Superman4 revisits "The Phantom"

My thoughts on the 1996 movie "The Phantom"

Reviews Opinion

“It all began a very long time ago. When a small boy saw his father savagely murdered by pirates of the Singh Brotherhood. He jumped overboard and was washed ashore on a mysterious jungle island called Bengalla. The Bengalla tribe that lived on the island scooped the boy up and took the boy back to their village. It was then and there the boy realized he was destined to avenge his fathers death by fighting piracy, greed and cruelty in all their forms. When he grew to be a man he became the first Phantom.”

The superhero movie released in 1996 known as The Phantom takes place in 1936. It follows a man named Kit Walker who is the 21st Phantom. He carries on the oath the original made all those years ago, just as his father and father’s father did before him. After a power mad businessman has his goons steal one of three magical skulls The Phantom must stop him and save the life of his former love who has gotten herself stuck in the middle of all the chaos.

The Phantom character was created by play writer Lee Falk. Having grown up with stories of Tarzan and Robin Hood he created a comic strip that would follow the adventures of Kit Walker aka The Phantom. The Phantom was the first superhero to wear tights and have pupil less eyes when wearing his mask. Both which became popular trends of comics in years to follow.

Director Simon Wincer (Free Willy) directs this film much in the style of the movie serials of the 1930’s and 40’s. With smooth camera movements that allows you to see all the action. Wincer shows that he understands the source material and it feels like a comic book brought to life. The locations and cinematography are just beautiful. One individual stated “Didn’t feel like there was over the top CGI and you could tell they filmed on location rather then in front of a green screen.” You see this was 1996 before the computer effects where heavily used and spoiled movie goers. You actually can believe that the Phantom is riding his horse through the jungle because they were actually in a jungle filming it and not in front of a Green Screen. The Soundtrack is superb and can really excite you during action scenes. The script although described by one as “weak.” was described by others as “top notch.”. Really I felt the script was written well and was written for the Phantom. Like it could have been taken straight from one of Lee Falk’s comic strips, which allot of the plot points actually were.

Of course the thing that typically draws people to movies is it’s stars. Playing the 21st Phantom/Kit Walker is Billy Zane (Titanic, Dead Calm). Even those who didn’t like the movie agree that Billy Zane was fantastic as The Phantom. One person said this about Zane “I thought Billy Zane pulled off the personality of a hero and has a little since of humor.” Another said “He almost has a superhero quality to him.” Zane really brings the character to life with the dedication and precision that Christopher Reeve brought to Superman and succeeds in making being the good guy a positive thing. Which I feel some superhero movies of today lack, some making it seem to be more fun and rewarding to be the bad guy then the hero. Zane went as far to read up on the character to mimic the Phantoms body language and movements. He also pumped iron for over a year so he could wear the costume without fake muscles. Kristy Swanson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) plays the love interest, Diana Palmer. Swanson plays Diana very well. She’s a very strong character but often takes on more then she should getting herself into trouble. She is in no way a helpless damsel, often punching the bad guys. Swanson also has great chemistry with both The Phantom and his secret identity Kit Walker. Treat Williams (Deep Rising, Heartland) plays the main villain, Xander Drax. Williams plays Drax as a power mad businessman but often comes across as to over the top. Two individuals I interviewed stated that he was the weakest part of the movie. Much like Gene Hackman’s Lex Luther in Superman the movie. It just doesn’t seem he took it as seriously as the other actors did. However this doesn’t ruin the film, in fact you might say it’ll make you enjoy his inevitable defeat more. Despite Drax being over the top his right hand man Quill, played by James Remar (Dexter) is done very well. He is very menacing and a guy you love to hate. There is definitely a rivalry between Quill and The Phantom due to the fact Quill is the one who is always running into the masked hero who always defeats him. There is also a shocking discovery that The Phantom finds about Quill later in the film that adds to the rivalry. Catherine Zeta Jones (Entrapment, Zorro) also plays a pirate who assists Drax in his quest for the magic Skulls.

You may be wondering, how does The Phantom match up to other superhero movies like Spiderman or The Dark Knight? The Phantom does something that most comic book movies are afraid to do. Which is be what it’s suppose to be, a comic book movie and not modernize it. The Phantom is a very spirited movie much like the Superman the movie and Spiderman movies. It’s not as dark as The Dark Knight. One person stated “The character was more real because it was about his inner strength and skills. Not about him using all these fancy gadgets.” Another stated that “The Phantom does what he does because it’s his heritage and it’s the right thing to do.” I agree with both statements. The Phantom isn’t the hero because he has to be, he’s the hero because we wants to be. In short The Phantom as a movie and a character deserves as much recognition as popular characters like Superman, Spiderman and Batman.

The Phantom is a action packed thrill ride from start to finish. Also having enough romance to interest the ladies. The story is also intelligent enough to be interesting and fast paced at the same time. Although one person I interviewed described the Phantom character as “Out dated and limited.” However the other four say that he is both “heroic and human” . If you are looking for a fun movie there is no better movie to watch then The Phantom. At first you might be a little skeptical about a man wearing purple tights in the jungle but once you see Billy Zane’s Phantom in action you’ll instantly be won over.


Concept Art: Billy Zane's THE PHANTOM (1996)

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