Life can take you in unexpected directions. I had pretty much written off the Marvel superhero movies but when I was looking for Geek Guns material, I figured I’d finally check out Deadpool. I loved the title sequence, and the film had lots of amusing moments, but as I watched it I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d already watched the exact same story decades ago.
After some thought, I realized that Deadpool is a Disney-fied version of The Crow. Just to be sure, I re-watched the 1994 classic and it was right there, as painfully obvious as Woke Star Wars’ cultural irrelevance.
I’m sure some will bristle, but I think the case is overwhelming. Yes, both are based on comics, but what I’m talking about is the uncanny way the plot and characters of Deadpool track so closely on The Crow.
Both protagonists are reluctant heroes and yet neither consider themselves to be heroes at all. Both are outside the law, but aided by those who have legitimate authority. In The Crow, Eric Draven is assisted by Officer Albrecht; in Deadpool Colossus is the one who helps him out. Each anti-hero also another sidekick in the form of a teenage girl – Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool and Sarah in The Crow.
Even the plot structure is identical. Both stories start in the middle and then tell the origin story in flashback. Both men are shaped by the woman they love and both develop the same superpower of near-instant regeneration. Finally, both stories center around the quest of the protagonist to destroy the people who made them what they are.
Of course, with all of these similarities, there are some significant differences.
Laugh Riot vs Emotional Impact
We can start with the setting. Deadpool is set in the fabled MCU, where entire cities get leveled on a regular basis but no one seems to care or notice. Life goes on and is bright and vibrant. Even the pe bars populated by assassins are well-lit and fun places to hang out.
The Crow is rooted in grim reality. Youngsters may not know that Detroit’s Devil’s Night fires were an annual festival of destruction and death. Detroit is filled with beautiful, crumbling old buildings of exactly the type that Eric and Shelly occupy. One of the things that makes The Crow so powerful is that the basic storyline was all too familiar in those days. An unsolved double homicide was par for the course in the Motor City.
The music is also profoundly different. While Deadpool uses humorous juxtapositions in its soundtrack, The Crow’s music is entirely consistent with the content of the film: dark, brooding, angry. Deadpool is a movie poking fun at movies; The Crow is something you can lose yourself in.
Love and Death
The most striking contrasts are in the treatment of relationships and the sanctity – and fragility – of life.
Each film has a love story, but they are very different in their origin and outcome. Deadpool’s relationship with Vanessa starts as purely physical one and only gradually do we see some sort of emotional commitment. By contrast, Eric’s relationship with Shelly is much more emotionally – and therefore spiritually – based. It seems quaint now, but in 1994, the goal of a romantic relationship was still marriage. In 2016, it isn’t even mentioned.
Both films have a high body count, but they achieve that in different ways. In The Crow, death is intensely personal. With the exception of the big gun fight, each villain is given something of a back story, a perspective on their personality and also a reminder of their crimes. Eric is an avenging spirit of justice and his statements to the henchmen that they are already dead has a double meaning: yes, they are about to die, but their souls are already damned. Note as well the overt religious reference when he confronts Sarah’s neglectful, gang-banging, drug-using mother. He brings death to the wicked, but also an opportunity for redemption.
Deadpool treats death as a punchline. Deadpool himself slaughters henchmen in various amusing ways, but one never has the sense that they are real people. The repeated references to having enough ammunition is an obvious send-up of movies where the heroes never reload and never run out of ammunition.
Finally, one cannot discuss this topic without noting the tragic death of Brandon Lee during production. Life imitated art, as he was supposed to marry his fiancee upon conclusion of the film. That unquestionably adds to the tragic theme of the film.
British Villain vs Real Villain
Another stark difference between the two stories is the nature of the villain. From the title sequence, Deadpool admits that the villain is a generic British bad guy. The film eventually tries to add some gravity to the role of Ajax, but no one cares. He’s just an off-the-shelf baddie trying to take over the world or something.
Contrast that with the visceral depravity of The Crow’s Top Dollar. His crimes are both realistic and grotesque. His criminal empire is responsible for the Detroit’s agonizing decay. He is one of the most vile creatures to ever appear on screen: incestuous, diabolic, sadistic and demonic.
Some folks have complained about The Crow’s final duel, when Eric seems dead and the villain gloats in his victory, only to be broken when our hero summons up a new superpower. They claim that this is a weak, transparent deux ex machina to solve the plot.
They are only demonstrating their failure to follow the plot. The writers deliberately inserted a scene where Eric receives the memory of Shelly’s suffering. This not only sets the premise for his future use of it, it also further humanizes Officer Albrecht.
Why wasn’t it used earlier in the fight? Because until his monologue, Top Dollar had never admitted his personal responsibility for the crimes of his men. Only after he openly accepted his guilt could Eric give him the pine punishment he so richly deserved.
Transcending the Genre
As you no doubt can tell, I think The Crow has aged well. It has lost none of its visceral power to move the audience. It took the idea of the comic book movie to a whole new level. I think the only competitor in this regard is 300, which also seamlessly combines mood, music and powerful visuals with timeless questions of honor and the price of freedom to create a true work of art.
Deadpool belongs in another category altogether. It lies firmly within MCU factory system, and while its wit and craftsmanship are first-rate, it says nothing about the human condition. It’s finest moments are send-ups of lesser films.
Obviously, one can appreciate them both for what they are, but I don’t think that in 26 years people will think much of Deadpool. It will have the same vibe as old comedy skits making fun of commercials people can barely remember. Perhaps it will be this generation’s version of Smokey and the Bandit, or perhaps Cannonball Run – a fun romp set in a bygone era by people who seem strange to us.
Of course, that assumes the MCU doesn’t auto-cancel itself. Deadpool is problematic on many levels, so maybe you should grab that DVD while you can. The Crow is also worth saving and savoring. Happily, the age of Devil’s Night is over, and Detroit is painfully moving forward. The movie is therefore a necessary reminder of what was – and what could be again.