May 1, 2021 — More than a few unusual movies were made in the 1980s, but Ladyhawke has to be the oddest. The strangest part? The film is actually quite good.
Ladyhawke is essentially a medieval love story, comedy, werewolf, action, and fantasy film which is sometimes overly serious and other times laugh-out-loud comical. Add to that a score that is a bit all over the place, and you get a movie that sounds downright goofy in the synopsis. Ladyhawke is not strange in the sense its story is weird or off the wall, what stands out is the fact that the director, producer, and crew threw every genre they could think of into a pot, stirred it up, and unexpectedly pulled out what became Ladyhawke!
A Questionable Plot
Young Philippe Gaston (Mathew Broderick) is a pickpocket who has just broken out of jail when Navarre (Rutger Hauer) rides by, and for reasons unknown, scoops him onto his horse and rides on to a house in the woods. With no rhyme or reason to the relationship, the two become fast friends though Gaston is more of a squire. Navarre is a strange character well-versed in battle and falconry, thus he always brings his hawk with him; little does Gaston know the hawk has a secret. Because of a curse, every night, the hawk shifts into human form and becomes the beautiful Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) while Navarre transforms into a large black wolf.
“Ladyhawke would probably have been a lot worse and gone in an entirely different direction if it was not for its savior cast — the talent and on-screen chemistry of the three lead-roles not only feel natural but also has some real depth — with acting so good it looks entirely natural.”
As Isabeau (the hawk) becomes hurt after a battle, Navarre instructs Gaston to go with her to a priest to save her life. While at the holy man’s castle, they discover a way to end the curse and reunite Navarre and Isabeau — as humans. The road is treacherous and along the way, Gaston proves himself to be not just a servant but a faithful sidekick that will risk his own life to reunite Navarre and Isabeau. Ladyhawke culminates with a tiresome and dull action scene and an actual ending that feels more like a buddy cop movie’s finale rather than the grandeur one might expect from a fantasy-action-adventure film.
Actors in Different Stages
One of the things that may have made this strange movie work so well despite the script is the actors involved and the different stages in their careers. At this point, Rutger Hauer had already made a name for himself as Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Matthew Broderick had yet to take on his most iconic role as Ferris Bueller, and Michelle Pfeiffer had taken her turn as Evie in Scarface (but had yet to play the notorious Catwoman in Batman Returns.) Ladyhawke would probably have been a lot worse and gone in an entirely different direction if it was not for its savior cast — the talent and on-screen chemistry of the three lead-roles not only feel natural but also has some real depth — with acting so good it looks entirely natural.
A Soundtrack Just As Strange
Ladyhawke is set in the time of knights and magic, has plenty of synth music but the kind that seems more at home in an early 80s cartoon show than in an action fantasy movie. There are points in the film where the composers chose more genre and era-friendly instrumental music than you would expect from a film like this, but for the most part, it is back to synth-heavy riffs. Even though its soundscape is a little out of place, the soundtrack is pretty darn good and would make for a decent stand-alone album (a Ladyhawke soundtrack album was released in 1985 and then re-released with additional tracks in 1995. On February 10, 2015, a 2-disc set was released — again!)
OUT OF 10
THE GOOD STUFF
- A unique quirkiness that works to its advantage.
- A synth-heavy soundtrack that despite feeling out of place at times, is actually really good.
- A fun mix of comedy, medieval action, sorcery, and action.
- Its ending is not much to write home about.
- Never quite nails the kind of movie it tries to be.
Much like Picasso took all the pieces of a face and rearranged them to pioneer a new form of art, Ladyhawke is a puzzle with pieces of every size, yet they all fit together to give Ladyhawke the distinct vibes of The Beastmaster, Robin Hood, the Legends of King Arthur. Rutger Hauer is convincing in his role as a hero though he spent most of his career playing villain roles. Sadly, Michelle Pfeiffer is not given many lines but still manages to carve out a notable presence. Perhaps the most interesting role is Matthew Broderick’s Gaston, who doubles as comic relief, and contends for the main character role as his character grows throughout the movie.
For all of its weirdness, Ladyhawke is strangely endearing and worth watching, if even just once to say that you have experienced it.