Imagine going to the hospital for a painful, invasive butt-related surgery. Now imagine you have to go back shortly after healing from that to get your wisdom teeth out. In no way is getting your wisdom teeth out fun, but compared to what you just went through via your butt, it’s not so terrible. Now imagine that The Crow: City of Angels is the invasive butt stuff and The Crow: Salvation is your wisdom teeth and you see where I’m trying to go with this analogy.
Now I hope you’re still with me and not put off by the large amount of ass talk that just occurred, because my thoughts on The Crow: Salvation are actually good ones. I know, right? That came out of fucking nowhere. Let me just say it clearly in case you thought you misheard: The Crow: Salvation is not only a watchable movie, it’s a decent movie, a movie that stands on its own!
I’ve piqued your interest, I’m sure. So let’s get into it. And willingly this time. If City of Angels had me kicking and screaming, this one has be whistling a happy, kind of off-tune little song.
The Crow: Salvation begins with Alex Corvis’ execution. Framed for his girlfriend’s bloody murder by a group of corrupt cops, Alex has spent three years on death row before being led by his shackles to the electric chair. He’s resurrected mere moments after his death by a crow to seek his revenge against the group that killed his girlfriend and framed him for the act.
It feels right to have Salvation go back to lovers instead of the paternal love that Vincent Perez had no idea how to approach in two. I mean, you go to all the trouble of changing the story to give him a kid and then you let your lead actor get away with not giving two shits about his supposed son? Were you even trying, City of Angels? (I know the answer to that question, that’s really more for effect, I know they done fucked up).
The Crow started as a story about lovers and it’s what the series does best. Even if Perez had pulled any human feelings of love for his child out of his ass in City of Angels, I personally still would not have cared. Young people madly in love? I love it. I’m all about it. More adorable couples doing romantic things. A parent’s love for a child? Ew gross. Salt and burn that shit. Me and my uterus are not interested. Salvation has a big win right up front for me by going back to lovers. Yay romance, boo forced parental obligations.
Alright, so other than what’s presented above (mostly my loathing of children), what’s this story like? Pretty damn good actually. It was always going to be held back by the fact that it’s the second sequel to a cult classic, but if you step back and look at it just as its own movie, it’s good. Not great, it’s not going to win any awards, but it’s competent where you want it to be and has an advantage over City of Angels on, you know, story, acting, effects, pretty much everything the second movie fucked up.
Salvation opens like a horror movie: slow panning close-up shots of weird shit and a dead crow being bled out. It’s kind of baffling. Not the horror stuff, I’m fine with that: I loves me some horror. What’s baffling is that they reuse the same zoom-out shot of the crow bleeding out over and over again. It makes me think that this is a made-for-TV horror movie. Actually, the writer did do a lot of television. And the actors were all pretty much plucked from television or went on to do television. So, I guess putting two and two together, that’s not a bad comparison to make.
Anyways, Salvation’s tone is immediately different from the last two Crow films that have come before. That’s probably the smartest thing they could have done. City of Angels sucked so bad because executives thought that if they essentially remade it more like the first movie they could make bank again. Bad shit happens when movies put money before art! While Salvation could have used one more pass on the screenplay and definitely looks cheaper than either of the other films in terms of its production, it can at least call itself its own movie and not just a hot, steaming, pile of shit that talentless executives have played in! And isn’t that a win in itself?!
Plus, I just love the corrupt cop angle in this movie. It makes the evil more believable. Like, here’s just some good old fashioned human greed. Besides the ultimate villain who I’ll get to later, the characters aren’t larger than life comic characters, they’re just assholes with a broken moral compass. And oh my god it’s so much better than whatever the hell that mysticism garbage in the second one was. Leave the supernatural conditions (ie how these men are coming back from the dead) alone and just give me a rapey dude that I’ll enjoy seeing die in a brutal, bloody way. That’s literally all Crow movies have to be. Well, that and a love story. So two things: love and revenge. Salvation delivers both. Halle-fucking-lujah!
Along with a love story and an un-mangled script, it’s also just so nice to have a group of actors that aren’t robots trying to fake their way through these things we humans call “emotions”. Kirsten Dunst is the weakest link in the movie, which is kind of a surprise. This was two years before she landed the role of Mary Jane in Spider-Man. I mean, she’s not the best actress but she had been acting for years before this movie. She did Bring It On the same year as this, so maybe she was just phoning it in to focus more on her very intense, very emotional cheerleader performance. Whatever it was, I just didn’t care about her. Though I should clarify that compared to City of Angels, I love these characters. Sure, Dunst is unaware of how to make a sad face without crumbling in on herself, but next to Mia Krishner (Sarah) from the second movie, the girl deserves an Oscar.
As for the baddies, none of the four dudes that played the gang of corrupt cops are anything truly memorable, but it didn’t bother me as much as the truly intolerable gang from the second movie did. Do I just subconsciously expect more from Tom Jane than I did Bill Mondy or had I completely given up hope? A little of column A, a little of column B. But that’s beside the point. The corrupt cops weren’t playing individual characters as much as they were playing the overall ideal of a corrupt cop. Rape, under-age sex trafficking, drugs, you name it, the four cops are neck deep in it. They play it straight and that makes it so incredibly satisfying when the Crow takes each one of them out.
