Howard the Duck Movie Review: It's Not as Bad as You Think

A look back at one of Marvel Comics' first big-screen adaptations.
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As I’m sure most of you already know.  Movies have and will always be one of those forms of entertainment that we will have different opinions on.  What you think is the best movie ever, will have someone out there disagreeing. That may not be the case with today’s selection.

Howard The Duck has a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for seven Golden Raspberry Awards.  It’s been regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, but is it that bad?  2001: A Space Odyssey also got bad reviews when it first opened and that movie is now considered a classic.  Now, I’m not saying that director Willard Huyck is on the same plateau as Stanley Kubrick.  I’m just saying that opinions about movies can change throughout the years.  This review may be a bit out of time since the last talk about this character was his cameo at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet even without any of the Marvel connections, I still feel like this movie holds its own in terms of story and characters.  Let me explain.

Howard the Duck has a plot that really would have worked better as an animated movie.  At one point this was going to be done but due to some legal issues, it became the live-action movie I’m reviewing today.  Howard lives on a planet where ducks have evolved to where they can talk and act like humans.  (Think DuckTales and you see what I mean by how this would work much better as an animated film.)  Suddenly, Howard is thrown out of his apartment and into space where he lands on planet Earth.  Not just anywhere, but in Cleveland of all places.  That’s funny because it looks like the same town in Escape From New York.  I was almost expecting Snake Plisskin to make an appearance   

Howard soon befriends Beverly (Lea Thompson) the lead singer of an all-girl rock band called The Cherry Bombs.  I love that name because it’s a nice tribute to The Runaways and their hit song.  Trivia Fact: The song "Cherry Bomb" was also used in Guardians of The Galaxy, which featured our main character.  So you see even back in 1987, George Lucas knew that he and Disney would be working together one day. 

Back to the story, Beverly and Howard with the help of some scientists find a way to get him home.  However problems happen when a more hostile alien species arrives and possesses the body of Principle Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Will Howard be able to save the planet from immediate doom and will he be able to finish his own theme song before the end credits roll?

The one thing I’m sure everyone wants me to mention in this entire post is all the sexual innuendo that goes on.  In the first five minutes, we see duck breasts, and later Beverly finds a condom in Howard’s wallet.  There’s even a scene where he gets a job at a sex spa and in the same night gets seduced by Beverly.  This moment of them in bed has been the most talked about scene in this movie.  People were outraged that such a highly sexually suggestive scene was used in a PG-rated film. 

Back in the '80s, there were a lot of movies that had a lot stronger content and featured actual nudity  A pair of  fake duck breasts wouldn’t have even batted an eye back then  When I first saw this, I was 10 and I never once got any of the sexual references and I’m sure that was the case for many kids who saw this back then.  If anything, maybe the bed scene would have lead kids to ask questions about sex, which I’m sure would make most parents feel very uncomfortable. 

Someone recently posted a clip from Sesame Street from the '70s  that showed a  mother breast-feeding her baby.  Big Bird was asking her questions and she gave open and honest answers.  If this was shown today, there would be a big uproar about decency and how PBS should be ashamed by airing it.  There’s been too much worrying about what kids will see; it’s gotten a bit out of control.  If someone is there to help explain the content to their child, I’m sure they would have a much better understanding of what they see. 

A friend of mine showed his nine-year-old daughter Kick Ass and she wanted to dress up like Hit-Girl for Halloween.  She is not violent and knows that it’s a fictional movie.  Are we really that daft we would believe that a woman would have sex with a duck?  Even if Beverly and Howard went on with it, who cares? Maybe in that moment, Beverly was in control of the situation and she’s never once experienced that before.  Guys in the past have probably used her and now she has the power. Point is, this is a fictional movie about a duck from another planet whose inhabitants have human features.  You can’t take scenes like this too seriously.  PG used to mean parental guidance but lately it has turned into the new G rating. 

For more information about how the rating system has changed, check out this video from Good Bad Flicks, "WTF Happened to PG-13":

Besides the content of certain scenes, people’s other complaints about the movie was the acting.  I will agree that it’s not great, but in some way it fits within this universe.  The characters talk and behave very much the way you expect comic-book characters.  This was after all  the first big screen adaptation of a Marvel comic by a major studio at that time.  A lot of the acting is over the top and super dramatic in places, but to get that same feeling that was in the pages, that’s what they tried.  If this was an animated film, we wouldn’t have giving this much thought.  Think of it, when Disney does do a live-action version of Beauty and The Beast, I don’t think the actors will be saying lines like their animated counterparts. 

Lea Thompson as Beverly was actually quite good.  I believed that she did have feelings for this duck and was quite heartwarming in moments.  Various actors and Chip Zien (The Voice) made Howard into a creature that could actually exist.  I know today he would be done with just CGI but to have someone do the movements is quite astounding.  Tim Robbins as Phil was a character that should have not been in the whole movie.  His scene at the beginning were fine, but that guy overstayed his welcome and became very annoying.  Before his recent scandal, Jeffery Jones was in a lot of well-known movies including Beetlejuice and Amadeus.  His role as the possessed Walter Jennings was one of those villains that as a kid I remembered. 

Howard the Duck was also good at showing what the mid '80s looked like.  It didn’t need to reference a lot of pop-culture jokes or show things like Rubik's Cube or Atari games to let you know what era it is.  It also featured some great practical effects and some awesome stop-motion animation too. 

Some may look at the Dark Overlord and scoff, but that creature took a lot of time and effort to create.  The puppet work on Howard’s face was also very impressive.  That duck is able to go through a lot of emotions and they are all convincing.  

The original songs were written by Thomas Dolby, and if Cherry Bomb was a real band, I would buy their CD.  Yes, the theme is bad, but it is certainly  better than the one Will Smith did for The Wild Wild West.   The song "Hunger City" is one of the main reasons I bought the soundtrack.

If I haven't convinced you by now that this is not a bad movie, I won't pursue any further.  Howard The Duck is indeed a cult film, but instead of putting it in the "it's so bad it's good" category, I think you should look at is as "The most absurd movie a major studio has ever released" instead. You almost haft to admire what this movie got away with and that it may not ever happen again.  I'm sure Howard wil be back in another movie, but if he is.  They will have to make it PG-13 or really water him down, and this duck don't like to swim.  

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