Watching The Crow feels like jumping into a time machine to the early 1990's. The music, the fashion, and the general atmosphere all exude the grunge spirit of the age. And while this could be a detriment that makes the film feel dated, this is actually one of its strongest selling points.
The Crow is not a perfect film. But what the movie does incredibly is set mood. The cinematography, the score, the costume design all work together powerfully to enter you into the ecstatic sadness of the story. Even years from last seeing it, the impressions that the movie left in me are still strong.
It might be easy to dismiss this accomplishment by thinking that all that would be required to achieve the desired effect would be to go to the nearest Hot Topic and take its wardrobe and store music. But look at any of the subsequent Crow films and you will see quickly that this effect is not easily duplicated. Eric Draven's world is dark and violent, but it is not repulsively ugly. There is something almost attractive and cathartic about Eric's deep sadness and the world in which it is reflected.
Of course the movie got a great deal of infamy because of the tragic death of its lead star Brandon Lee during a horrible accident with a gun. Brandon had been slowly working his way up the action movie ranks through B-list material. Perpetually in the shadow of his legendary father, I believe that this movie would have opened new doors for him. Rather than relying on his extensive martial arts training, Lee pushed his emotional boundaries. He mixes pain and rage and regret and fear all at once. His performance is not perfect, but you can see the blossoming of his talent.
And while there is a good deal of action, the movie doesn't make action the focus. Instead, the story is ultimately about loss and grief. Eric Draven's whole quest for revenge centers around his need to come to peace with the senseless death of his beloved fiancee. Eric has no desire to move on. When his mission is done, there is no future for him. He simply wants to fulfill his duty as the survivor and then leap into the dark to be back with his beloved. The movie embraces the pain of lost love like a man hugging a cactus: the closer you hold it, the more it hurts.
But there is something almost beautiful about this tragedy. CS Lewis said that romantic love makes no promises of happiness; it only promises eternity (whether it keeps its promise or not). The theme of the movie that real love is forever resonates as strongly as Lewis' other point about romantic love: the lovers desire each other more than they desire happiness. "Let our hearts break, so long as they break together."
And in the deep darkness of The Crow, we can feel that heartbreak more so than most super hero movies.