In the hope of reviving a decidedly retro superhero in the way that Warren Beatty brought back Dick Tracy in the early 90's, studios decided to make The Phantom, a film based on the comic strips from the 1930's.
The Phantom was not going to be an easy sell for audiences with the old-fashioned tone, Billy Zane wearing that purple onesie and the 30's setting even though the cartoon series Phantom 2040 was still technically on television and the movie boasted a kickass poster. It's obvious from the get-go that the filmmakers wanted to somehow capitalise on the popularity of the Indiana Jones movies as we follow some clueless explorers looking to find a skull in an old temple before the superhero shows up to foil their plans. Amusingly, the Indiana Jones movies would later emulate The Phantom by making The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull all about skulls. Looking at the box-office numbers, it seems like audiences didn't exactly flock to this movie which flopped harder than the studios probably expected.
It's a shame because, as a character, The Phantom has a lot of potential: he's basically immortal so you could set the story at any point in time, make him look any way you want as long as he's a bit purple and wears his trademark skull ring. He's a rich guy who also happens to be a superhero (Batman much?), he's got two guns (Lara Coft much?), what more do you want? Well, apparently a story that makes sense. This is what really lets this movie down: no effort was put into telling a story that stands. The skulls are nothing more than cheap macguffins that drive the whole plot which essentially amounts to various back and forth journeys between the jungle and New York until we inexplicably find ourselves underground with a bunch of pirates who, we have to assume, have always been there?
There's nothing appealing about this story and it doesn't help that the film's main villain Xander Drax (Treat Williams) is about as threatening as a puppy dog. Williams, I'll concede, gives a very entertaining performance and he's clearly having some fun in the role but even though he kills a couple of people early on, he still comes off as goofy and likeable. Casting-wise, Zane and Kirsty Swanson (love interest Diana Palmer) do a decent job and Catherine Zeta-Jones makes a terrific femme fatale even if she is wasted on this movie as her character could have easily been cut out of the film entirely. Add to that some obvious sets, props that look plastic, unimpressive special effects, random dialogs, a bizarre scene where a dog tells a horse to run after a plane (not kidding) and a silly climax and you've got yourself one flawed flick.
It's a pity that The Phantom couldn't find the right tone and couldn't tell an original, involving story because this could have been something cool, the start of a worthy franchise. Like Spawn, this one was just not meant to be. Here's hoping we get a better Phantom movie some time in the near future.