THE PHANTOM. Directed by Simon Wincer; written by Jeffrey Boam; produced by Robert Evans and Alan Ladd Jr. for Paramount. Starring Billy Zane Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams and James Remar. Rated PG (should have been PG-13).
More reviews by —
Never being a fan of the comics-version Phantom, I may have missed something here. But for my money, the movie version is too goofy, too loud, too violent and, if possible, too cool.
There is, apparently, this whole mythology built up around the Phantom, a super-hero living in a remote fantasy jungle who is somehow able to come to the aid of good people in distress all over the place.
Zane plays the current incarnation of the Phantom (there have been several generations, we learn) and he looks great in the skin-tight purple suit. And he's not a had actor. He's just a little too laid back, even for such a cool super-hero as the Phantom is supposed to be. The witty one-liners he has down pat, but the overall picture is more than a little silly.
I liked his friend Diana (Swanson) much better. She's good at getting into damsel-in-distress scrapes, but then is satisfyingly good at getting out of them, often on her own, rather than always depending upon outside rescue.
A successful villain is a must for a movie like this, and The Phantom has about half of one in Williams as Xander Drax. He's convincingly evil, and is cheerfully entertaining as well. But his buoyant personality, for all its entertainment value, is completely at odds with the violent, often sadistic actions he not only condones, but frequently commits himself. The result isn't a villain you love to boo, but rather one that makes you squirm, and not pleasantly, in your seat.
One of his most objectionable scenes is a good example of how you can't measure the impact of movie violence strictly by counting bodies or fistfights. Drax gets a man to put his own eyes out using a trick microscope. The actual stabbing is off-camera, and so wouldn't show up in a traditional "violent acts" count. But the way the scene is shot, the way the climax is anticipated, the way Drax reacts to it, all make it a really sickening experience. Cartoonish disembowelings and explosions aren't usually as revolting; tone is everything.
Now this is just one brief scene, but it does rather stay with you and make you cringe in anticipation of similar outbursts. There are just one or two more objectionable scenes, but, along with the usual fistfights, sword fights, etc., it adds up, as far as I'm concerned, to PG-13, not PG.
The Phantom boasts enough well-shot fights, chases and explosions, as well as some truly outrageous stunts, to satisfy moviegoers in the market for summer-movie pyrotechnics. And the art direction is first-rate, showing us a sleek, stylish 1930's, including streets full of the most beautiful old cars!
So if any of these strong points appeal to you, or if you're a lifelong Phantom fan, you might enjoy the movie. But unless you're just dying for a summer movie experience, I'd wait for it on video.
June 19, 1996