The Phantom (1996)PG

CapeHalf a capeTentHalf a tent

The Phantom, like Dick Tracy, was a classic newspaper comic, and they say the goofy purple costume the Phantom wears was the ancestor of all modern superhero outfits. He was the transition from the pulp hero to the superhero — he was the first to wear a body stocking and the last to carry shootin'-irons. Unlike some super-heroes, he cultivates a myth that makes his powers seem greater than they really are — for instance, he seems immortal, but it’s just because the role of Phantom has been handed down from father to son for four hundred years, each one swearing anew to battle piracy and Communism.

If you can get past the childish plot about magical skulls, and the costume, this movie is not badly done in some ways. It holds together pretty well, and some of the performances are well handled, notably James Remar as the second-echelon bad guy who killed The Phantom’s father. But still, the basic story elements are hopelessly corny, and this is the sort of movie where flying or falling vehicles explode in a huge fireball the moment they just touch a solid obstacle... even if they were shown running out of fuel moments before. There are constant minor gaps in continuity and common sense.

Okay, so by “not badly done in some ways”, I mean “badly done in a great many areas, but has sporadic intervals of adequacy as mindless entertainment.” For me, sometimes that’s enough.

Billy Zane makes rather a lumpish hero, but for those of suitable orientation he may have more heartthrob value than most of the actors on this site.

This film is set in the 1930s, but Hollywood is reputed to be considering a new Phantom film set in the present. The first one was a complete flop — it did so badly that a screenwriter for the new project said that maybe the new one should avoid using the same name — and yet Hollywood’s fondness for unoriginality is still so unshakable that they can’t let go of the idea of a sequel.

But what does John Stanley say?

there’s a joy in the pacing from director Simon Wincer that propels this movie with breathless speed... a satisfying adventure...