The Phantom


‘…a plush film, even if the tone, central performance and script all badly need revisions…’

I’m not done with The Offer as yet; I’ve completed watching the 10 episode show about the making of The Godfather, but yet to formulate a full response. By way of R and D, I thought I’d look at some of the later work by the protagonists. Multiple Oscar-winner Albert S Ruddy went on to such famously, farcically bad movies The Cannonball Run II and Megaforce, but although Robert Evans had several career comebacks as well as a substantial cocaine bust, his later projects largely fizzled, and that’s particular true of his expensive entry in the superhero stakes, 1996’s non-blockbuster The Phantom.

Like Batman and Superman, the Phantom is based on an ancient IP; Lee Falk’s comic book character has been running since before WWII. This revival was developed by Joe Dante as a vehicle for the great Bruce Campbell, which would have sent out a far clearer comic signal that the final package, a Simon Wincer vehicle for Billy Zane. Unlike today’s comic book films, most of which rework the original stories ad nauseam, The Phantom rips through the backstory in 90 seconds of pre-credits information dumping, then invites us to settle back for a sub-Indiana Jones adventure in the classic serial style; The Phantom has a magic horse AND a magic dog, so you can’t complain about his lack of accessories.

So the 90’s Phantom was written by the scribe behind the breezy Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jeffrey Boam, and depicts Kit Walker (Zane), who belongs to an ancient cult of crime-fighters who seek revenge by styling themselves as the ‘Ghost Who Walks’. Unfortunately this means donning a skin-tight purple costume and dinky mask that makes The Phantom look less than impressive, and Wincer’s film never overcomes this dated detail. We’re on the trail of three magic skulls which could unleash infinite power, millionaire Xander Drax (Treat Williams) is the Dick Dastardly-type villain in the way, and Kristy Swanson and Catherine Zeta-Jones are both fun as the romance interest.

The Phantom wasn’t widely seen on initial release, perhaps because the attempts to cement comic-book IP in the 90’s (The Rocketeer, The Shadow) largely fell flat, but The Phantom at least has a swanky production that looks look swish on Paramount+’s streaming service; with elaborate sets, big physical action stunts, and a day and night shooting on a remarkable set of a 1938 New York street, complete with 200 cars. Evans certainly made a plush film, even if the tone, central performance and script all badly need revisions. The Phantom is worth a look for those seeking alternative approaches to today’s alternately glib and ponderous comic book style; by aiming deliberately for 1940s chic, The Phantom boldly demonstrates why, Indiana Jones aside, retro-chic rarely works.


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  1. Heh, I saw this one semi-recently along with the Mother of Skaith. She had fond but dim memories of the TV serial and original comics, and quite enjoyed it. By my lights, it would have been AWESOMESAUCE if I were ten. Billy Zane is a dish, though.

    • He’s great looking in this for sure, although I’d have preferred Bruce Campbell for some knowing humour. As you suggest, fun for the kid in us all…

  2. I’ve watched this 2 or 3 times and enjoyed it, but more as an Indiana Jones-lite movie than as a comic book hero movie.
    I don’t think the current generation can enjoy stuff set in older times because they’re so conditioned to believe it was the Worst of Times. It also didn’t help that they didn’t try to update his costume and man, it needed some updating. I’m not sure who this was aimed at, because anyone old enough to remember the Phantom wasn’t going to go to the movies to watch some modern crap and anyone young enough couldn’t be bothered with that old dusty crap.

    • Correct amundo. No point in fidelity to the old costume, and the ongoing fandom must be tiny. But this is a well -upholstered film, and I was surprised how watchably goofy it was…

  3. Hi thanks for sharing. The film is definitely representative of our current world affairs and questions past media super heroes. I hope to watch this film.

  4. I think I might have seen this when it came out. Is this the one with a magic dagger? Or was that The Shadow? I do remember reading a couple of the comics.

    “less than impressive”

    • Thanks, The Shadow was the one with the magic dagger. It’s similarly expensive looking but very cheesy. I’m not sure such IP had any good reason for a revival…

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