It’s weird how we went from Batman being a BIG THING in 1989, and how this helped foster a big comic book boom/bubble, and Hollywood turned around and thought “Well, Batman did really well, let’s make a bunch of movies about pulp heroes and comic strip characters from the same time!”
It’s a perfect example of how Hollywood types usually make the wrong assumptions about what makes something work, and how when they try to chase trends in such a deliberate way they usually fall flat on their face.
I actually LIKE most of the movies that came out of that little post-Batman boom– there’s plenty to like about The Rocketeer, The Phantom, Dick Tracy, and this movie– but chasing after characters from a bygone era– or deliberate throwbacks like The Rocketeer– just wasn’t tapping into the zeitgeist thingie kickstarted by the Keaton and Burton Batman movies. Batman may have been born of that time, but he’s like James Bond and adapts to his era to some degree.
Even with modern revivals like Dynamite’s recentish comics, The Shadow has never really stepped out of that era. He’s a character very much OF that time, influenced many other characters who came later, and just isn’t going to catch on in any sort of “relevant” pop culture way now several decades past his prime.
Not that any of that really MATTERS in terms of whether The Shadow is any good or not, but it’s a perfect example of how those with the money don’t know why they have that money in the first place.
The movie itself has a lot going for it. Alec Baldwin doing a white devil Fu Manchu routine in the beginning, during his character’s opium kingpin days, is a pretty cool bit. It would have been pretty rad if Baldwin was the movie’s actual villain, and he carried out that preposterous take throughout the entire thing.
He and John Lone have a TON of chemistry together doing the “two sides of the same shadowy coin” routine, where either one of them could have ended up on the other side of the situation had circumstances been different. The two scenes where they try to “convert” one another– the one where Lone sneaks into Baldwin’s home and the one where they face down at a tiny Chinese restaurant– are the best parts of the movie. It’s a shame none of that really carries over into the finale, which ends up being a mix of bad physical comedy where a bomb has to be dismantled by Ian McKellen’s color blind character and worse 90s CG exploding mirror effects. All those dynamics are lost in order to show off effects that were dated practically the moment they hit theaters.
The movie also has plenty of little cameos from familiar peeps. Tim Curry especially gets to ham it up as a greedy, slimy, sniveling henchman type. Which is to say he’s just playing the same role he usually plays, but it totally works here.
I also love how Lone’s Mongolian henchmen just walk around 30s New York City wearing their armor and no one says a thing. I think we’re supposed to assume they’re being MIND CLOUDED, but I also like the idea that they can just get away with dressing like that because it’s New York City. Stranger peeps lurk about than Mongolian raider cosplayers, even back then.
The movie does take awhile to get going once the Baldwin Manchu flashback is over, so a good chunk of the movie is a bit too plodding, but the second half make up for a lot of that by cramming in a LOT of stuff before the movie ends. Just a shame that finale is a big letdown.
I do appreciate that the villain isn’t just killed off, and things are set up for a possible sequel that never had a chance of happening. It’s also way more messed up than just offing the dude. Sometimes a bullet to the brain is kinder than the alternative, and that’s the case here. Nasty, man.