The UnPopular Opinion: The Shadow
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Back in the summer of 1994, I went to the movies to see a film that I had no prior knowledge of. Back in those days if you saw a cool trailer and a sweet poster you could go watch the movie and be completely surprised by what happened on screen. I miss those days. One reason why is THE SHADOW. Based on the pulp comic hero, THE SHADOW was the perfect combination of Tim Burton's BATMAN and Christopher Nolan's BATMAN BEGINS and should have gone on to become a huge franchise. While that didn't happen, we do have that single movie that remains atop my list of favorite superhero movies that should have gotten sequels, like UNBREAKABLE and THE ROCKETEER.
THE SHADOW takes place in the 1930s and tells the story of Lamont Cranston, played by Alec Baldwin. A playboy millionaire along the lines of Bruce Wayne, Cranston has voyaged across the world to find himself. While in Asia, he becomes a warlord and opium dealer feared by the locals. One night he is kidnapped and taken to a holy man who sees the good in Cranston and vows to teach him the skills to become a hero. Once trained in the method of clouding men's minds, Cranston returns to New York City and lives his life with the dual identity of Lamont Cranston and the hero known as THE SHADOW.
Tell me that is not a badass superhero costume.
So obviously you can draw the parallels between THE SHADOW and BATMAN pretty easily. Both are looked at as criminals by the police, both have secret lairs, and both have training based in Eastern mysticism, and both are millionaire playboys. The Shadow initially appeared in comics in 1931 while Batman showed up 1939. Batman creator Bob Kane clearly indicated that his hero was influenced by The Shadow and other similar titles. So, with the 1989 introduction of Tim Burton's BATMAN it seemed obvious that a few years later THE SHADOW would be looked at as derivative of what was actually its inspiration. The same thing would happen to JOHN CARTER when everyone saw it as a copy of STAR WARS and AVATAR.
I urge you to go back and re-watch THE SHADOW and you will find that not only does it stand as a fun summer movie but it is one of the most criminally underrated movies of all time. Alec Baldwin is perfect as a superhero, especially in THE SHADOW. Baldwin's signature gravelly voice allows him to play both the playboy Cranston and the frightening visage of The Shadow. While I love THE SHADOW and would have loved a sequel, it does remain a perfect audtion for Baldwin to have taken over the role of Batman when Michael Keaton left the series. Could you imagine Alec Baldwin instead of Val Kilmer? I can.
I'm sorry, my dear, could you repeat that? I couldn't hear you over the sound of how awesome I am.
What works in THE SHADOW is that the world is a live action recreation of the pulp fiction source material without becoming a joke of itself. Think more like THE ROCKETEER and less like THE PHANTOM or DICK TRACY, THE SHADOW is able to set you in a comic book world come to life. In the opening New York sequence, the film sets a tone of being both fun and dark at the same time. While BATMAN and later superhero films tried to ground their characters in a more real world, THE SHADOW is content to simply realize the world as it was described on the comic book page.
Director Russell Mulcahy came to THE SHADOW best known for the first two HIGHLANDER movies as well as the Wesley Snipes/John Lithgow thriller RICOCHET. He very easily could have made THE SHADOW into a gritty superhero movie in the vein of BATMAN but instead gave us a balance of pulp and cinema. Yes, the backdrops in THE SHADOW are matte paintings and yes there are over the top costumes and characters like Peter Boyle's cabbie Moe. Even the supernatural elements used by The Shadow and the villain Shiwan Khan are rooted in fantasy but work in this tale. Everything just works and you feel transported into an adventure film that can take you for a ride.
I think they are regretting going through the Mines of Moria.
The supporting cast is populated with favorites from other films who elevate this movie. Tim Curry shows up and chews the scenery as a secondary baddie and any movie is better with Tim Curry in it. Penelope Ann Miller's Margo Lane is the perfect damsel in distress. She acts as a Princess Leia in the movie in that she is a strong femaile character as well as a sex object without being relegated to a stereotype. John Lone's antagonist Khan is a great bad guy who is later echoed in Liam Neeson's performance as Ra's Al Ghul in BATMAN BEGINS. Hell, even Ian McKellan shows up to play Reinhardt Lane, the scientist with the key to Khan trying to conquer the world. The cast is full of spot on performances that are played like living comic characters. For that, THE SHADOW and Richard Donner's SUPERMAN are the closest thing to a literal comic book movie ever made.
THE SHADOW was a massive bomb and I wish people would give it a second chance. If you go out and watch THE SHADOW now on Blu-ray you will see that the special effects are not dated at all and hold up well against the current blockbuster superhero movies. The screenplay by David Koepp is still a fun and thrilling story that is acted wonderfully by Alec Baldwin and the rest of the cast. So, if MAN OF STEEL or IRON MAN 3 have disappointed you for comic book movies or if you want a different Khan than STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS has to offer, check out THE SHADOW.
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