It makes perfect sense that the director, an Eisner Award winner, Derek Kirk Kim, would set his new film BLACK RAVEN against the backdrop of a struggling comic book writer and artist. The interesting thing about the main character Tony (Ace Gibson), podcaster and creator of the Black Raven comic book, is that he is almost entirely unlikable from beginning to end of this roughly one hour endeavor.
Tony has writer’s block, a chip on his shoulder that comes with the struggle to succeed in Los Angeles, and an un-appreciation for his girlfriend, friends, and even his roommates. Tony is the guy that makes everything about him, and doesn’t really contribute to the overall conversation inasmuch as dominate it. This is really evident when he interviews other comic book professionals for his podcast. Ace Gibson does a fantastic job of making the viewer both root for and want to punch Tony in the face. There is a realness to his portrayal of Tony that I’ve seen from other artists and creators that can’t be faked, but has to be lived.
It’s often said that one should write what they know, and that is really well reflected in this movie. All of the characters and their conversations feel well developed and the world they live in feels real. The writing overall is solid, especially the dialogue, and the concept has small traces of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s BIRDMAN in it when Tony starts seeing his titular superhero in his everyday life. I just wish that that angle was more present from the beginning of the film.
The acting is very natural and the other performers, aside from Tony, are broad enough that I’d want to sit and watch a movie about each of them individually. It’s interesting that the director decided to focus on the villain of the group, but I think that there are traces of Tony in many of us who struggle in the arts and entertainment industry. He embodies that “why not me” ego-maniacal aspect of us.
BLACK RAVEN is shot pretty dynamically considering what seems to be a modest budget. The dialogue is crisp (except for one scene described below), and the soundtrack was just present enough to not interrupt my enjoyment of the film. It was great to see people in the comic book world, typically considered geeks, to be fairly depicted (with the exception of Anthony Giambusso’s role as Mitch, who was more of the smelly, awkward, bespectacled, stereotypical geek).
There are a few areas that could be improved in this film. The first is that there is a music cue at the tail end of the movie that almost drowns out some great dialogue by a disgruntled waiter who is in the process of taking out some anger on Tony. It immediately took me out of the scene, and after about an hour of waiting for something to actually happen, I was a little let down. The other part is the overall story structure. It is really evident watching BLACK RAVEN that Derek is comfortable in the confines of writing for comic books and web series (check out his two seasons of Mythomania on Youtube), which is serialized content that is usually meant to be rather open ended. BLACK RAVEN feels almost like a “day in the life” type of movie with no real satisfying ending. It was disappointing only because right towards the end I was starting to see Tony’s character make a turn for the better, but instead it just ended. There was a lot of build up between everyone. Relationships were established, but nothing really pays off. I almost expected a “to be continued” card before the credits.
Tony Richmond is suffering from a terrible bout of writer's block. But mysterious sightings of his superhero creation, and the plight of his long-suffering girlfriend, may hold the key to fixing his creative bind -- and his humanity.