Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Phantom (1996)

One of my guilty pleasure films has a couple of serious flaws, but a great hero and heroine which makes everything okay.

Based on Lee Falk's classic comic strip (which was the source of an excellent serial back in the 40's) this is the story of Kit Walker (Billy Zane), aka The Phantom, aka The Ghost who Walks. he's the latest man to hold the name Phantom, a title that was handed down from father to son for 20 generations. The original Phantom was the son of shipwreck survivors who were set upon by pirates. He vowed to fight evil and did so in the guise of the Phantom.

The story this time out concerns the quest to get back some jewel encrusted skulls that will unleash a terrible power if brought together. They are being sought by Xander Drax (an over the top Treat Williams) who wants to use the power to rule the world. In to the mix comes an old girlfriend of Walkers (Kristie Swenson) and a beautiful pilot played by Catherine Zeta Jones.

The whole affair is a throw back to the movies and serials of the 1940's with the result the film has some great set pieces and some terrible dialog.

In all honesty this is a film that is a great deal of fun, but you have to be willing to take it on it's own terms. It's played with a great deal of seriousness (the perfectly cast Billy Zane and Kristie Swensen) and it's also played for high camp (the awful Treat Williams and middling Zeta Jones). Part of it is the result of the actors choices, but part of it is the result of a script that doesn't know what the hell it wants to be, serious homage or jokey send up. The two styles don't mix and the film grates.(I love the movie and it makes me nuts)

The joys of this film out way the weaknesses. you have Zane cutting a dashing role as The Phantom. You have several great set pieces. You have a great romance. And you have more great action set pieces.

If you take it as motion and action on a cartoon level it's just soooo much fun.

Currently out on DVD and in cable rotation, its a film that's worth taking the time out to see and to experience if you're willing to take it on it's own terms and forgive it's flaws.


  1. I read in Bruce Campbell's autobiography (If Chins could Kill!) that the role of The Phantom was between him and Billy Zane. Can't help but think how much cooler it might have been with Bruce instead of Billy!

  2. Campbell's tone would have matched Treat Williams over the top performance and made for a different- and possibly more interesting film.