Title: The Phantom
Director: Simon Wincer
Writer: Jeffery Boam (Based on stories written by Lee Falk)
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures
Starring: Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams, James Remar, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Patrick McGoohan
Release Date: June 7, 1996
MPAA: Rated PG
[Hey ComicAttackers, here’s Part III of our pulp fiction review with writer Aaron Nicewonger. Also, if you haven’t checked it out, make sure you check out the reviews of pulp icons The Shadow and Flash Gordon.]
Combining elements from three stories by Lee Falk – “The Sky Band,” “The Singh Brotherhood,” and “The Belt” – The Phantom tells an entertaining tale.
It’s the story of Kit Walker, the newest Phantom (the twenty-first to be exact) in a long line of Phantoms. The Phantom is a superhero who is seen as immortal, because the role of The Phantom is passed from father to son upon their death or retirement.
The Phantom has no powers, lives in the jungle, but fights crime all over the globe.
The first Phantom witnessed the murder of his father, Captain Christopher Walker, at the hand of pirates in the 1500s, and vowed that he and his descendants would fight evil in all its forms from that point onward.
400 years later, the battle continues, and Kit Walker must avenge the death of his father, save the world from multiple groups of evildoers, and save the woman he loves (hopefully securing him a twenty-second Phantom someday).
If you want a good sense of what The Phantom really is all about, think of it this way. Take the globe-hopping elements from Indiana Jones, the vengeance/justice elements from Batman, and the jungle adventure of Tarzan, and roll them all into one.
And before anyone starts thinking something like The Phantom is just a Batman knock-off, let me tell you The Phantom came first, and The Phantom does it better in every way. He doesn’t have a gadget for every situation, and while he is a billionaire, his family has earned that money over several generations; he wasn’t born rich. And he saw his family murdered, but he vowed to wage a generational war, involving his descendants, to last as long as evil exists in the world. Definitely the “Go big or go home” approach.
The movie captures the feel of the source material perfectly. It’s a campy, light-hearted adventure for everyone. Don’t go into this expecting Tim Burton Batman creepy, or Chris Nolan Batman grit. This is adventure serial at its best.
But don’t let that dissuade you from watching. It doesn’t have to be dark to be good. Just look at the Christopher Reeve Superman.
Also, Billy Zane is amazing.
He was a huge fan of The Phantom, and lobbied to get the role. The original plan was to put him in an armored/padded suit for the costume (think like the Burton/Schumacher/Nolan Batman Armor), or the under armor approach used in the Spider-Man movies or Superman Returns. But Zane wouldn’t have it. He went to the gym and got trim and cut for the role so they could use a more traditional and faithful style of costume.
With piercing eyes, jet black hair, a great smile, charm, and a rock-hard body, he’s the Bruce Wayne the world should have had, but never did.
Also, the supporting cast of characters is rounded out nicely, with great performances from James Remar, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Veteran actor Patrick McGoohan provides some of the cuter, more sentimental scenes as the ghost of Kit Walker’s father (and the story’s narrator).
The ONLY complaint I have about the cast is Treat Williams completely hamming it up as the villain. He’s such a ham he makes William Shatner look like he’s on Prozac. Which is annoying, because he also has THREE of the best scenes in the film. Just watch, you’ll see what I mean. The scene with the microscope, the bit where he spells his name, and when he complains about his bursitis, are all priceless scenes. But the one scene in the museum is so bad it nearly ruins the ENTIRE film.
The practical visual effects for the movie are great, and the special effects are pretty great, but definitely don’t hold up to the test of time.
The movie gets a little hokey at times, but that’s to be expected of adventure camp.
I started to say that it would have probably fared better if it were darker and a bit more serious, but then I remembered its contemporaries like The Shadow, and that thought flew out the window.
I know it seems like I spent the entire review praising the film, but I promise I honestly tried to think of more to complain about than Treat Williams and the occasional overabundance of camp.
Overall, I’d have to give it two scores. As an adaptation of the source material, I’d give it 9 out of 10. As a movie, in general I’d give it 7 out of 10.