USA, 1986, Willard Huyck, 111 min.
Howard the Duck is a movie that follows a sarcastic humanoid duck (Howard) that is pulled from his home-world to Earth where he must stop an alien invader while navigating this strange new world.
I’m not going to lie. I had a hard time beginning this review. I mean, how does one begin to describe Howard the Duck? Simply calling it an 80’s movie doesn’t quite cut it, although the image it probably conjured in your mind is an accurate one. Opening with a resounding “Duck boobs!” also doesn’t do it justice, though, to be honest, I think that’s what everyone who saw this as a child remembers from it. Perhaps nostalgia might be the best way to approach this movie, as nostalgic curiosity is what drew me to re-watch this movie after avoiding it for years.
Like many, I discovered this movie at a young age. I knew of Howard the Duck the comic, though I was completely engrossed by the brooding that was Batman at that time to even think about reading Marvel, so I knew nothing of Howard the character. I remember catching the movie on TV after school, when I should have been doing homework, and immediately loving it, though looking back I think I just loved the ending and Lea Thompson’s hair more than the movie itself. As the years went on, the movie kind of became a myth. People I went to High School with had never seen it, and the movie itself was this great joke to the people older than me that had. Unlike Masters of the Universe, or Super Mario Brothers, I never went back and watched Howard the Duck, preferring not to have all of my childhood favorites ruined for me as an adult (though Masters of the Universe will always have a soft spot in my heart).
Guardians of the Galaxy is what finally peaked my interest in revisiting the movie. Like most people my age, I squealed with delight when I saw Howard in the first movie, hoping perhaps a proper remake was in the works (I had read some Howard the Duck comics by this point) and wondering if the original movie still held up.
The answer is yes and no. For a big budget movie, the effects are mediocre at best. The animatronics for Howard were downright creepy at times, and I felt really bad for the actors who had to wear the costume because if it was as cumbersome as it looked, it was probably a nightmare. When something in 99% of the movie and is, for all intents and purposes, the main character, looks that bad, it’s a hard hole to crawl out of. The script is pretty bad too. So many things don’t make sense in this movie, from Beverly Switzler’s (Lea Thompson) immediate attraction to Howard (or at lease amusement at his sexual nature), to Dr. Walter Jenning’s (Jeffrey Jones) bizarre, sometimes funny, sometimes confusingly helpful, but ultimately evil, demonic possession, this script is all over the place.
But that is kind of what I love about this movie too. It is, as I’ve been describing it the only way I know how, a movie that could have only been made in the 80’s. It’s bizarre, crazy, and yet, I had such a great time watching it, which is more than I can say for more recent movies (*Cough cough* Alien: Covenant *cough cough*). It’s over the top and it revels in it. From Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins), a character who prefers to scream his lines instead of just saying them, to Lieutenant Welker (Paul Guilfoyle), who always looks like he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown (a great cop movie trope), each character plays their heart out the best they can, and it’s so much fun watching them on screen. No one is phoning it in, no one is giving less than 100%.
It’s always hard to revisit childhood movies and not look at them through rose-colored glasses. I’m glad this movie, while cheesy and dated, still manages to age in a way that’s enjoyable. Full of “I can’t believe they did…..!” moments and “What the?!” scenes. This movie is never going to win any awards, and it will always be the butt of jokes, and that’s ok, because sometimes, at two in the morning, when you can’t sleep, you going to just need to watch a duck rocking out on guitar and laugh.