To kick off Mighty Marvel Movie Month, I watched the very first movie based off a Marvel Comics character. However, unlike DC, who released the rights to their A-list characters to respected filmmakers right off the bat, Marvel handed over character rights to a respected filmmaker (George Lucas), but the character itself was a bizarre choice: An anthropomorphic, cigar-smoking, ill-tempered duck named, well, Howard the Duck.
For those of you who don’t know, Howard the Duck made his comic book debut in Adventure Into Fear #19 (December 1973) and became something of a cult character thanks to his strange, existentialist sense of humour, appearing semi-regularly until finally getting his own series, and (Thanks in part to the movie) eventually fading back into obscurity until his cameo appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Having admittedly been born after the character’s heyday, I’ve never personally been a huge fan of this fucking weird character. If I wanted to read about a combination of Daffy Duck and Sartre, I would… Probably be too far gone at that point. Whatever, give me Spider-Man or Deadpool any day. Absurdism can bite me.
Around the height of Howard’s popularity, George Lucas, in between writing jobs in The Temple of Doom and Willow , decided to try to adapt him to the big screen, as this was a point in time when George still cared about storytelling. So, he got his American Graffiti co-writer to direct, and casted some good, young talent to star, including Tim Robbins and Lea Thompson. The movie opened on August 1, 1986 and, long story short, bombed at the box office and is considered one of the worst films ever made. And yeah, it’s pretty fucking bad, you guys.
So, what’s the plot? Well, unbeknownst to humanity, there exists a parallel universe known as Duckworld, in which anthropomorphic ducks are the dominant species. In this world, there lives a washed-up wiseass named Howard (Voiced by Chip Zien). If you thought that Jar-Jar Binks was the most annoying thing George Lucas has ever put to screen well, you’d still be right, but Howard the Duck is up there.
Anyways, out of goddamn nowhere, a portal opens up and Howard is flung out of Duckworld and into our world. Cleveland, specifically. More specifically, the 80’s.
In Cleveland, he meets an aspiring rock star (Lea Thompson), the oh-so appealing and not at all bone-crushingly stupid love interest, who is the third most annoying character, after Howard and a pre-Shawshank Redemption Tim Robbins, who is the “Jar-Jar Binks” of this movie. A movie that has a fucking talking duck has someone even more annoying than said talking duck. Let that thought sink in, why don’t you?
George Lucas didn’t write this script (Shocking, I know), but honestly? I think the movie would’ve been much better off if he had hijacked it like he did the Star Wars prequels.
You heard me. I would’ve preferred the writer who wrote Anakin and Padme’s god awful romance. I feel unclean just typing that.
This entire movie’s dialogue is just about completely comprised of in-jokes, eye-rollingly bad innuendo, and all the duck-related puns you could ever want, and then some. I almost would’ve rather the writers had just written an existentialist movie, like the comic book, if only because I love me some absurdist philosophy, but I guess that wouldn’t have made that much money, and it’s not like this movie bombed at the box office or anything.
On top of being irritating as all get out, Howard doesn’t look very good. I’ll give this movie some credit, though. At least it didn’t go the Smurfs route of having a CGI character in a live-action world. That said, even if they had gone that lazy, lazy route, it probably could’ve turned out better than this monstrosity.
There isn’t a good performance to be found among the human actors, although I think they could be forgiven for not caring. Lea Thompson sucks, although I think anybody would suck if they were asked to read lines like “This is Earth, I think.” Tim Robbins was… Just, so fucking weird, man. Thank god things worked out for him.
Jeffrey Jones (Ferris Bueller’s principal) is the antagonist, and he’s terrible as well. Although, it could just be that I don’t think that Jeffrey Jones could ever play a character creepier than Jeffrey Jones already is.
The only way that this movie could’ve ended up enjoyable is if it had just decided to revel in its own unapologetic campy strangeness, and to an extent, it tries to do just that, but, damn, in terms of visuals, this movie is pretty dreary! For such an idiotic movie, it’s very dark (Visually, not in terms of content) and very unpleasant (In terms of imagery). You’re more likely to be disturbed than amused, honestly, and for a movie in which a talking duck has an electric guitar solo, the more disturbing scenes really don’t fit.
Apparently, this movie has picked up a tiny cult following, and that completely baffles me. It’s not, say, Batman & Robin bad, and I wouldn’t even place it in the twenty worst movies I’ve ever seen. Shit, I’ll even admit to chuckling at a couple of the less atrocious lines (And some of the more atrocious ones, if only out of sheer exasperation). On the whole, though, it’s just god awful, and I came out of this experience a worse person because of it.
Overall: What could I possibly say about Howard the Duck that hasn’t already been said a million times? Don’t subject yourselves to it, you guys.