Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Howard the Duck

Yes, during my last review I did mention a certain film, didn't I? A film that lives on in infamy, as there is a large number of people who seem to loathe its very existence. That film is 1986's Howard the Duck, one of the earliest Marvel Comics based films. I have long read and heard people complaining at length regarding this film. It even exists on a list of the worst films on Wikipedia. Looking at that, list I have to say that it is probably one of the better films on there, as this includes Battlefield Earth and The Mast of Disguise. But is it really that bad of a movie? Is the hype about it being terrible true or just the result of people looking at it from the wrong perspective? Well, that's what we're going to find out. Bring on the duck tits!

What? I did that joke already in another review? Oh pshaw!

The film opens on Duckworld, which is basically Earth except that the people evolved from ducks instead of apes. It's not the most difficult thing to accept, but I'm sure a lot of creationists are probably getting angry already because evolution is involved. Anyway, here we see the weary Howard trudge into his apartment after a long hard day of work. We see various things from our own world, but with ducks, about his home. George Lucas' involvement guaranteed something he worked on was about too as we can observe a Breeders of the Lost Stork poster on his wall.

Is it bad that I kinda want to see this movie?
As he sits back to enjoy his issue of Playduck (oh yeah, they went there) his chair starts vibrating violently and he gets yanked through his entire apartment building and into the upper atmosphere as he's pulled into a wormhole that dumps him rather unceremoniously on Earth. Not just Earth...but Cleveland. Yikes. Because his night isn't bad enough, he then ends up being harassed by some thugs, tossed out of a club, knocked around by a guy who he accidentally interrupted the make-out session of, and then man-handled by a gang of vicious biker chicks. To say that Howard's opinions regarding humanity at this point aren't great would be underselling it quite a bit. While he's getting all this abuse, our heroine Beverly (played by one of the best things to come out of the 80s, Lea Thompson), sings inside the club with her band. In retrospect I am sure Howard enjoyed having a soundtrack to his painful introduction to the human race.

That's not funny, you quack.
As she leaves the club, she gets harassed by some "fans" and Howard observes her need of help from the trash can he's settled into, as he surely hopes that everything has just been a terrible nightmare after he got a bit too sauced. Not being a fan of rape, he springs to action and actually manages pretty well to get rid of the guys with Beverly acting as the shapely Robin to his feathered Dark Knight. Introductions are made and she finds that she can't abandon a guy in the rain who just saved her, so she takes him in. He explains his situation to her and tells a bit about himself. He reveals that he used to be a musician like her but he's since given it up for a advertising job that pays the bills but leaves him feeling cynical and generally unhappy with life. He dozes off and the next day she introduces him to her scientist friend Phil (Tim Robbins, is that you?) who practically wets himself with joy. But, because he's a dork of nuclear proportions, Howard and Bev get frustrated with him and leave. He tries to stop them but when it's revealed he's a lab assistant and not an expert, that goes badly. Howard snaps at Bev outside in his overall frustration with life and scares off some kids who think he's an exhibit.

Philsy would've scared them off anyway.
Howard decides he needs to get a job, now that he's accepted that he'll likely live his remaining days here among the hairless apes. This results in him being given a rather seedy job at a spa that...well, let's say they're not your average spa. I would imagine that part of his job may involve cleaning up some puddles of a rather more viscous variety than is normally found in spas. What kind of employment office hooks people up with a job at this sort of place? I mean, I am really questioning the legality of this place. And the sanitary nature of it. Nothing makes me want to relax in a hot tub more that foamy jism rising to the surface as two people bump uglies across from me. Because his boss is a huge dickbag, Howard gives up the glourious life this new job offers and finds himself wandering back to the alleyway he landed in as he hears Beverly's band performing inside. He goes in to listen and ends up overhearing their sleazy manager talking about how he plans to take advantage of Beverly by refusing to pay the band unless she gives him some, which stirs up Howard's ire something fierce as he threatens him in a relatively calm manner. After the manager's thug buddies slide Howard across the bar in that wonderfully cliche Hollywood way that we know by heart, he surprises them by quickly coming back to kick their asses. The manager tries to skewer him but finds himself on the opposite end of this when Howard takes the icepick from him and nearly stabs him straight through the ear, instead going through his earring.

Hey, I'm just trying to break the ice.
He gets the girls their money and fires their manager for them, then surprises them backstage with the good news. The other girls seem less surprised about the anthropomorphic duck in their midst because Bev has talked about him quite a bit and it seems that even after their falling out she really missed him. They make up and who should show up but everyone's favourite goober, Philsy. He tells Howard a few crackpot theories before finally saying that he has a lead on why Howard might be there but it apparently involves plucking a feather from his ass without any explanation. Yeah, that'd piss me off too, Howard. Afterward, he and Bev go home together and we get some character building interaction between them as they prepare for bed. Oh, and we see them both flirting like crazy with one another. I mean, as a fan of the comics it's not that shocking. The two of them have been banging for quite a long time. Ducks have needs and he's probably the best guy to ever enter her life. Also, he's an alien and we've seen plenty of human/alien romances, so it's not really that bad. Just ignore the "furry" implications and enjoy Lea Thompson being nearly nude on your screen.

