought back to life to avenge the murders of himself and his son. Tim Pope, known for directing over 25 music videos for The Cure, Siouxie and the Banshees, and Soft Cell, was brought on the direct the film and the production hit the ground running. Soon after, actor Vincent Perez was hired on to play Ashe Corven, the resurrected man hellbent on revenge. Returning character Sarah, meanwhile, was played by Mia Kirschner (Exotica). Filling up the film’s band of over the top villains (a staple in the series) were Richard Brooks (The Hidden) as the enigmatic Judah Earl, Iggy Pop as Curve, Thomas Jane (The Punisher, The Mist) as Nemo, Thuy Tran (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) as Kali and Vincent Castellanos (Mulholland Drive) as the wild Spider Monkey. Did they succeed?

What’s Good About The Crow: City of Angels

The Crow City of Angels

While The Crow: City of Angels was notorious for being tampered with by the Weinsteins, what it does so well is stand on its own two legs. One might say that leans into the BAD area, but it’s refreshing when a sequel doesn’t try to just rehash what we’ve already seen. Pope and Goyer knew Perez wasn’t Brandon Lee and in turn, crafted Ashe to be a very different protagonist than 1994’s Eric Draven was. A man obsessed with bringing pain and misery to those who took his son away from him, Ashe is more of a powder keg of emotions, Perez really shines and revels in the film’s concept. There’s no doubt about it: the actor is having the time of his life, screaming and performing as if he’s a court jester. As a viewer, you never feel like you’re watching an actor try to fill the former lead’s shoes. Lee was larger than life when he needed to be, but for the most part, there was a soft, broken approach to Eric, so to see Perez go BIG for most of City of Angels, you’re given an experience that feels like a completely different turn than what previously seen.

Using the character of Sarah this time not as a bratty kid looking for her friend, but as a tormented woman acting as a guide to showing Ashe why he’s been brought back and what he needs to do, adds a different touch to the film as well. Early versions of the first film saw The Hills Have Eyes star Michael Berryman guiding Eric on his quest, so to have that type of character not only make it to the final cut this time around but also being a fully formed lead is an interesting one as well. Sarah’s alone in life, with the exception of returning feline Gabriel, and that loneliness leads her to find Ashe and help him fulfil his mission. There’s great chemistry between Perez and Kirschner and while a lot of that was trimmed out in favour of ultimately insisting that City of Angels resemble the first film, what we do have is enough to feel for the characters and want to go along with the journey.

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The real VIP of the film is Pope’s aesthetic for what the world in City of Angels looks like. Gone are the somewhat monochromatic designs of the first film, replaced with gorgeous purples, blues and violet colours. Pope’s prior work with The Cure really shines in City of Angels, giving it a completely different tone and look from the first film and helping it stand on its own. Even the makeup in The Crow: City of Angels differs from the original design. Instead of straight black and white makeup, Ashe is painted by Sarah with the dark blue paints of his son, as a way to honour the memory of the little boy. There’s a tragedy in the way that Ashe remembers his son, the only thing he ever had after his addict wife left them to each other. The colours in the film really bring you into the story and there’s a kinky, BDSM-heavy approach to everything from the villain’s hangout, down to the character costumes and even the antagonists themselves, that gives the film a sexy but dangerous tone.

There’s a lot to love with what Pope and Goyer set out to do and between the crew behind in front of the camera, it shows how much everybody put into making a sequel that not only offered something to the fans of the first film, but offered a completely different experience.

What’s Bad About The Crow: City of Angels

The Crow City of Angels

When it comes to the cons of The Crow: City of Angels, you can jump right into the very same thing that makes the film work: it is simply not the first movie. There was a romantic tragedy to the first film, an almost Shakespearean sadness to the story, making it an easy fix for those who saw themselves in that. City of Angels takes that does everything BIGGER, which turned many viewers off. There aren’t enough quiet moments in the film to give a good break from the big action pieces and larger than life acting by Perez and (especially) Thomas Jane. Brooks does this best as Judah Earl, but the character never quite hits the mark that Michael Wincott’s Top Dollar did with viewers. While The Crow was filled with memorable bad guys and endlessly quotable lines, the one-liners in the sequel are laughable from time to time. It’s in those moments that you feel like maybe the film tried a little too hard to capture lightning in a bottle instead of giving something new. The tragic part of that is how much Pope and Goyer both wanted the film to be its own thing. An early cut was much longer, had more character development and was less of a rehash than what we saw in the theatrical cut. But thanks to the nightmares that were the Weinsteins, Pope’s vision was radically altered, trimming the development the film desperately needed. When you have a fully-formed first film, one that gives you a character you genuinely care about, it’s easy to get on board. But when the sequel brings the lead back from the dead and has him in a leather jacket riding a motorcycle towards revenge not even five minutes later, it’s difficult to latch onto the film’s protagonist.

What makes The Crow: City of Angels so damned frustrating from time to time is how it’s just on the cusp of being GREAT, but falls a bit short of that, due to just how much was cut out of the film and reedited to fit whatever the Weintsteins wanted out of it. Entire sequences were rearranged, the ending was altered, and there isn’t enough crafting in the theatrical cut to make the film as special as it could have been.

The Verdict

The Crow City of Angels

Look, I love this movie, let’s get that out of the way. Warts and all, it’s a really entertaining entry and is the last film in the series to even be watchable, let alone good. Perez and the rest of the actors really relish the flamboyant story and the eccentricity of each actor’s performances adds to the experience. The cinematography and lighting are stunning, the soundtrack (like the first film) is one for the books (that Linda Perry track….wow). You’re right, it’s not the first film, but what it is, is a great continuation to a world with endless possibilities. The Crow works best when each film is like an episode into a world of people getting revenge and allowing filmmakers to put their own stamps on the property. Had we been able to experience Pope’s original cut, I think the reception would have been better. That said, I tend to revisit this one quite often and rightfully so. It’s a gorgeously absurd yet highly entertaining ride and if you can see it as its own entity, you’ll have fun with it.

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