#92: Howard The Duck
How Did This EVER Get Made?
…… Right. This film was one that I’d heard of before but had never bothered trying to watch. And when I say I’d heard of it, my entire knowledge of it is that:
1) The Nostalgia Critic did a review of it.
2) There are female duck breasts on screen. I’m not joking.
3) It’s based on a loved but obscure Marvel comic character.
That’s it. That’s my entire previous knowledge of this film. I didn’t even look anything up about it before I watched it because I wanted to go in blind. I’m fairly sure I made the right call, so if you also haven’t seen it yet, I would suggest doing so before reading this review (unless you don’t mind spoilers or just want to prove me wrong).
So I hit play, I watched it and now I need to talk about it. Be prepared, this review is going to some weird places.
- Howard The Duck (Ed Gale/Chip Zien)
There’s honestly way too much to unpack here for me to not make this the longest review I’ll ever write. So here’s what you need to know. He’s brought from a duck planet to ours by Deus Ex Machina, he’s supposedly a master fighter but manages to not really show that at all, he effectively forgets that he has a girlfriend from the moment he meets Lea Thompson and his jokes don’t land. However, for a product of its time, he actually works quite well. And compared to the live action TMNT of the 90’s, it’s astounding how well the duck costume works! But this character was definitely one that should have been on the back burner for a while before being brought forward, not the first Marvel live action film main star!
- Beverly (Lea Thompson)
So remember when Lea Thompson played Lorraine in BTTF? Well, take the young version of that, imagine her as a punk rocker who spends a fairly long scene in her underwear and then accept that she’s the love interest of the film. Yeah, you’ve got this character down. She’s fun, she’s very odd and she works really well. The only issue I had was that the bed scene (yep, there’s a bed scene) kinda looked like she was attempting to canoodle with a large kid’s toy. And that I just had to write that last sentence…
- Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins)
I….. honestly don’t know how to describe this guy. He’s insane, he’s very annoying and he’s kinda hard to watch. At least until the demon arrives. Then it’s as if Tim Robbins simply said “Screw it, I’m just going to have fun here!” and he hits the right level of snarky and over-the-top. And anyone who hasn’t seen the film is probably more interested in the demon bit. Don’t worry, he’s next! But seriously, this film has two very different versions of this character, with the latter half making up for the former half. So an overall “ok” grade then.
- Dr Walter Jennings (Jeffrey Jones)
And in this film about space ducks and a very odd 80’s Cleveland, OH, we reach the strangest character in the film. He starts off just fine. And then he’s possessed by an ancient evil from outer space (just roll with it) and starts to talk as if Judge Doom (the REAL JD) had a total laryngectomy. And he stays just like that for about 80% of his screen-time. This was a VERY odd choice. And I don’t know if it was the right one. It really is difficult to get used to. I’m sure many people love this guy, but it really didn’t work for me.
I’m going to simply type out how this film is set and let you do the jokes in your own head.
“A 27-year old Howard from Duckworld gets sucked into space and lands in 1980’s Cleveland, Ohio. He meets (in chronological order) the front lady for an all-female rock band, a scientist who’s actually a janitor and a scientist who becomes a demon. He then saves the world.”
Yeah, there’s nothing I can say that could poke more fun at that premise than the premise itself. So, moving on!
Who Is This Film For?
I’m honestly not sure who this was made for. Clearly the people involved were passionate about the project, since it’s just so odd that anyone not invested would have just given up or underperformed. I’ve done a little research into Howard and it seems like there’s quite a huge lore and rich history there. He even fights a Hellcow. I bet you wish they’d put that in this film! But anyway, back to the question at hand. I feel like everyone involved had an idea in their heads, but it never lined up. This also feels kinda like a first draft that nobody ever bothered to go back to before filming started. It’s definitely not one of the worst films of all time, but it’s nowhere near good cinema!
Anyway, on to Bubba’s thoughts on the whole thing.
I’ve actually seen this a few times now and I think the more I see it, the more I appreciate it although I would never in my right mind call this a good movie. There’s a lot to appreciate here, front and center is Lea Thompson’s Beverly. One of the most talked about scenes in this movie is when she is coming on to Howard, but I think it’s actually a more subtle performance and it’s more like they are joking around with each other and she is calling Howard’s bluff. You can see it in her face right before she starts going at him. Most of the rest of the movie just plain doesn’t make sense though. There’s nearly adult humor, like how Howard gets a job as a mop boy at what appears to be a sex motel. There’s an odd chase scene with an ultralight plane. Nearly every person in the film reacts differently to the fact that Howard is a duck, they either scream or act like it’s completely normal. And the rest of the acting is way over the top. It’s tough to know if they were really going for action, comedy, love story, or adventure and it fails at most of them.
Without going too much farther, it’s an odd thing to say but this is the first theatrical adaptation of a Marvel comic. Instead of going with one of their A-list characters, or even their B or C list characters, they go with the adult satirical non-superhero Howard the Duck. Not only that, but they get a pedigree behind it, George Lucas helped push to get this film made. And while it was originally considered as an animated film, they pushed up the release date and decided to make it live action to shorten the production time. This caused plenty of headaches with the duck suit and ultimately it became a box office bomb. It only grossed $37M worldwide on a $36M budget. In 1986. Nowadays it’s a bit of a cult film but overall it’s still considered one of the worst comic book movies ever made. But even so, nothing can take away from the fact that this was the first theatrically released Marvel movie.
Thanks once again Mr Wheat! So, let’s dive right into the last part. It’s time to ask those three important questions:
- Would I recommend this film to others?
- Does this film deserve to be on the list?
- If so, where does it appear on the list?
And before a Dark Overlord turns up, let’s get those answered!
1) Yeeeeeeeesssss? It’s something that a few of my friends would find fascinating. However I’d never suggest that someone who isn’t fully prepped. So make sure you adequately prepare anyone you suggest this to.
2) Yes it does. Despite any particular feelings you may have about this film, it is the first proper Marvel Live Action film (if you don’t count the 1944 Captain America B&W serial, which you shouldn’t) and as such should have a place on the list. And speaking of that…
3) Well, here it is:
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- The Crow
- Dr Strange
- Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
- Batman: The Killing Joke
- Superman 3
- The Wild Wild World Of Batwoman
- Howard The Duck
- The Fantastic Four (1994)
- The Punisher
- Batman & Robin
- The Amazing Spider-Man
- BvS: Dawn Of Justice
Wonder Woman (replacing The Death Of The Hulk)
X-Men: The Last Stand (replacing Catwoman)
I’m sure you guessed where it would go. It wasn’t quite the earliest Superhero film, but it was obscure and an attempt to bring a more interesting character to the masses. And possibly with more care and attention (and just better effects overall), we can get a remake/reboot that will do the character justice in the not-too-distant future.
And so, with all that being said, I better get out of here before I have to lay some Quack Fu on a local band manager!