Always focus on the important matters.
After they kiss, Philsy and his friend show up with Dr. Walter Jenning (portrayed by well-known comedic actor Jeffrey Jones) to interrupt their inter-species shenanigans and reveal that Jenning knows how Howard got there. It turns out that his machine, a dimensional-jumping device, accidentally yanked him to Earth when they were testing it. So, in the hopes of sending him home, they all head to the installation where it seems tragedy has struck as a malfunction occurred and Jenning has seemingly been blown away to parts unknown. The cops show up and detain Howard because, I am not joking at all here, he's an illegal alien. Bev manages to help him get loose and they run across Jenning who isn't looking great. They escape together, minus Phil who gets arrested, and end up at a Cajun sushi restaurant. No, really. There Jenning, who had been complaining about pains and spazzing in the car, reveals that he's actually possessed by a "Dark Overlord" that came down the device. The Overlord tells them he plans to summon more of his demonic brethren to possess humanity and take over our world, but that's interrupted by a joke about eggs not being one of Howard's favourite foods (for obvious reasons) and some random stock rednecks being...well, random stock rednecks.

What d'ya mean we're a cliche? John here tapdances on the weekends.
Howard manages to piss off pretty much everyone in the place and, as they're about to murder a sentient lifeform (because this is still Cleveland), Bev manages to talk the Overlord into saving him. It's a pretty cool segment too, as he uses his evil demonic powers to finish ruining the days of all the diners who were planning on skewering our poor hero. Bev and him try to make a break for it with the key for the device, but they're stopped as Howard is knocked out and she gets taken hostage. Howard wakes up in time to see the cops show up and he frees the still handcuffed Phil from a cop car as they go onto a small landing strip and prep a small plane for flight so they can use it to get to the lab and save Bev (and also the world). Jenninglord decides to stop to charge at a nuclear power plant, which he drains completely, which essentially ruins his complexion as he continues on to the lab with his hostage. Our heroes lead the cops on a chase as Howard struggles with flying and they eventually make it there where Phil straps an experimental weapon onto a cart for Howard to use to fight off the badguy. He does, which results in Jenning being freed and the Overlord showing off his pretty face to the world.

HOLY JUMPING JESUS KILL IT KILL IT!
The duck doesn't back down though as he faces off his enemy and manages to blast him to hell. But, sadly, that isn't stopping the other demon ass-clowns from coming down so he gives up his chance to go home and blasts the device too. In the aftermath, Howard turns out to not be dead and we get a nice finishing scene of the girls putting on a show while Philsy and Howard work backstage. It results in Howard playing the guitar on stage with the girls as the crowd goes wild, because this is the 80s and that's what crowds always do in these movies. Howard and Bev have a tender moment off-stage as the credits roll and that's our movie. Now, was that really so bad? No, honestly, was it?

That's kinda the million dollar question here, yes?
The answer is, in a word, no. Honestly, I watched this trying my best to be critical as possible and I just couldn't really find all the things to hate that people have gone on about over the years. Howard acts like himself, a surly and cynical duck who is stuck in a world he never made. Beverly is appropriately air-headed, but not quite to the level of her comic counterpart. Phil, while somewhat annoying, does his job as sidekick well enough. And the Overlord was definitely appropriately threatening, both inside and outside of Jenning. The acting wasn't Academy Award winning, but it wasn't awful either. Robbins may have been one of the weaker actors, but he was supposed to be annoying in this so I'll give him a pass. The story may seem a bit cliche, but it works as a nice introduction to Howard while giving him a reason to be a hero rather than just comment on our society and the comic industry. The movie itself actually seems to poke fun at many movie cliches, which I liked.

There were some things I liked more though.
The effects were quite impressive, which isn't shocking with Industrial Light & Magic doing the work. I especially enjoyed the stop-motion work for the Overlord, which reminds me a lot of their work on the Rancor in Return of the Jedi. The cast did a fine job, even though I felt like Jeffrey Jones didn't get enough to work with as Jenning. Chip Zien's portrayal of Howard was great and very true to form. And the people beneath the suit did a good job too with their body language, which couldn't have been easy. It's true, trying to judge a favourite film from your childhood without the bias of those memories is difficult. I will openly admit that I love this movie unashamedly, bad jokes and all. It was one of favourite comic characters in a movie, which was a very rare occurrence back then and it felt like I was getting to see the future of the comics world. I thought for sure that in the next few years we'd see tons of great comic based films that would please me immensely.

A few examples come to mind as almost proving me right too.
But the true comic movie renaissance was much further down the road, sadly. Kids today though, they get to enjoy it like I did then. How ironic too, as they may be seeing Howard in their first comic based film experience, due to his after credits scene in Guardians of the Galaxy that literally everyone knows about now. I wonder what they're thinking as he spouts his cynical lines for the first time for them. Are they falling in love with him the same way I did when I read his comics? Probably not. But maybe he'll interest them enough to go check those comics out. And maybe they'll learn he has a movie already and give it a shot, because the odds of him getting another are pretty slim. I'd like to think kids are open to trying things out like that. I know I was. In closing, this may not be the Citizen Kane of its time, but its nowhere near as bad as the reputation its been saddled with. Ignore the hate and give Howard the Duck a shot. At the very least you can enjoy a bit of fan-service that doesn't make you feel quite as creeped out as Back to the Future may have. So, until Dr. Bong shows up in a deleted scene in The Avengers 4: Wolverine Boogaloo, I'll be here wandering aimlessly down memory lane and rambling about it to you people. Later days.

Now get out of here! We've got some "scenes" to go over...

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