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Friday, 5 May 2017

Retro Review: The Phantom (1996)

The Phantom
Cast: Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Kirsty Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Genre: Superhero
U.S Box Office Gross: over $17 million

Plot: The Phantom, descendant of a line of African superheroes, travels to New York City to thwart a wealthy criminal genius from obtaining three magic skulls, which would give him the secret to ultimate power 

'Mid- 1990's Bland Superhero Movie Bomb'

When I tuned into this film, I knew that either I was going to be in for a good ride, or that this film would be terrible. The Phantom is one of those unfamiliar comic book superheroes and as unfortunate as for me to say, but this film is largely forgettable. 

Released in 1996 during a period when audiences were still not quite ready for superhero movies (with the exception of Batman) until Marvel Studios and DC/Warner Bros with Superman and Batman decided to enter the movie business & release and produce films under DC and Marvel Entertainment, the mid-1990s saw The Phantom, The Shadow and The Rocketeer launch with live-action films. The Phantom's box office flop meant it was unceremoniously sent straight- to- video where it gained a cult following. 

After sitting through The Phantom, I can honestly say that I can pretty much understand where and why it flopped so badly. 

The film opens up with a young boy on the run from some bad guys and he is taken in by some tribe and they raise him as one of their own. Fast forward a couple of years later, the same goons now work for Xander Drax. The Phantom himself travels to America in search of the two remaining skulls, before they end up in Drax's possession. 

There is something about this film that screams hammy but also there is that Indiana Jones atmosphere that it tends to evoke also. The plot is rather bland and the performances are okay - yet the performances by Treat Williams and Catherine Zeta-Jones (in her then 5th movie) and Billy Zane is intentionally over the top and not to be taken seriously. It's strange for me to see Williams as the antagonist as it's not a role that he usually plays in many of his other films, yet at the same time, he has the charisma and screen presence. I've said before he is very underrated as an actor, but that he hasn't had that many roles, especially good roles in box office multi-million dollar films that further showcase his talents. & that he is saddled with B-movies. Yet also I feel in some way that he was miscast as evil businessman Xander; he is another one of those actors who just cannot pull off the bad guy thing that well. Zane meanwhile does an amicable job in the lead role, as the protagonist with the moniker 'the ghost who walks'. He sells his performance which made it a tad watchable, not to mention he has the right physique to match that character. With Zeta- Jones, her character was largely forgettable and had no personality. In fact, all the characters lacked personality and in Zeta-Jones, Zane, Williams and Swanson, I was looking at four performers who had very promising careers, film-wise earlier on during their years - yet some poor film choices or lack of larger roles in major Hollywood movies put paid to that. 

The script for The Phantom is lacklustre, laboured and utterly devoid of emotion and is nothing to write home. With a much better, thorough and entertaining story, along with the performances, The Phantom would fare better than it did. But as it stands for me, it has a dull narrative, so dull and stiff, in fact, it literately kills the momentum of the entire film. The casting is actually not too bad; yet unfortunately, the film just never came together. 

The film just doesn't generate enough thrills and action to warrant an actual purchase. The last 15 mins were all right with the fight scenes and the stand-off between Xander and The Phantom, but by then it was practically too little, too late and I can only recommend The Phantom to fans of the comic book series. The action itself looks very amateur-ish and is occasionally poor, what with the fighting and the lack of realism that the fights and battles looked. Then again, fans may find this onscreen adaptation just as disappointing as I did. 

It also tries to recreate that magic and feel of Indiana Jones, but its efforts are all in vain as The Phantom has very little charm and it's all/no thanks to its poor script. 

Final Verdict:

Recommended only to die-hard fans of The Phantom or if you have a nostalgic attachment towards the film, but overall and otherwise the whole thing feels underwhelming, with a bland direction and is actually all too corny and camp.

As a guilty pleasure, there is not a lot I enjoyed from it to qualify for that title - the story is not very entertaining and it is incredibly dull, lethargic and generic.

The good versus evil thing has been done millions of times, and yet there is nothing here to differentiate this one from the others. That, and as a comic book film featuring a man with one of the most vibrant looking outfits in superhero land, The Phantom, with the not- so- good story, is one of the blandest comic book movie offerings, ever. 


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