Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Fantasy Action Violence
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: David Koepp
(based on THE SHADOW serials by Walter B. Gibson)
Starring: Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen & Tim Curry
One of my earliest memories in a movie theater was seeing a trailer for THE SHADOW on the big screen. I remember this superhero flick looking like the epitome of cool. Years passed and the movie was forgotten to the annals of my memory, until it all came flooding back when I saw the title pop up on cable. Based on the pulp character that spanned across books and radio shows, THE SHADOW was essentially set up to be a potential new superhero for the 90’s. Universal Studios was hoping to sell SHADOW merchandise and have a new hit franchise on their hands. However, the film didn’t do well at the box office due to stiff competition (THE LION KING, THE MASK) and has become a bit of a hidden gem.
Following WWI, American Lamont Cranston embraced his darker side and became a brutal drug kingpin in Tibet. His evil nature was changed when he met the wise Tulku. Under this mysterious man’s guidance, Lamont Cranston became a gifted psychic with the ability to cloud others minds and ostensibly become invisible (leaving only his shadow). Returning to New York, Cranston becomes the supernatural vigilante known as “The Shadow.” However, a darker force has arrived in the form of Shiwan Kahn (the last remaining descendant of Genghis Kahn), who intends on conquering the world. It’s up to The Shadow to take down this mystical madman before he executes his deadly plans.
The 90’s saw many lame superhero films (STEEL, JUDGE DREDD, THE PHANTOM, SPAWN) that were basically failed franchise attempts for their studios. It’s sad to see THE SHADOW in such lackluster company as these titles, because the movie is hugely entertaining and mostly well executed. The style in which the 1930’s period is brought to life is visually stimulating and director Russell Mulcahy seems to enjoy flying his camera through his old-fashioned New York if only to show off how cool it looks. I don’t blame him, because this movie has a similar look and atmosphere to Tim Burton’s BATMAN. The effects can be a little cheesy here and there (a flying dagger looks laughably bad), but for the most part I thought The Shadow himself looked cool. There’s a smoky effect when he turns invisible that has held up very well over two decades later.
As the titular hero, Alec Baldwin does a better than expected job. Baldwin always seems to take the role of some quirky side character and usually makes the most of his screen time. Here, he’s allowed to shine as the hero who starts off as a pretty despicable character in the prologue and then turns into a superhero to redeem himself. There are definite similarities between The Shadow/Lamont Cranston and Batman/Bruce Wayne, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. THE SHADOW actually embraces its silly side far more than either of Burton’s BATMAN films, which makes for an interesting (albeit ridiculous) watch.
The side characters are not too shabby either, with big names popping up in these smaller roles. Peter Boyle (Frank from EVERYBODY LOVE RAYMOND) serves as a taxi driver and Alfred of sorts to Baldwin’s Shadow. Ian McKellen has a bit part as a scientist capable of making a highly dangerous bomb. Tim Curry is sadly underused as a greasy-haired henchman. Penelope Ann Miller plays the Shadow’s love interest and seems to be built up as something more than just another damsel in distress. However, the movie really doesn’t do much with her other than include her in the background as the Shadow makes new discoveries. As the villain of the piece, John Lone’s Khan is a fun screen presence. I especially enjoyed watching this baddie use his psychic powers on unsuspecting jerks, but his motivation and ultimate scheme are bland and overused (he wants to take over the world…of course).
Thought it runs slightly under two hours, THE SHADOW is a fast-paced flick with imaginative ideas surrounding its basic good-vs.-evil superhero storyline. There are moments when the film can be too far-fetched (e.g. the villain’s secret lair, messenger pipes that somehow stretch across New York and go unnoticed), but there are far more cool and stylish moments that counteract against those silly spots. THE SHADOW is one of those underrated superhero films that I wish would get a reboot (Sam Raimi was recently trying to make this happen), because it’s just so different in a world populated by Marvel and DC. If this film sounds up your alley, then you’ll likely have a blast. I know I did.