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The Ending Of Howard The Duck Explained

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown from humble beginnings via "Iron Man" in 2008 to become the most financially successful film franchise in history. The MCU is commercially successful and an excellent primer on doing superhero movies well. Of course, Marvel didn't start making movies with "Iron Man," and believe it or not, the company's first feature-length film is none other than "Howard the Duck." You've likely heard how universally hated the movie is. 

The abhorrence is deserved, and the consensus is that it's an incredibly odd and poorly executed film. Granted, it's no easy task to make a movie about an anthropomorphic duck with an attitude, and the filmmakers certainly gave it a shot. That said, if you look at the film objectively, it doesn't have a bad plot, and a lot of time and money was put into making the various creature effects look good — or as good as a low budget in 1986 would allow.

The movie's final act brings all of the plot elements together in a nice, neat package. Despite this, the film is despised, and a lot of that hatred may have to do with how the movie ended. It was odd, it was cheesy, and it was quintessential '80s cinema. Still, it was also an early attempt at something that would ultimately become the norm: a comic book movie. Here's what the ending of "Howard the Duck" is all about, and it may push you to give the film another shot.

Howard's journey isn't easy

Howard's story consists of three parts: he's separated from his home, he undergoes various trials and tribulations, and his story ends with an honorable sacrifice. If you break it all down, there are allegories of displaced people throughout the movie. Howard is brought to Earth against his will, and he's put into a position that makes it incredibly difficult to return home. What's more, he is treated poorly by most of the people he meets. 

This makes sense — he's a sarcastic duck, which is enough to put most people off. On the other hand, he's a refugee who needs help, and he finds it in the arms of Beverly (Lea Thompson), a beautiful aspiring rock star. Despite the species barrier between the two, they become close friends — too close for most, but that's a story for another day. Howard is forced to try and fit in, to be more like the people around him. This places Howard in the same position as any refugee: become more like the culture you find yourself in, or suffer the indignities of oppression and the many isms that make life difficult.

Despite this, Howard overcomes the many hurdles placed in his way. He makes friends and learns of a way to return home, but it won't be easy. He needs to get a hold of the laser spectroscope that brought him to Earth and reverse it to send him back to his own planet. Unfortunately, some nasty creatures from the other side of the universe stand in his way. 

Howard runs a-fowl with the law

Dr. Jenning (Jeffrey Jones) was working on the laser spectroscope when it exploded, and he took the full force of the blast. Howard is a bit perturbed by this holdup, but did nothing to worsen the situation. He and his friends came upon the destruction after the fact, but that doesn't stop the police from holding Howard as part of their investigation. Why did they nab him instead of anyone else at the scene? He was the only anthropomorphic duck described repeatedly as a "thing" by the men holding him.

The first thing the cops do while he's in their custody is try to remove his duck suit. He's charged with being an "illegal alien," which isn't exactly untrue. Still, it opens the door to the same prejudices many undocumented immigrants experience. After Howard and Beverly get away from the incredibly inept police officer holding him, they begin a manhunt that kicks off with one officer saying, "Shoot to kill." 

Howard hasn't done anything illegal (besides escape police custody) at this point in the film. Still, he's treated as a threat who needs to be put down, mostly because he's different. As the two make their way out of the lab, Dr. Jenning appears a bit worse for wear from the shadows. He's not feeling great, and he looks like he's been through hell and back again. As Jenning grabs his head in pain, they opt to leave in his car. 

The possession of Dr. Jenning

It soon becomes clear that Dr. Jenning has "something inside ... gnawing at [his] guts," and it's not from something he ate. As the trio drives away from the lab, Jenning paves his way through a ton of exposition, broken up by intermittent one-liners delivered by Beverly. Comments like "The end of the world is coming" are interrupted by "and I will be the cause of it." They nearly crash as Jenning "dies," his body overtaken by the thing inside him, so they head into the diner they almost smashed into to get some coffee.

A server attempts to kick them out by saying they don't allow pets inside the building. This is yet another dig at Howard for how he looks, but it's brushed aside when Beverly explains that he's a "seeing-eye duck." Despite all of the signs indicating Jenning isn't the man he was a few minutes ago, Howard tries to explain that he needs to use the laser spectroscope to return home. At this time, Jenning informs them that he is now a "Dark Overlord of the Universe."

The Dark Overlord explains that he was brought by the machine the same way as Howard. He tells them that he hails from a dark region of the universe "beyond the planets," where his people were exiled long ago, known as the Nexus of Sominus. Of course, Howard and Beverly believe he's off his rocker, but glowing eyes that blow up some condiments quickly bring them up to speed.

