Director: Simon Wincer
Super-heroes films usually suck because studio execs almost always try to cheapen the characters, like pitching Spawn to the video game generation with tons of computer FX or turning the Dark Knight into a cereal tie-in. The people behind “The Phantom” fortunately didn’t make that mistake. They basically took the classic comic strip with all the fun and the kitsch that comes with it and threw it on screen, without trying to make him hip. What you get ain’t a perfect film, but still one of the most enjoyable comic book adaptations I’ve seen, along with the grittier “Blade”.
Kit Walker spend the last few years studying in New York. But recently, he had to go back to his native Africa to take over the family business after his father’s death. You see, Kit happens to be the heir of the Phantom legacy which ruled the jungle for the last 400 years, with each son taking over after his father to make justice reign against pirates and thugs. This time around, the Phantom has to stop Xander Drax, an evil billionaire who’s searching the world in order to find the Skulls of Death which will give him unbelievable powers. With the help of old flame Diana Palmer, the Phantom will travel from Africa to the Devil’s Vortex to save mankind from annihilation… and maybe try and win back Diana’s heart in the meantime.
I just love the character of the Phantom. With his purple costume, his Skull cave and his animal sidekicks, he’s totally ridiculous yet the cool thing is that he seems to be in on the joke. Billy Zane’s performance is essential to the film’s success. The twinkle in his eye and the self-mocking dialogue make the flick real fun, because it shows that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Plus, the film benefits from superior direction, interesting 40s style art direction and gorgeous cinematography. The action sequences are not that explosive, but that’s not really important. Okay, the film has a stupid plot, unbelievable twists, corny dialogues and cardboard characters, but that’s part of what makes it so entertaining. The movie kind of reminded me of my favorite movie super-hero, the Batman played by Adam West in the 1966 film based on the TV series. Both movies are cheesy at core, yet they’re crafted with a lot of wit and style. You could almost say that they’re to the super-hero genre what “Scream” is to slasher flicks. Well, maybe it ain’t quite as self-referential, but I’m still convinced that the writers of “The Phantom” were aware that they were making camp and decided to give it a tongue-in-cheek tone. Don’t expect this to be the deepest of movies, but you can be sure that it’s very refreshing.