Review: The Crusaders #357: Experiment in Evil

Written and directed by Robb Wolford, co-written by Blake Arnold and Richard A. Becker, a battered woman leaves her husband to become a superhero in this comic book come to life complete with panels, page turns and old-fashioned novelty ads. Taking the identity of Furie, Connie Ferrantti joins a team of working-class masked avengers called The Crusaders. It isn’t long before she finds herself in conflict with their mysterious leader, The Ace of Spades, a one-time hero of the golden age, now walking a tightrope between good and evil, can Furie save him from falling over the edge? Starring: Vicki Schaffer, Blake Arnold, Ruth W. Block, Roderick Emil, Casey Grant, Andre Harvey, Marianne Parker, Christine Robert, Bret Shefter, Jeffrey Stackhouse, Michelle Volz, Carla Way, director Robb Wolford and many more.

This film may have been released originally in 2008 but it has a very 1980’s feel to it through its very home-made ingenuity and use of effects, it feels pulled out of that era that created such crafty and creative independent features. Make sure you’re paying attention because this film hits the ground running, there’s no origin story or introductions to be found, instead the heroes immediately get to work against their first foe. Admittedly, it’s too much to take in at once, including a brief intro to all The Crusaders at the very beginning to set up for what’s to come would have been a good way to accept all the information that’s being thrown at you. Making a film that has so many characters involved in its story is something that even the most experienced of directors have struggled with, it’s a risky move as it pulls the story in a lot of directions, and one that doesn’t entirely work here.

That initial speedy pace curtails as they begin to explore more of Furie’s backstory and the film segues into focusing more on her superhero origin and emotional struggles, before moving again to faster paced fight sequences, it’s somewhat messy and inconsistent. If the intention was to put a strong focus on Furie, it would have been better served to begin that plot earlier and spread it amongst the other events to balance it out with its story of their fight against evil. It’s an issue that persists throughout the film, the progression is choppy and it’s often too busy, which all lead to not giving you quite enough to grasp onto to invest in the story. It needed to pull back and smooth out its energy to draw you in and following along without issue.

However, it is invigorating to see the filmmakers injecting so much creativity into the project, its use of special effects throws back to the days of things not being able to depend on digitally enhanced images and making something convincing with little resources. It works well throughout, the effects mixed with the choices in editing and stunts give the feel of almost Adam West era Batman, hitting colourful, action-packed notes. It also chooses to keep within the more classic comic realm of violence, not pushing things too far or trying to add gore, it’s simple and effective. It’s a shame that the inclusions of page turns and the like become more infrequent as time goes on, they’re a unique addition that would have been even better to see fully integrated into more of the film. Although, understandably it moves into trying to flesh out the plot which does slightly prohibit using too many of such edits.

The actors do a solid job, most of them don’t get too much time to make an impression but the ones that do, portray their characters well, it struggles when it tries to move into more emotional territory but for the most part it’s a great ensemble effort. You can see the ways in which Wolford’s style of direction tries to stay true to its comic book comes to life story, there are a few moments particularly with a larger number of characters where shots could be better chosen but overall its style and cinematography is consistent.

Ultimately it was a great idea, with a very enjoyable atmosphere that befits classic independent cinema and comics, and you can see the effort that’s gone into making it but it tried to do too much within a limited time and made itself difficult to invest in its story. The effects and style work well to gel with its comic origins but it would have been more enjoyable to get to know the key characters initially to flow more smoothly into the larger plot. There’s a hugely creative energy to this project that’s delightful to see but unfortunately it’s a little too rough around the edges.

Verdict: ✯✯

The Crusaders #357: Experiment in Evil is available now on Amazon Prime Video


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