The Phantom – 3 out of 5
The 90s, for some reason, became a decade that really wanted to make superheroes from yesteryear a thing, thanks to films like Disney’s The Rocketeer and The Shadow. Not too long ago, I revisited The Shadow on my semi-regular feature over at The Robot’s Pajamas called Was It THAT Bad? Basically, I look at films hailed as critical failures and ask if it really was as bad as the critics and/or audiences stated. That movie got me thinking and reminded me of another pulp hero that was adapted in the era of Surge soda, Tamagotchi pets, Beanie babies and Discman players. I’m talking about The Phantom.
|Please don't call him the Purple Headed Warrior.|
|Meanwhile, Indian Jones is 20 feet away|
trying to not get his heart ripped out.
In 1938, a hero protects the jungle from pirates, mercenaries and other ne’er-do-wells. People whisper that the hero is immortal as he’s existed for generations but, in reality, it’s a title that has been passed down from man to man. Currently, the 21st hero to wear the mask is Kit Walker (Billy Zane) and he stumbles upon a plot run by a power-hungry businessman with an amazing name; Xander Drax (Treat Williams). Drax is out to locate three skulls that hold the secret to unbelievable power and this pursuit leads him to kidnap the daughter (Kristy Swanson) of a newspaper mogul investigating him. The biggest problem is this girl used to date Kit—oops! Now The Phantom must save his ex and stop Drax in his mad dash for otherworldly power!
|"It's okay, kid. I'll finish the rescue after I quickly recreate a moment from|
my favorite Stallone film!"
The Phantom comic strip was started by Lee Falk and was first published way back in 1936. So, when the film adaptation came out in 1996, the property was already 60 years old! That’s damn impressive. The sad part is the film was met with mixed reviews and, to be honest, I only watched it once when it came out to rent (or even when it was available on a movie network like HBO). After that, I never really thought about it again. It didn’t leave much of an impression on me one way or another. However, revisiting the film for my blog, I have to say the film isn’t too bad.
|He's in a staring contest with the Eye of Sauron.|
For the most part, The Phantom is entertaining as it delivers a story that works and feels comparable to the source material. Sure, there are moments where the action gets clunky and doesn’t look as polished as it needed to be but it makes up for this with some cool stunts. Ultimately though, the strongest aspect of this film comes from the cast. Everyone is doing an excellent job with their characters but it’s at its apex when it pertains to the protagonist and antagonist of the story.
|If Xander Drax was born in another era, he'd be a Mountain Dew spokesman|
because of that name.
Without a doubt, Billy Zane and Treat Williams are my favorite parts of this film. Number One, Williams is delightfully over-the-top in his performance and is perfectly able to ride that line of being a guy who is just gorging himself on every bit of scenery he can cram into his gullet but does so in a way that is never grating or annoying. He actually is playing a hell-bent tycoon out for supernatural power in a very fun way. Number Two, Billy Zane is stupidly charismatic as Kit Walker/The Phantom. He’s fairly amusing in the fact the character looks like he’s actually having fun doing his job and being a hero is kind of a game to him. Additionally, having a superhero that isn’t dark and gritty but rather kinda upbeat and always with a smile on his face is a nice change of pace to how characters like this are adapted now. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a good dark and gritty hero but watching this now it’s kinda fun to see a hero who is capable of being serious but would rather spend his time just being kinda silly and dashing.
|Also, at one point he gets to stand near a tiger and that dynamic can|
pretty much make anyone look amazing and cool.
Now, The Phantom isn’t without its issues. I already mentioned how the action isn’t the best but the story has some problems with it as well. It works for what it is but it’s not the most developed and sometimes the simplicity of its plot makes the whole thing feel pretty average and mundane. There’s also a really odd moment thrown here and there that made me say, “WTF?” For example, there’s a very weird zoom in at one point that feels cheap and then there’s the scene in the climax where Drax is using the three skulls to shoot a laser beam at The Phantom and he is really leaning into and ends up doing a Michael Jackson “Smooth Criminal” type of move. It’s strange and really hard to not laugh at it all. However, these moments aren’t total killers for the feature.
|"Annie, you won't be okay after THIS!"|
The Phantom is probably not the most memorable adaptation of a pulp character I’ve ever seen but it’s not really a bad movie. It has a few hiccups here and there but there’s nothing entirely terrible going on with it. The story is straight forward, the vibe and tone is there and palpable and the performances are very good. In fact, the film ends up being an accidental proving ground that this property can be something that can be tried again—whether it’s a reboot or even a sequel (since the title of The Phantom is passed down from person to person a sequel could work in theory). Honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing this character get another chance at a movie.