Conflict at the diner

The Dark Overlord's plan is to bring back more of his kind using the laser spectroscope, and he'll do it using a code key that Howard manages to swipe. Just as they're about to leave the Dark Overlord behind, a group of truckers mistakes Howard for a ventriloquist dummy. It all blows up into a diner-wide brouhaha filled with silly one-liners, bad puns, an exploding kitchen, and a bunch of pies slammed into faces.

Howard can hold his own for a bit, thanks to his mastering of Duck-Fu, but he's soon overwhelmed. Beverly tries to settle the dispute by claiming, "He's my boyfriend," and one of the truckers has the same response as the audience by saying, "That's disgusting." Before long, a homicidal diner chef gets ready to kill and eat Howard. Well, maybe he's not homicidal, but he definitely wants to kill and eat the anthropomorphic duck, and that puts Howard in a tight spot. 

Fortunately for Howard, the Dark Overlord intervenes when it's clear he's lost control of the code key. He gets up while covered in blue energy, which comes in handy when one of the morons comes at him with a knife. Cue some more one-liners and a bit of destruction. The Dark Overlord manages to destroy the diner without seriously injuring anyone — it's rated PG, after all. Amidst the chaos, Howard and Beverly attempt to leave, but the Dark Overlord gets the code key from Howard, abducts Beverly, and leaves Howard unconscious on the floor.

Beverly becomes the target of another Dark Overlord

With Beverly in his grasp, the Dark Overlord sets about driving back to the lab to carry out his plan. He and Beverly board one of the truckers' rigs and head out. Through this scene, the audience is treated to some exposition about the Dark Overlord's purpose and need for energy, which he siphons with a disturbingly phallic tongue-like tentacle. He lets Beverly know that he needs her body, and she assumes he's got some nasty intentions. Of course, he does, but not in the way Beverly thinks.

Because the Dark Overlord was able to cross out of his region of space from exile via the laser spectroscope, he plans to do the same for more of his kind. The first human up for experimentation is none other than Beverly. Knowing this, Howard makes every effort to rescue her. While he's hiding from the police, he makes his way around several of their cars to find Phil (Tim Robbins) in the back of a police car. The two get to talking, and Howard helps Phil out of the vehicle, which leads to a police chase that covers the switch from night to day. 

While that's happening, Beverly and the Dark Overlord make their way to the lab. The plan is to strap her down to a table and use the laser spectroscope to bring another Dark Overlord across the cosmos and into Beverly. She's not really into that sort of thing, but her protests fall on deaf ears.

The breakout and police chase

With Phil busted out of police custody, he and Howard are left with the daunting task of escaping without any sort of vehicle. Fortunately, someone left one for them to take, all gassed up and ready to go. Since every movie needs at least one good chase scene, Howard leads the cops on one, and it's epic! To be clear, the cops were already chasing Howard, but he upped their interest after the diner destruction and breakout of Phil, so they were plenty mad. 

During the chase, Howard and Phil steal an ultralight airplane, which Howard can somehow fly without any training whatsoever. Granted, he doesn't do an excellent job. Howard manages to nearly smash into people, cars, buildings, and anything else that gets in his way. Still, he does buzz some duck hunters in a not-too-subtle reference to how his "people" are treated on Earth. 

When it looks as if Howard and Phil will end up being scraped off a wall, Phil pushes Howard to channel his ancestors' ability to fly — on Duckworld, ducks flew in ancient times and somehow evolved to be humanoid. Despite this leap in logic, Howard manages to successfully pilot the aircraft (with a few near-death misses), and they elude the police as they make their way back to the Dynatechnics laboratory. Howard yells "I'm coming, Beverly" to nobody in particular.

To the laboratory!

The Dark Overlord makes it to the lab, where he casually carries a distraught Beverly inside. Around this time, Howard and Phil lead the police on the road, as they fly only a few feet above the ground. The cops to crash and watch helplessly as the aircraft's wings are clipped when Howard pilots it through a passing train car. The dynamic duo manages to survive a quick crash into some water outside the lab, but when they make it inside, Howard is nice and dry, while Phil is soaking wet.

Some might think this an error, it's actually quite clever, given the phrase "water off a duck's back." They make it to the laser spectroscope, where they find the Dark Overlord and Beverly. The Dark Overlord has strapped Beverly onto a table, making her ready to take on a different Dark Overlord, so Phil and Howard head off to find some experimental weapons. They find a neutron disintegrator and mount it to a small motorized cart, transforming it into a mobile weapons platform.

