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THE SHADOW (1994)

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THE SHADOW (1994)

Thursday, 07 March 2013 22:30

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If you remember the early '90s (and if you don't, get off my lawn!), it was a time before every other summer blockbuster was about superheroes. The Christopher Reeve Superman series was but a distant, hokey memory, and Tim Burton's Batman was the only comic book property with any mass appeal. The Shadow is a film adaptation of the enigmatic detective with hypnotic powers from the 1930s, the character who originally inspired the creation of Batman, and it offers more of the dark, psychological, character-driven superhero action that audiences loved in the Burton movies.

...And everybody seems to really hate it, but I have no idea why. The Shadow boasts an impressive cast, sleek design, and high-quality effects, and is set during a fascinating and stylish period of American history. As long as you don't go in expecting just a "run of the mill" comic book movie, The Shadow has quite a lot to offer.

 

 Life of the Party (Positives):

Superhero movies rise and fall based on the casting of the hero himself, and the titular character here is portrayed by Alec Baldwin, back when he was a suave leading man, rather than the self-parodying comedic actor he is now. It takes a good actor to properly play a character with multiple personas, but Baldwin pulls off the gravitas and coolness of The Shadow, as well as the charm of his alias, millionaire playboy Lamont Cranston, very well. His Shadow certainly has more menace to him than his '90s contemporary, Michael Keaton's Batman, but without going as over the top as, say, Christian Bale's Batman.

The rest of the cast is great as well, including Ian McKellan and Tim Curry as rival nuclear physicists (because you can't have a pulp story without SCIENCE!), Penelope Ann Miller as the charming love interest, and multiple award-winner John Lone as the villainous Shiwan Khan, who possesses mental powers equal to The Shadow's.

These powers seem to consist almost entirely of hypnotising people via film noir eye-lighting and having a ridiculously cool speaking voice - Lone's by virtue of his Chinese opera background, and Baldwin's by just sounding like he gargles with whiskey and drywall screws every morning - but there are some neat visual effects in this movie as well. Considering that the computer graphics are from the early '90s, they hold up pretty nicely today, and yet the effects are there solely to build atmosphere and support the mystery plotline, they don't make the movie, like in modern superhero cinema. The majority of the battles between hero and villain are through taught conversation rather than fisticuffs, as the two men try to psyche each other out like a verbal poker match. Overall, The Shadow has an interesting story, a great cast, and sleek presentation, so why do people think it's bad?

 

Potential Hangovers (Negatives):

It's difficult to argue against the fact that this movie is a little bit corny. Shiwan Khan is meant to be a literal barbarian conquerer that has invaded polite society, and as much as I love traditional Mongol costuming, it does look a bit ridiculous to have your villain and his henchman running through New York City decked out in furs and lamellar and carrying swords. This is probably a holdover from the pulp era, when contemporary social mores dictated that the easiest way to make a character villainous was to make him as "ethnic" as possible (see Flash Gordon for another example of "Asian = Evil"). It's not like the depiction of the villains is an offensive caricature, but it's no less silly than if they were British and constantly dressed like Arthurian knights. This is slightly redeemed during one scene where Khan kills a random extra for making fun of his outfit, but it's still a distraction. Since the rest of the setting is very grounded in reality (aside from the supernatural element, of course), the bad guys seem hilariously out of place.

If anything makes The Shadow come off as cheesy, it would be the comic relief moments. As an example, during the last act of the film the hero and villain are finally facing off with each other in a spectacular setting, with epic cinematography and action, and then we cut away to two bumbling side characters chasing a rolling plot device through various hallways like in Scooby Doo, ruining the momentum of the climax. The pulp genre is meant to be entertainingly unpretentious, but the more light-hearted moments just seem to cheapen the dark ambiance and drama of the serious plotline. This is a movie that actually could have been helped by toning it down just a bit. Except for Tim Curry's part, of course, he can be as hammy as he likes.

The Vibe - Casual Gathering

The Shadow is a different kind of comic book movie, where atmosphere and mystery are at the forefront instead of fight scenes and explosions. It's tempting to call this a supehero film for people who don't like superheroes, but the camp factor hampers that just a bit. If you can get over the occasional cornball moment here and there, it's a very interesting depiction of an older style of superhero, and is best paired with relaxed company and a few dry martinis. The film is so pretty in its depiction of '30s New York that it could almost make a good date movie, but only if your partner is just as nerdy as you are.

+ Moody, atmospheric superhero movie akin to the early Batman movies
+ Very solid cast of interesting actors, who take the pulpy script entirely seriously
+ Cool visuals help build the mood but are a garnish, not the main course
+ The dagger from The Golden Child cameos in his first speaking role!
- The comedic elements play up the camp factor, which isn't always helpful to the drama

 

Drinking Game Suggestions:

~Drink whenever the characters drink (aka the "Mad Men" rule)

~Drink whenever someone gets hypnotized

~Drink whenever Khan or Margot changes into a different magnificent gown

Length: 108 minutes

 

Alex "Philosophic_Al" Lane is Creative Director of Tanked Matinee, a champion of underappreciated movies, and producer of The Film Philosophy Show, when he isn't busy knowing what evil lurks in the hearts of men. He also totally got laid once because he was cosplaying as The Shadow, no joke.

Read 860 times Last modified on Friday, 08 March 2013 00:00

About Us

Tanked Matinee is the place to go for good drinking movies. What do we mean by that? Simply speaking, we evaluate and recommend entertainment media based on how much fun it is to watch with friends on the sofa and a cold beer in hand.

Everyone knows "The Godfather" is a great movie, but is it as great to drink with as "Roadhouse?" We can appreciate "Citizen Kane" as a masterpiece of cinema, but is it as good a centerpiece for your party as "Santa Clause Conquers the Martians?"

Tanked Matinee appreciates film as art, but when you're kicking back on Friday night with a tall Rum & Coke, you're not looking for art, man, you want to be entertained. We're here to recommend the best movies for your night in, whether it's a big party, small get-together, or just a quiet night alone with a bottle of wine or three.

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