Their shady operation, much like the last two movies, is run by a single person; AKA the guy you know the Crow is going up against in a final confrontation. Eric had Top Dollar, Ashe had Judah, and Alex has the Captain of Police.
Fred Ward plays the unnamed Captain and he does a good job of it. He’s not at Top Dollar’s level, but who ever could be? Top Dollar was the epitome of badassery! The Captain has the same vibe as Top Dollar though. His underlings are in it for violence and money and drugs but he’s connected to it all like a lord of chaos. If we were playing Dungeons and Dragons (which I never would, just FYI), I’d put Top Dollar as neutral evil and the Captain as chaotic evil. Top Dollar wants a legacy and he goes about it in a cool, calm, and impartial way. The ends justify the means for him. For the Captain, the money and power are second to the chaos. Why else would he frame Alex for Lauren’s murder? Why else would he have a mad scientist lair where he performs taxidermy and freaky self body mods?
What’s that you’re asking? A mad scientist’s lab? Oh, had I not mentioned that yet? Yeah… it’s a thing in this movie. Admittedly, the movie does a pretty great job of hiding it for the most part, and the weirdo, taxidermy, torture room is only ever unveiled in the final act. I don’t really have anything to say about it. It’s what gives this movie more of a horror vibe when it opens and it’s where the final confrontation begins. The Captain and his receptionist/lover/cartoon bimbo do weirdo sex shit in there. I mean, the receptionist character is this movie’s version of Myca (Top Dollar’s half-sister/lover) so it’s an assumption they do weirdo sex stuff in the mad scientist lab. But c’mon. We all know what’s happening in there between body mods and stuffing dead animals. The backstory of why the Captain is into all this shit is never covered–never even breached–but I think that adds to the chaotic vibe that encapsulates him. He was doing all this before Alex came along and he would have continued to do it if he hadn’t.
And Eric Mabius as Alex? You know, that attractive, square-jawed guy from Ugly Betty? He’s charming as fuck in Salvation. Seriously! Mabius is a television actor but the whole movie feels made-for-TV, so he’s not a horrific fit. He’s not some rando French movie star trying to break into the American action market! He’s no Lee either, but there are similarities between the two. He manages to play up the part of the Crow with the kind of cocky, bipolar energy that Lee did; like the scene where the big baddie gets fried in the electric chair that killed Alex. He’s going on about how he’ll come back from the grave too and that the crow will resurrect him for his revenge and Alex just stares down at him with a smirk on his face. Cocky bastard–I love it! Or the scene where he encounters the first of the crooked cops and ends up interacting with a drunk girl in a car. His smile when she comes to and he happily exclaims “You’re up!” absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, had me. In that moment, he’s a cinnamon roll. Too good for this world. Too pure. To pull a phrase from the first film, shit on me! I did not expect this!
Mabius succeeds in making the character his own. The Crow (that’s the bird, not the man) brings people back as it sees fit, which means in the real world, each person is different from the last. Why they all have this innate connection to the tragedy mask that Eric paints himself with is beyond me, but I digress. Mabius isn’t trying to be Lee like Perez was. He’s more like a kid showing off his Crow cosplay. It works for me.
How vicious this Crow is works for me too. Mabius’ Crow is the youngest one so far, killed on his twenty-first birthday. And not just killed in some random act of violence: he’s executed via electric chair after being wrongfully imprisoned for his girlfriend’s murder at the hands of corrupt cops. I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that he comes back as the most ruthless Crow. By the end of the movie his death toll is at twenty-eight. His anger is righteous and well-deserved. I’d be fucking pissed. Though I might not be the best gauge for anger. I paint myself up and stalk out into the night for bloody murder when the people in the apartment above me move their chairs too loudly.
Anyhow, Alex’s death toll. It’s high right? Yes, Eric takes out quite a few people in the scene that takes place at Top Dollar’s lair, but I think Ashe only takes out his main targets. I say think because City of Angels put me in a semi-coma while viewing it. Now, how’d Alex’s get so high? Well, let me enlighten you!
Eric wasn’t interested in Top Dollar’s strangle hold on Detroit before Top Dollar forced himself into the situation. Ashe denounced the sex workers at Judah’s S&M club like he was the freakin’ pope but he didn’t kill any of them. Alex though, he mows down any cop in his way without blinking an eye. Most of them were innocent men but they represented the corrupt and broken system that killed him and Lauren and, therefore, he had no mercy for any of them. Alex bases a lot of his decisions on selfish, shock based tactics like this. Like showing Lauren’s little sister her violent murder could have been done in a nicer way, but he shows it to her the way he saw it, in vicious, painful bursts. He was jailed for years and then executed even though he was innocent. He’ll do whatever he wants to prove his innocence. He’s got no one left on Earth to ‘stay human’ for. Eric and Ashe had Sarah, but Alex is the first Crow to have no one. Why not be blood thirsty?