They make their way to the laboratory as the Dark Overlord switches his machine on, though it does require some time to power up. At this time, Howard and Phil lose control of the cart, serving to put them in peril while doing nothing to stop the evil creature slowly lumbering toward them. Fortunately, this isn't much of a problem, as they regain their composure and reengage a powered-up Dark Overlord, who fires bolts of orange and blue energy at Phil.

Howard the hero

When their first assault fails, Phil ends up with comically poofed-up, smoking hair, thanks to the blast of electric power he just received, leaving Howard to do something ... anything! He drives the cart toward the Dark Overlord while firing the neutron disintegrator. The blast meets one from the Dark Overlord as they charge at one another in a strange version of a standoff/gunfight. As Howard moves closer, he succeeds in blasting the Dark Overlord with enough power to blast him out of Dr. Jenning's body.

This effectively saves Jenning from continuing his existence as host to a monster. Still, it has another unintended consequence that rears its ugly head a few moments later. But first Howard and his human friends head to the laser spectroscope to shut down the device's power cycle. Just as it looks as if the heroes have won, the Dark Overlord appears in all its hideous glory, breaking its way through some metal flooring to rear its particularly nasty head. It's so grotesque, Phil repeatedly faints at the sight of it.

Howard's sacrifice

Undeterred at the sight of the hideous monster that was inside his friend only moments before, Howard heads to the cart to retrieve his weapon. In the meantime, the Dark Overlord blasts the humans with its eyebeams and uses its grotesque tentacle tongue to capture Howard. It uses another of these horrific appendages to turn the laser spectroscope on, kicking off a four-minute timer before more of his kind make their way to Earth. Dr. Jenning steps in to offer Howard a saw, and he frees himself.

Unfortunately, the clock is ticking. The Dark Overlord continues to blast Beverly and Phil with energy, and Howard has a distinct size disadvantage. Despite this, he takes the final two minutes available to him to charge the Dark Overlord, firing the neutron disintegrator into the beast's face. He continuously blasts him with the weapon until the Dark Overload explodes into a convenient, easy to clean burst of starlike sparkles. Sadly, the threat is still looming because, while he managed to destroy one Dark Overlord, there's little hope he could kill a legion of them as they travel to Earth ... and time is almost up for Howard!

This leaves Howard little time to make a choice, and he only needs a few seconds to make the biggest decision of his life. Realizing he won't be able to get home, Howard tells his friends to move away from the laser spectroscope, lifts the neutron disintegrator to his shoulder, and blasts it to smithereens.

Howard gets a new home

The lab falls to pieces as smoke rises, leading Beverly and Phil to come to the false conclusion that Howard died taking out the machine. Some heartfelt words are shared, but it's all going to be okay because Howard isn't dead — he's hurt and had some of his feathers singed, but he's alright. Howard saved the day, destroyed the Dark Overlords' only means of making it to Earth, and he got the girl ... sort of.

Howard may not be able to return home to Duckworld, but that doesn't matter anymore. He's got a new home with new friends, and he even snagged a new job as Beverly's manager. He hired Phil to work on the tour, so everyone who fought together could be together. The film comes to a close as Howard mistakenly makes his way onto the stage during a performance by Beverly and her band, Cherry Bomb.

Phil puts an electric guitar around Howard's neck, hands him a pick, and Howard joins the girls as they play their hearts out, dancing and singing — as Howard proves he has the chops to stand on the stage as one of the greats. The credits roll as Howard and company lead the cheering crowd in what can only be described as the best concert in the history of Marvel movies. Howard and Beverly share a moment backstage as she caresses the side of his head, and it all fades to black.

What it all means

"Howard the Duck" is a fairly formulaic movie. The hero is thrust into a world he doesn't understand (with people who don't understand and fear him); he then finds a way home but sacrifices that option to save the world, and then he settles into his new life. On the surface, it's all rather typical, but some undertones indicate the movie is more than it appears. After all, while formulaic, it's also allegorical to a refugee's struggle, but with a nice cherry on top ... a Cherry Bomb, at any rate.

In the end, Howard completes his journey by adapting and integrating into Earth's society. He's accepted by the cheering fans in the audience at the end of the film, suggesting his journey has come to an end. Howard found a way to fit into an alien world, and that's a plight familiar to many refugees. They are often taken or forced from their homes to a place unlike theirs, leaving their lives, possessions, jobs, family, and friends behind.

Howard overcame this hardship, but when the movie ends, his struggle remains despite the happy ending. He's still known as "Howard the Duck," when his surname is actually Duckson. This may not seem problematic to many, but it's the equivalent of calling a Ukrainian refugee "Ivan the Ukrainian" or something similarly awful. Howard has adapted to fit into human society, but that same society hasn't adapted to accept him, and there's a good chance it never will.