Well, The Raven happened! Three weeks ago, after which it promptly limped out of theatres while quietly muttering, “Sorry, everybody, my fault, sorry sorry.” But what really happened to what happened?
Nutshell: Edgar Allan Poe is struggling to maintain his literary reputation, to make ends meet, and to somehow secure a wife who wasn’t from his family tree. But he does still have fans — and one of them is determined to get rid of his writer’s block by committing a string of murders inspired by his stories. With the help of the determined Detective Fields, Poe will have to discover the identity of the murderer before his fiancee dies, even as he writes up his investigation for the paper at the killer’s behest, bringing him back into the public eye and giving him the story…OF A LIFETIME.
1. What could have happened: a gripping murder mystery that explores the dark side of the imagination, the responsibility of the artist for his work, tabloid culture, the quest for order against the creep of chaos, the power of love, the true nature of art, and the limits of obsession.
2. What actually happened: Awkward Choices Theatre, CGI fog, several hundred buckets of blood syrup, and a raccoon.
“Quoth the raven, Catchphrase about Spoilers!”
3. The most terrifying thing about The Raven is not any of the weirdly excessive gore or the bizarrely cobbled-together series of murders that pulls this fictional Edgar Allan Poe into the employ of the Baltimore Police Department in the last days of his life. It’s that you can see every way this might have worked out fine in a solid B-movie way, and yet it’s all there playing out in front of you and it’s just not working. You watch a scene of a gruff initial meeting between writer and cop and then they’re cohabiting and making declarations of Very Serious Life Intentions about catching killers and marrying the love of one’s life, and neither one of them seems to know what’s going on, and then suddenly they’re mostly-psychic Superpals Beyond the Grace, and for two hours this plays out, and I haven’t skipped any character beats about distrusting one another or them fighting and reconciling at a key moment or anything, this is just how it goes, with some exposition in the middle whenever they come across a crime. Those elements are there, and could have worked — everyone loves an odd couple solving a murder and having Very Serious Life Intentions, including this guy right here — but it just never comes together. This can be said for any element of the movie.
Above, two actors who can’t quite decide why they’re in the same frame.
4. Especially the murder mystery part of the movie, which is the sort of thing where you reach the big reveal and spend the entire villain monologue thinking, “So, at what point did the killer get that sailor naked so he could find the guy’s back tattoo, kill him, use the back tattoo as a marker of location, put him in a lady’s dress and a long blonde wig, then wall him up in the tunnels underneath Baltimore for Poe to find?” (Actual plot items.) It gets to the point that, if you are me, you tune out whenever the exposition starts and just admire the gorgeous file cabinets and card catalogs the set dressers gathered to decorate the precinct set. To keep people from thinking too much about the logistics, the moviemakers hurl CGI and/or syrup blood at everything they can find. If you ever thought, “This movie needs more close-ups of chopped-off tongues in boxes,” you are in for a treat! (If you have never thought that, that’s probably for the best.)
5. Luke Evans needs to fire his agent. This movie comes on the heels of Immortals and The Three Musketeers, in less than a calendar year (and new, horrifyingly hilarious rumors about Fast and the Furious 6). He does all that he can with this role, considering he has zero actual character and spends most of his time looking at things and saying, “The killer’s taunting us” as if the audience can’t tell from the bitch-ass notes the killer keeps leaving; with this and his best efforts in both of the messes above, Evans is really carving out a niche for himself in the Too Good For This category.
And he’s probably carving it out with his cheekbones, since if there is one thing this movie is pretty sure about, it’s that Luke Evans is handsome.
He’s so handsome that it worries him a little.
5a. It doesn’t seem to worry John Cusack, though, since he hardly seems to notice Luke Evans is in the movie. Or that he has a love interest. Or that he’s supposed to have some kind of inexorable fatalist arc that inflicts itself on a mercurial personality tortured by melancholy. There are moments where you think, “Yes, good, that’s well done!” But it’s strange to be able to watch an actor clock in for three lines and then wander away from his own performance, and the rest of his job is just staring at corpses and super-accidentally stumbling onto solutions for clues. (For a semi-detective, Poe is somehow less helpful to the general case than if he had never been informed of anything at all. He finally just gets to the bottom of it by publicly offering his life for his fiancee’s, and then going where the killer super-heavy-handedly hints he should go. Mystery! Thrilling!)
6. Poe has a comedy-relief raccoon. Its name is Karl. It eats a human heart; later, it helps firefighters. (Actual things that happen.)
7. Poe’s erstwhile fiancee, Emily, has visible chemise, and that is super exciting! She has one at all times, in fact, which is just marvelous, and it is located under her corset, which is even more marvelous, and when she comes to visit Poe and he begins to fiddle with her clothes, he only gets to one button on her bodice and the very top tie of the chemise in the ten-minute scene, and in terms of costuming that is all just right.
8. That is the most interesting thing about Emily, a character so dull that Karl the Raccoon gets more character beats than she does. Part of this is that Alice Eve has the emotional range of a waffle. Even when the script tries to give her something to do in a desperate bid to make you care, she’s such a nonentity that, if you are the people in the three rows ahead of me, you use her scenes to check your text messages in unison.
And that is a huge problem, because she’s so fucking fridged that I am surprised they did not actually invent the fridge just to shove her in it. She spends two thirds of the movie trapped in a coffin underground, screaming and/or quietly weeping, and once or twice trying to make an air hole . There’s an escape attempt that is vague as to whether it’s fact or fiction, though since it involves her punching her way out of the coffin and tearing it to shreds, we can sort of guess on which side of the line that falls. Her character is transparently invented just to give Poe some manpain leverage to rev up the plot at intervals, and it really shows, and I just can’t.
Who also can’t: Luke Evans.
9. In case you’re wondering, the villain is Ivan, the typesetter at the paper (you remember him) who’s Poe’s biggest fan and wants him to write more, so he kills a bunch of people and then also Poe, because nothing makes you write more like being dead. (Actual motivations.) Also Ivan wants to do the same thing to Jules Verne, which means going to Paris and killing more people in the manner of Verne’s work, which is funny because if this is really the game we’re playing, Ivan needed to start building his submarine a loooong time ago.
10. I don’t know what to do about this movie. It was undeniably bad – the killer’s plan reminds me of the first Sherlock Holmes movie, where Mark Strong has to hope that a gentleman in a light rain won’t have an umbrella or notice the smell of gasoline and immediately pull a gun as the solution to a problem so that the combustion will blow him up and then Mark Strong will look like a wizard and Parliament will be frightened into wanting more power, instead of just having a dinner party and asking, “Who wants more power?” The Raven is a lot like that. But you get the feeling that at one point, it really was better, and somehow in the meat grinder of moviemaking it got broken down and everything that was good about got leached away, until all you had left was a fridged fiancÃ©e and John Cusack uncertain whether he has to act yet and Luke Evans handing out his business card to anyone in his sight lines, and the fake-blood distributor paying bonuses to everyone. So at least some good came of the movie, I guess.