The Phantom (1996)

Genres - Adventure, Fantasy  |   Sub-Genres - Superhero Film  |   Release Date - Jun 7, 1996 (USA)  |   Run Time - 120 min.  |   Countries - Australia , United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Karl Williams

Despite a gifted writer, a talented director, and an instance or two of nifty casting, this adaptation of a once-beloved pulp hero into modern cinematic form suffers from the stiff, anachronistic style in which it presents its hero. A fey playboy secretly masquerading as a superhero is certainly not an unfamiliar concept; notwithstanding their ages, the Phantom and Batman were just the latest in a series of costumed crime fighters when they were invented in the 1930s. However, it's a bizarre and not terribly well-considered choice on the part of screenwriter Jeffrey Boam and director Simon Wincer to keep intact several elements from the original comic strips. Among them are the hero's distracting, highly goofy purple outfit, an alarming and rather politically incorrect depiction of minorities as lethal exotics, and a condescending but simultaneously starry-eyed Depression-era attitude toward the leisure class. All of this means that one could label the film a nostalgia piece and, indeed, those old enough to remember the heyday of the original hero might be entertained. Everyone else will be boggled by this mystifying picture, especially in comparison to other recent comics-derived concoctions such as Batman (1989) and its sequels or The X-Men, that deserved and received stylistic makeovers for their big-screen debuts. The inclusion of Boam in the roster of filmmakers would seem to indicate that an Indiana Jones vibe is also being grasped at, but the genius of Jones is that he's a thoroughly modern character stuck amidst two-fisted pulp circumstances. The Phantom (1996) is somehow removed from the needs of such chronological reality, remaining precisely as it would have been made in 1936 had the technology existed, an interesting experiment that nevertheless has little to say to audiences 60 years later.