Monday, 5 April 2010

No.25 : The Phantom

The 1930’s must have been a tough time for criminals with a taste for antiquities, what with Indiana Jones, The Shadow (see No. 2) and now ‘The Phantom’. It's probably got something to do with the innocence of the time before the second world war, or perhaps the new technologies which meant that inter continental travel was possible. Personally I think the studios had a pile of spats that they needed to use up.

This tale opens on the highs seas with a big fight between some sailors and a gang of pirates. After seeing his Dad killed a young lad manages to escape overboard and is washed up on a remote island into the hands of some savages. Rather than stick him in the pot they train him up to be a crime fighter who wears a purple body stocking, as you do.

We fast forward to the present of the 1930’s and meet up with a scum bag gang of tomb raiders. We know they are bad as they cuss a lot and treat their child guide badly, but effectively they only do what Indiana does only with less style and budget. After finally realising their quest for a jewelled skull they encounter The Phantom and see him off rather easily.

Back in New York media mogul Drax is happy with his new treasure. Legend has it that once the skull is teamed up with its two compadres the bearer will become really tough and the Phantom can’t have that. After taking some guidance from his dead Dad, Patrick ‘The Prisoner’ McGoohan and stabling his frankly useless horse and wolf sidekicks The Phantom heads to the familiar streets of New York where the crime fighters are ten deep on Sixth Avenue.

The second skull is quickly sourced and these two handily point the way to the third on a big map conveniently located on the wall. As the baddies head off on their seaplane with The Phantom’s squeeze as a hostage our hero hitches a ride to the big set where their showdown will take place. Will the skulls be reunited? and can The Phantom save his girl and continue the line of masked adventurers that stretches back 400 years? Possibly not as there hasn’t been a sequel in 14 years…

I quite enjoyed this campy, derivative nonsense. ‘The Phantom’ clearly has his origins in the Saturday morning matinees and a lot of his baggage doesn’t really translate well into a modern film. He is a bit of a Bruce Wayne but without the gadgets and know how. He gets regularly bested in fights and although that may be to emphasise his vulnerability it just comes across as him being a bit rubbish. He has a faithful wolf and horse, both of which look so trained up that you half expect them to stop for a treat after every party piece.

The Phantom’s main power is that of the fear he puts amongst his enemies given his appaenent ghost like powers of being 400 years old. I know times are simpler but surely someone would’ve suggested it’s different men in the same suit?

Billy Zane is clearly having fun in the lead but suffers from the eternal dual identity problem of sounding exactly the same as his alter ego. At one point the leaves his taxi in his civvies and returns in his Phantom suit to the confusion of his cabbie. ‘Why the Halloween suit’ would’ve seemed a more likely reply.

Down the cast you get Treat Williams as the Howard Hughes like Drax, who clearly has lesser ambitions before his space station project can get off the ground. He does have an overly elaborate line in microscopes and his inevitable demise is a bit low key given what has gone before. The film also sees an early role for Catherine Zeta-Jones who plays a bitchy ball breaker. Her character arc is poorly defined but there seems to more than a bit of a lesbian motivation to her turn around - that plot I could have seen developed!

The film has pretty good production values and some cracking locations. It does look like the budget was blown prior to the big showdown which seems to take place in a ropey pirate themed restaurant. The film does however not take itself too seriously and although undemanding it is pretty good fun and certainly better than ‘The Shadow’. 58%

THE Tag Line : Better than ‘The Shadow’

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