Marching Through Marvel: Watching Howard the Duck for the First Time

Marvel movies are things you cannot escape now, but there was a time when they were a risk. There was a time when the only time you would see Marvel characters were in comic books or on TV. The thought of getting something like an Avengers movie was the thing of fanboy dreams. Marvel Studios has turned characters like Iron Man from the B-list of the Marvel universe to one of their flagship characters and got international audiences behind the idea of Captain America. It wasn't all good from the beginning, though, and there were some seriously interesting attempts to bring Marvel characters to the big screen before Iron Man in 2008 changed movie-making as we know it. Marching Through Marvel is a series where I go through and watch all of the Marvel movies up until the present day release. Some of these will be a rewatch, some of them will be movies I haven't seen before, and the first one out the gate is one of the most infamous. That's right; it's time to watch Howard the Duck.

Marching Through Marvel - Watching Every Marvel Movie: Howard the Duck
Marching Through Marvel logo and Howard the Duck poster. Credit: Universal Pictures

Howard the Duck is a character that both makes complete sense to make a movie out of and also makes no sense at all. Howard the Duck is a character that is hard to explain, but he's also one of those characters that don't have a lot of continuity or links to the larger Marvel universe that would have to be explained. He's a duck that talks, and that's about it. It's a concept that audiences could probably get behind because it is far from the weirdest thing you would have seen on the big screen in 1986. The problem is Howard the Duck has no idea what demographic it is shooting for. There are scenes in the movie, such as the beginning, which makes the film feel more adult-oriented like the comics. We see Howard drinking, smoking, looking at the in-universe version of Playboy, a message on his answering machine is essentially a booty call, and we see a naked duck in a bathtub where we see her tits. Howard works at what looks like a bathhouse but might a brothel and, at one point, nearly has sex with Beverly.  If this was the tone that the movie stuck with, maybe leaned into what you could get away with in the '80s, the film might have worked.

However, all of these adult scenes are followed by scenes that feel like they are something out of a kid's movie. We're talking full-on slapstick humor that does not fit with all of the adult humor we just saw a minute or two ago. This is all compounds by a third act that goes utterly insane with space possessing, energy-sucking demons that are trying to destroy the world. These are all three very different styles and tones, and to try and push them together means the scenes don't fit. It was like Lucasfilm wanted to make a movie for everyone, but instead of just making a movie with universal appeal, they took a bunch of genres and smashed them together. The adult comedy doesn't fit with the kid's comedy doesn't fit with the dad-joke level of duck puns doesn't fit with the space demons that really doesn't fit with the score.

Marching Through Marvel: Watching Howard the Duck for the First Time
Lea Thompson and Ed Gale in Howard the Duck (1986). Image Credit: Universal Pictures

Then there is Howard himself. Legend says that producer George Lucas wanted to make an animated movie for Howard the Duck, and that was probably the right direction to go. Still, he was under contract to make another live-action movie. So, instead of making Howard the only animated part of the film like Who Framed Roger Rabbit two years later or the bleeding of animation and live-action like Mary Poppins,  they built a duck suit for someone to wear. There isn't a single moment that Howard looks like a real duck or something that could exist in reality, which makes the very different reactions to him during the movie stand out even more. Sometimes people scream and run away. Other times they think he's someone in a suit. And then there are other times when people accept what he is and want to do things like cooking him alive. It just adds to the tonal dissonance.

This was the first time I had ever watched Howard the Duck, and I ended up pausing it to do something else at least three different times. As someone who enjoys trashy movies on occasion, this wasn't even so bad it was good or even fun territory. It was just a boring movie with a bunch of pieces that don't fit together. Howard showed up at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy and again in the final fight in Avengers: Endgame, so he's out there in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He was supposed to be in an animated adult TV show on Hulu that got canceled at the beginning of this year. For people curious about Howard, the comics and a Marvel Unlimited free trial would be a better solution than checking this infamous entry into the comic book genre.

About Kaitlyn Booth

Kaitlyn is the Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. She loves movies, television, and comics. She's a member of the UFCA and the GALECA. Feminist. Writer. Nerd. Follow her on twitter @katiesmovies and @safaiagem on instagram. She's also a co-host at The Nerd Dome Podcast. Listen to it at http://www.nerddomepodcast.com

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