Long before Marvel Cinematic Universes and James Gunn, there was the bastard child of the Marvel Universe “Howard the Duck.” Adapted from the comics during the decade of “ET” and other assorted attempts at cuddly cinematic creatures, “Howard the Duck” takes a dive at some of the good old “ET” buck, while also presenting itself as the anti-“ET” of a sort. “Howard the Duck” is a childhood favorite of mine; it’s one I watched over and over whenever it aired in all of its edited form on network television. There was just something about “Howard the Duck” that I loved. Whether it was the surreal nature, the actual talking duck from another planet, or Lea Thompson being devilishly sexy once again in a fantasy film, I loved “Howard the Duck.”
Watching it so many years later, “Howard the Duck” is still a fun tonal mess. It’s a movie that should be experienced at least once in a lifetime because it’s clearly a property of a studio that has no idea what it wants, and it shows as the movie clumsily drags along to the climax. It tries hard to appeal to kids that want to relive “ET” once again and enjoy the wonder, but also digs deep in to raunch. The titular character Howard drinks, smokes, tells a group of human kids to “fuck off” and has very implied sexual chemistry with Thompson’s character. After Howard is warped from his home planet to Earth, he comes across a struggling musician named Beverly who he manages to save from attackers thanks to his patented duck fu.
Taking pity on him, she puts him up at her house and the two forms a friendship, where she learns of his home world and his experience working in his own world’s idea of Hollywood. Meanwhile, Howard meets Beverly’s friend Phil, an aspiring scientist who introduces Howard to Dr. Jennings, a legitimate and brilliant scientist who wants to study Howard and get him back home. But that fails when, working on the technology that warped Howard to Earth, he’s possessed by an alien from another world and inexplicably turns evil. Believe it or not, the whole dilemma involved in “Howard the Duck” is Howard simply trying to adjust to Earth while the writers tack on a villain just as the movie is drawing to a close.
Who better than Jeffrey Jones, amirite? “Howard the Duck” would have worked just as well without the villainous monster in the climax, as shocking enough Beverly and Howard’s interplay is amusing in its own surreal manner. Lea Thompson seems to know the kind of movie she’s in and pulls in a performance that’s abundantly goofy, but she compensates with her top notch sex appeal and charisma. It’s not a shock Howard the Duck never became another eighties mascot. He’s not ET. He’s barely ALF. That’s thanks to the producers who apparently want the big bucks from kids, but don’t want to water down the character, either.
That apparent indecisiveness is what holds Howard back big time and makes him just a lukewarm eighties movie character that Marvel Comics would tuck in to the margins of their comics for almost two decades. “Howard the Duck” is still a fun and fast paced piece of eighties schlock that pays off, however small, with a raucous theme song.