In the beginning,” the voiceover informs, “there was... Howard the Duck!” Never forget: 1986’s HTD (aka Howard: A New Breed of Hero) was the first feature-length Marvel adap released in cinemas. Actually, this film wasn’t released; it escaped. And from some dank corner of no less a production outfit than Lucasfilm Ltd.
Maybe HTD’s pedigree was partly the reason it received such a roasting (four Razzies were only the tip of the fatberg). Still, however you slice it, the movie’s a giant, noisy mess, at odds with its cult source material as much as it is the expectations of a mainstream audience.
And yet, I’d argue, the diminutive duck stands head and shoulders above many, many comic-book flicks. Its unique tone – or lack thereof – gives Howard’s fowl-out-of-water adventures a bizarre, erratic, unpredictable momentum. But I’ll take that over the sheer dreariness of the likes of Constantine, the Punisher movies (all three) (opens in new tab), Elektra (opens in new tab), Daredevil (opens in new tab), The Spirit (opens in new tab), Jonah Hex (opens in new tab), Catwoman, Blade: Trinity (opens in new tab)...
Even those camp anti-classics Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Batman & Robin (opens in new tab) can’t hold a candle to Howard’s warped watchability. Both those films are sorry echoes of once- great series; it’s not particularly funny seeing Christopher Reeve trying to inject soul into a desperately cut-price spectacle.
On the other hand, there is something grimly amusing about the don’t-know-when-to-stop onslaught of duck puns in Howard’s opening scene (Breeders Of The Lost Stork, Mae Nest, ad nauseam).
Clearly, some aspects of HTD are indefensible: no one needs to see anthropomorphic duck boobs once, let alone twice. Yet there are also elements that transcend so-bad-it’s-good, emerging as actually decent. Thomas Dolby’s songs are stubbornly catchy. The reveal of the final stop-motion monster is worth waiting for. And Lea Thompson – the film’s true hero – somehow sells the idea of romance between a woman and a guy (actually several guys) in a shonky duck costume.
That notorious outfit now exerts a strange analogue charm. Time has been kind to HTD. There’s even a new Blu-ray out, studded with extras befitting Marvel cinema’s first born. Evidently, it’s not just me who’s quackers. Or is it?
Each month our sister publication Total Film magazine (opens in new tab) argues a polarising movie opinion and gives you the opportunity to agree or disagree. Let us know what you think about this one in the comments below and read on for more.
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