A cinematic car crash of legendary proportions, Howard The Duck has gone down in history as one of THE most notorious misfires that blockbuster cinema has ever witnessed. Much like Batman & Robin and Super Mario Brothers, it should be mandatory viewing for anyone looking to make a film above a certain budget as future generations can only learn from it’s exceedingly confusing peccadiloes. However, what makes Howard migrate from the merely bad to the mythically awful is that not only is this technically a Marvel property (the first Marvel movie made for cinema’s, in fact) but this is also the work of Lucasarts – which means that at some point George Lucas read a treatment that spelt out the most ill-advised bout of Hollywood sponsored inter-species romance since the 1976 remake of King Kong, and then went “Yeah, sure. Make this.”.
Far away on another planet where the dominant form of life evolved from ducks (no gentle immersion here, straight of the bat the audience is hurled, screaming, into the lunacy), Howard is relaxing after a long day of work. However, his chill is definantly ruined by the fact that a dimensional tunnel suddenly sucks the streetwise little duck out of his living room and hurls him all the way to the other end of the galaxy only to land on a distant planet named Earth
Trapped in a world he never made and enduring an entire night of abuse from various 80’s stereotypes, Howard rescues Beverley, a wannabe rock singer from a rape attempt by two coke heads – exactly how all good family movies SHOULD start. Howard shacks up with the frizzy-haired ditz who immediately strikes up awkward banter with her new feathered friend. Bizarrely starting to fall for Howard (she explains it away as “he’s not like the other guys”, in what must be the understatement of the millennium) she introduces the duck to Phil, a hyper-active, lab assistant, dufus played by Tim Robbins (yes, THAT Tim Robbins) who deduces that one of the experiments the lab was working on must have been to blame for Howard’s rather rude intergalactic relocating. As Howard redies to be sent back home, however, the giant doohicky malfunctions, placing an evil lifeform that refers to itself under the rather humble name of The Dark Overlord Of The Universe into the body of lead scientist Dr. Jennings which eventually leads to him resembling a demonically possessed Rick from Rick & Morty.
Howard and Beverley are then forced to go on a road trip with this creature of immense cosmic power to bring more of his kind down to Earth to rule.
Can the duck and his date hope to stop a creature who’s final form is of a giant scorpion creature with an underbite that looks like a toothy, lovecraftian butthole and even if they do, how on earth will Howard ever get home to (ugh) Duckworld?
Featuring a script that doesn’t feel so much written as created via a faustian contract that consigned it’s victims to the ninth layer of hell, it’s kinda tough to know where to start when it comes to critiquing Howard The Duck as virtually every aspect of it’s construction has be infiltrated by weapons-grade shite. You could literally throw a dart blindfolded a hit any number of problems, not least of all the insurmountable problem of giving a big old thumbs up to beastiality in a family film. “You think I might find happiness in the animal kingdom, Ducky?” Coos Lea Thompson as a horrified world holds it’s breath, waiting to see if George Lucas is really going to let Marty McFly’s mom literally fuck a duck. It makes you wonder what parents thought of it at the time as the actress seductively crawls over to the clearly aroused water fowl in underwear so tiny it would look lewd on a Barbie doll and yet the movie thinks this is utterly hilarious leaving us with the distinct impression as the credits roll that both Beverley and Howard are very much an item and that she has no problem letting people think she’s totally down for a drill bit shaped bit of duck penis.
However, it’s not just Lea Thompson who seems down for some pond side frottage as the film itself seems obsessed with sexualising duck in general with Beverley finding a condom in Howard’s wallet, the duck getting a job at a “romance spa” (sex in hot tubs) and the unbelievable early shot of a bathing female duck with her full blown tits out for generations to puzzle over.
Even though the script writers seem to desperately want to beat this dead horse (probably not the best idiom to use when describing sex with animals) it oddly never explains exactly why Beverley seems to have an entire wardrobe of Howard-sized clothes although it does contain an endless stream of agonizing bird puns, most of which don’t even scan
(Breeders Of The Lost Stork? Rolling Egg Magazine?) and a LOT of sequences involving apparently lots of normal people wanting to murder Howard at various intervals with sharp implements just because he’s a duck.
The actors play everything horribly broadly, especially Robbins and Thompson (who seems to narrowly avoid sexual assault at least twice a week yet never remembers to lock her front door) and I would mention Jeffery Jones as the alien possessed Dr Jennings but as his future involved being found with child pornography, I guess we’ll just stop there (See? Everything about this film is FUCKED!)
Of course, the being a product of Lucasfilm, the special effects unsurprisingly end up being actually pretty cool with Howard himself being realised fairly well while only rarely succumbing to “muppetness” while Phil Tippet’s stop motion work on the final, creature stage of The Dark Overlord is pretty awesome for those pre-CGI times. In fact, a quick read of the credits reveals that a frenzied micro light stunt scene was helmed by none other than Jumanji and Captain America director Joe Johnston and it’s amazing how many craftsmen were employed to bring life to a movie where a duck can win a bar fight to manage a rock band.
That such effort and resources were enlisted to bring THIS Marvel character to the screen still beggars belief to this day and is a must watch for anyone truly fond of glaring examples of when cocaine-dusted, movie-making alchemy just goes fucking mental and “gifts” us with a wisecracking duck that beat the X-Men to the big screen by 14 years and Iron Man by over 20 – a fact that should have anyone crying fowl.