Marvel Comics and DC Comics, between the two of them, own the rights to almost any superhero you can name. Marvel’s roster includes Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Avengers, etc. DC’s got Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and so on. They literally hold the trademark on the term “super-hero.” (Language nit-pickers: note that when I say “literally” here, I do literally mean literally.) But that doesn’t mean that Marvel and DC superhero movies are the only ones worth watching. I said they own almost any superhero you can name. Trademark or no trademark, they don’t own all of them.
As a counter-countdown to Marvel’s tentpole-of-tentpoles The Avengers, the ultimate superhero franchise film, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite superhero movies that aren’t part of those two company’s wholly-owned portfolios. I’m calling them “off-brand” because that’s shorter than saying, “Top 10 Movies Featuring Superheroes Who Aren’t Part of Either the Marvel Universe or the DC Universe.” It is not meant as an insult. In fact, I’m making this series of posts because I love these movies.
The first entry comes from that grim and gritty shadow world known as the late early 90s:
10. The Crow
I’m not going to say that The Crow is “so bad that it’s good” but I am going to say that it’s simultaneously very, very bad and very, very good. It’s not that the bad causes the good, nor, somehow, does the good get weighed down by the bad.
The bad: the shallow, zero-dimensional, motivationless characters, the embarrassing dialogue, the unoriginal plotting (“Walking Tall” meets “Walking Dead”), the hammy acting, the sentimentality, and the fetishistic violence.
The good: the way that that it looks, and the way that it moves.
Here’s an idea: turn the volume all the way down! Maybe put on a Marilyn Manson album or something. Now: watch The Crow, unencumbered by dialogue and story. See what I mean? It’s beautiful to just look at, ranking right up there, stylishness-wise, with its more-famous, bigger-budgeted progeny like The Matrix, the Nolan Batman films, and, of course, the Sin City movie. Pay special attention to the skanky charisma of lead actor Brandon Lee, whose physical performance manages to anticipate both the latter-day middle-aged flamboyance of Johnny Depp and Heath Ledger’s final performance as The Joker. Never mind that Lee’s verbal performance is leaden, doofy, self-conscious, and childish. You’ve got the sound turned off, right? So it doesn’t matter!
You think I’m being sarcastic, maybe, but I’m not. I love to watch — simply watch — this film. I’d say that there’s not a boring frame in the thing, but there is exactly one: the shot in the police car right before the policeman spills the coffee on himself. Go look for it. You’ll see what I mean. Except for that one half-second, The Crow is a non-stop gothic banquet for your eyes, eyes that are stinging from too much mascara, no doubt, and gritty from the second-hand cranksmoke wafting through your broken-open window off the thug-infested streets — right?
Many movies are bad the way that The Crow is bad. Almost none are good the way that it is good. So The Crow gets to initiate the list as the Number Ten “Off-Brand” Superhero Movie of all time. Why number 10? Because it was way, way, way too good to leave off the list, and way, way, way too bad to be placed any higher.
As you might imagine from the title, this post is the first in a series of ten. If you’re reading this at least one day after I posted it, you will find more posts in this series behind the “More” link, below. Otherwise, come back tomorrow!