“Join the club, there are many who have killed the Phantom over the ages.”
Here we are again with one of the far and few period piece superhero films, which follows The Rocketeer and Shadows example by attempting to combine the hero elements with Indiana Jones. The Phantom is a far more campy film and with its small budget, has a hard time competing with its bigger budget competitors.
At it’s center the film is really just a treasure hunt movie with a superhero as the main character. It is based on a comic by Lee Falk but I have never read it, so again, I haven’t the slightest idea how it compares. It follows a figure known as “The Phantom” who has lived in the jungle since supposedly becoming ship wrecked. Trained by the natives, he learns to fight and becomes the legendary figure sworn to protect some ancient relics of some kind.
It is when the corrupt Mr. Drax sends his goons after these said relics that The Phantom has no choice but to leave the comforts of the jungle and head into the big city to stop him. Mr. Drax meanwhile continues to search for his skull idols in the hopes that by uniting them he will become “all powerful” master of the universe....or something to that effect.
The main role is played by actor Billy Zane. Zane gives a very lackluster performance here that is both dry and uninspired. There are a few rare moments of charm for them but they never quite make up for the lack of develop and character. The lead actress Kristy Swanson (Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) also seems to put very little effort into the role. She pretty much just stands around and does nothing while the Phantom saves her for the 100th time. It seems like most of the good performances in the film came out of the supporting cast rather than the two main leads.
Mr. Drax, played by Treat Williams (most well known as the lead in the show Everwood) is the main villain who leads an ancient syndicate to hunt down the phantom and find the three skull idols. He is easily the best actor in the entire film and the most fun to watch. He is charismatic, over the top, and just a lot of fun on screen. The other main villain is one of Drax’s goons, Quill, who supposedly killed the Phantom before. He looks like an Indiana Jones stunt double (and definitely is Dexter’s father in the TV series).
That brings us back the full circle to the style of the film. The fact that a character stole Harrison Ford’s costume is a testimate to how much the movie wanted to be like Spielberg’s Indiana Jones series. Yet it failed to even get close to the bar set by The Rocketeer, which by no means was an enormous budget film. The Phantom’s set designs looked cheap and the costume just plain ridiculous. For a haunting name like “The Phantom”, a purple wet suite really doesn’t do it justice.
The times when the film manages to lift it’s heavy feet off the ground is in the adventurous atmosphere that it successfully develops. With hidden skulls, pirates, gangsters, and a treasure, it isn’t hard to get into the film despite it’s ridiculousness. It’s hammy, its corny but it does have a good sense of fun. So where does it leave it? It’s got some bad acting, a hammy plot, uninspired leads, but a fun premise. As much as I’d like to give it a positive review just for the last bit, it just was too much of a mixed bag for me and I know some are likely to really enjoy it while others are going to absolutely hate it.
FINAL RATING: 5/10- (50%)
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