When my friend told me he had purchased me a copy of “Howard the Duck” I was immediately filled with dread. I had never seen the film, but seeing clips and cameos of the character had left me with the impression that Howard sat squarely at the bottom of the uncanny valley. So I sat down to watch this film expecting an hour and forty-five minutes of me in physical pain from the Howard costume.
To my surprise, I left my viewing with nothing but joy from a movie that I had a great time watching. I was severely disappointed.
“Howard the Duck” is a genuinely great movie, something I never thought I would say in this article. It has a fun cast of characters, a ridiculous plot and cinematography that I would expect from an actual blockbuster.
I was excited to hate this film because it was made by George Lucas, a man who I am convinced cannot actually direct films well. Turns out, he was only a producer for the film, and the actual work on the film was done without his input. Now, I know that he can actually make good work, as he is masterful with effects and cinematography, but that man should never be given full charge over the editing bay.
This film centers around the titular Howard, a duck from a planet where ducks were the dominant race that had evolved into a humanoid shape. As such, the little we see and hear about this planet is entirely duck-based puns. These are painful to hear after the first few, but later in the movie me and my friends took up the challenge of adding a duck pun into literally every line of the film.
The first half of the movie is pretty tough to sit through, full of a plot that wasn’t all that gripping and a lot of predictable plot elements. Where this movie shines, though, is in the latter half, which transforms this film from a drama flick into an action film.
In this half of the film, the scientists that accidentally brought Howard to Earth are attempting to find a way to send him back, but the machine explodes, and we learn that they have accidentally brought back an evil entity that has taken over the head scientist. Howard and the female lead must then escape with this evil entity as the police are chasing after Howard because he is an illegal alien.
That joke has held up a surprisingly long time.
The movie is amazing after this point for one reason, and that is because it turns into a bunch of silly 80s action and schlocky one-liners. The king of these in the film is the evil entity, who makes puns and one-liners that rival one of my favorites, the evil snowman from 1997’s “Jack Frost.” Every other line from this villain is some snarky remark that comes along with some inventive attack.
He’s a great villain at this part because he seems all-powerful. They don’t define any specific powers, but let us learn the scope of his abilities through his actions in the film. Whenever he uses his powers, they do the most 80s-looking thing possible and put bright-colored lightning around him. I’ve always loved this look because it actually takes effort to do. Someone had to go to every frame and hand-draw the lightning, creating this visual effect that perfectly portrays power. It doesn’t help that some of these come from his eyes, making it look pretty similar to eye lens flare memes.
Now I mentioned before that I had hoped Howard would look awful. In still pictures he’s an abomination, but in motion he looks pretty good. There is some pretty advanced rigging going on with the face, as the eyes and beak make some pretty nice movements. The biggest complaint on the face is that it can’t emote at all. In one scene he’s supposed to be horribly enraged while beating up some thugs with duck-fu, but the face is just blank, making it look really silly compared with his voice.
There were some parts of his design that I disliked. His hands, for example, had fleshy palms like the paws of an animal and nails like human hands. These feel incredibly uncomfortable on a duck with feathers. His feet also look really weird, and I’m glad that you can’t see them most shots.
The movie is ended off with a big battle between Howard and the evil entity who has now left the body of the scientist. The only problem? The monster is a stop-motion creature that doesn’t have a consistent framerate or matching lighting. It moves way too much, with constant writhing tendrils lining its body, which make the fact that its framerate doesn’t match the rest of the film even more obvious.
I rate movies from -10 to 10, with negative being ironic enjoyment. For the first time in a while, I give this film an 8 if you ignore the early part, but an overall 7. It’s a fun movie that I had a genuine good time watching. I really suggest watching this one, though make sure you have something to help you get through the early parts.
One reason this movie is great is because it is canon to the Marvel cinematic universe.
That’s right. Canon.
Howard has a cameo in “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” meaning that his film is the first film made for the film universe. Well before Nick Fury came in at the end of Iron Man, Howard the duck was facing monstrous entities from space on Earth. If that doesn’t make this film worth watching, I don’t know what does.
This article was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon’s Bad Movie Showcase.
Editing done by Evan Newell