I honestly really love the brutality of it. Whereas the supporting characters move more into shades of grey in Salvation, Alex’s motivations are given to you in straight black and white: he wants blood, he’ll get blood. Reminds me of the first film in that there is one goal, one thing to do, and the action never deviates from that one thing. Plus, these brutal killings feel cathartic again. I enjoyed watching these crooked cops die. It felt good again. It felt like the dead that the Crow was back to avenge was actually getting some closure.
I’d say closure is probably the most important aspect of a revenge flick, wouldn’t you?
Sadly, I think the film’s biggest overall hindrance is the effects. They’re not atrocious, just a little bland. Salvation isn’t stylized like the other two. This movie has moved away from the comic book aesthetic and into that of an action flick. It’s still alright to look at, if not a bit cornier. Decisions like the grainy, bright filter that’s used during touching flashbacks or this bizarre circling camera thing that happens scream that the filmmakers were grasping at straws. It’s a little immature, like it was done for a flashy gimmick and not to visually progress the story.
I don’t think the location of Salvation ever specified (though Wikipedia seems to think it was Salt Lake City because it was filmed there) but it’s a rundown kind of place. It’s not the crumbling ruins of Detroit or the polluted streets of LA but it has a Gotham-esque quality in its architecture and grunge. Think Batman: The Animated Series but with Eric Mabius’ charming-as-fuck face instead of Bruce Wayne’s charming-as-fuck face. Unfortunately the city doesn’t play the huge role that it did in the last two movies, becoming its own character, but hey, at least the smoky void set design and toxic yellow piss filter from City of Angels isn’t the only bloody thing you can see on screen!
The action is put front and centre in Salvation and, again, it’s not atrocious. The choreography of any face to face fighting looks real (at least realer than whatever Perez did in two) and the CGI on the bigger things is at a decent level for 2000. You can tell it took a lot of influences from action movies that were being made at the time. There is one bit at the end that involves Alex jumping from a huge height onto the top of moving car that’s laughable, but that’s probably mostly on the script for not seeing any other way to get him from Point A to Point B.
What really falls flat, something I personally think should have been cut, is the brief scene we get of Alex peeling off his face. Oh, what’s that? I haven’t mentioned this yet either? Well, the electric chair melts his face you see, because that’s totally what electric chairs do. So when Alex comes back his face is a blackened mess of melted flesh. Except it’s not. His face isn’t melted, it kind of looks like lava that’s erupted and cooled. The scene is so dark you don’t see much of it, just clumps of slimy ooze that’s supposed to be skin dropping to the ground. See what I mean about the horror vibe? This is also the scene that explains why his face has the tragedy/comedy mask markings but why go to all the trouble of having him peel of a melted face to reveal burn marks underneath? Why not just have the electric chair give him those marks and call it a day? It was another immature moment that could have been handled with more finesse.
But! To immediately contradict myself: this was only Bharat Nalluri’s third movie that he was director for. All things considered, especially the amount of money and the time frame they were given, he does a stellar job. Got to give the man props, there’s always a learning curve and god knows studio executives probably forced in the face peeling bit because it tested well with their 18 – 34, white male demographic.
While Salvation manages to pull itself together long enough for a competent script and actors who aren’t just robots trying to fake human emotions, the music falls flat. I think it’s because my bae Graeme Revell wasn’t back. Marco Beltrami took up the score for Salvation and it’s mostly forgettable. It’s not terrible, it just doesn’t feel original. It’s more generic action movie than the free-flowing, hymnal pieces that Revell specializes in. It doesn’t create the more emotional moments that The Crow movies depend on. The main theme (reprised in Captain Gets a Shock) is the most memorable track. It’s got the horror vibe that’s just below the surface in this movie. It wouldn’t work in either of the previous Crow movies, but it works here.
The soundtrack feels out of place as well but I think that might come down to me liking 90s music more than the 2000s music. It’s got rap tracks instead of industrial alternative and heavy metal. They do get in a Hole song, and even a Rob Zombie song, but they don’t quite fit the new aesthetic that was created in Salvation. Disappointing for me, but it might work for others.
So, overall, where does this movie stand in The Crow franchise?
The Crow: Salvation literally had everything working against it. It’s a direct-to-video sequel of a sequel. It’s filled with people that had only ever worked in television. It had Brandon Lee’s legacy to live up to while also being its own movie. It was released four years after City of Angels and the whole franchise had, more or less, faded completely from the public’s consciousness. But against these odds, Salvation works! It honestly works! Christ, Eric was right: it can’t rain all the time!
There’s no way that this movie would ever be as good as the first Crow. There aren’t a lot of movies in general that come close to the first Crow. Compared to the inept acting, set design, directing, pacing, and writing of City of Angels though, I honestly can’t believe there’s people in the world that think this is the worst Crow sequel! Salvation was the right title for this segment of The Crow franchise. This movie has dragged The Crow’s brand name out of the depths of Hell and deposited it on a level that doesn’t make me want to burn the world down! There is hope within The Crow franchise.
Well, there’s hope until at least next week when I take a look at The Crow: Wicked Prayer. It’s gonna start raining again, isn’t it?