Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Shadow

directed by Russell Mulcahy

The Shadow poster  
The Shadow is an adaptation of a 1930s comic by Walter B. Gibson. This film keeps to its period origins, rather than updating to a modern setting.

The action begins in Tibet, where a long-haired crimelord is ruthlessly eliminating his competition, using fear to make himself rich and powerful in the opium trade. His claw-like fingernails and wild yet wealthy appearance mark out Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin) as a man who has fallen a long way into decadence and wickedness.

However, all this changes when Cranston is summoned by a holy man known as Tulku. Tulku tells him he will seek redemption, and offers to teach him his abilities. Cranston isn't convinced he should change his ways.

This part of the story seems to have a gaping hole in it, where there should be some sort of explanation of why the holy man chooses Lamont Cranston, how he manages to convince him of the error of his ways, and how he recruits him to become a vigilante for good. Instead we get a few flashy effects and a floating dagger, since redemption and logical explanations are considered too deep, and therefore too dull, for the audience of this movie. The Shadow certainly does have an exotic and attractive start, but don't expect a story you can believe in.

Cranston goes to New York to fight evil, having learnt to cloud men's minds and generally kick butt as The Shadow. The film is full of 1930s gangsters, and it has a cartoon aesthetic that's like a slightly toned down version of The Mask (which was also released in 1994).

Lamont finds himself attracted to Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller), a beautiful psychic. She's one of the few people in the city who could uncover his true identity, so he has to do his best to avoid her. Margo's father is a boffin, the utter stereotype of the forgetful academic, so lost in his books that real life passes him by. Dr. Reinhardt Lane (Ian McKellen) is working on the kind of top-secret project that attracts villains like sticky substances attract toddlers. And sure enough, right on cue a villain appears with megalomaniac plans and the powers to challenge The Shadow.

Shiwan Khan (John Lone) is a mongol warrior, a barbarian who moves into New York City and tries to take over. Khan has all the style of someone with no concept of subtlety and moderation, both visually and in the way he behaves.

The Shadow is feelgood and fun in its tone, but it's been given more of a comic-book treatment than most adaptations of comics to film. The colours are bright, the plot is daft, the acting melodramatic, and everything is too caricatured. This movie demonstrates why movies from comics need to tone down far more than just the costumes.

The dialogue is often stilted and cheesy, but it hardly matters since this is a film that soon turns into a parody of itself. It may look fine in places, but it's an empty-headed and easily forgotten movie.

Film Details

Decade: 1990s

Categories: Films


Classification: 12

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2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson