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This film is just like the comic that inspired it: Great visuals (I
still really like McFarlane's superhero art style), but much like the
majority of "Spawn" stories, it really doesn't go anywhere. The set
looks good, the characters look good, the cape looks REALLY good, but
the story? Other than telling the origin and the standard "must stop
the bad guy" motive, it doesn't do as much as it should. And yes, I
know it's a Hell-based movie, but the metal soundtrack just got
distracting and annoying, instead of enhancing the story like it should
have. John Williams or Danny Elfman it wasn't.
Need to see the film? It's a great visual ride. Just don't expect much more than that. It did make for some cool toys, though.
Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is one of the top operatives for Jason
Wynn (Martin Sheen), who is the head of an organization called A6. When
Simmons becomes aware that A6 might be a little shady, he learns the
hard way that he isn't allowed to quit A6. This leads to his
transformation into Spawn, a superhero with a background and
motivations that are just as morally ambiguous as A6. The film largely
concerns Spawn discovering and exploring his new identity, while
working to uncover a nefarious plot and attain revenge.
If you read my reviews frequently enough over time, you'll notice that my ratings often change on repeated viewings. My rating for Spawn has definitely gone down since my last viewing, but currently, I'm giving it a generous 8 out of 10. There are a lot of things that are brilliant about the film, at least for viewers with particular, odd tastes similar to mine, but there are also too many unfortunate missteps to allow for a higher score.
Let's look at the missteps first. The main problem with the film is that screenwriter Alan McElroy and writer/director Mark A.Z. Dippe tried to squeeze far too much plot and too many characters into a 90-minute film. In retrospect, it would have been better to make one film covering everything up to Spawn's transformation (or the beginning of the transformation), and then save the other material (which comprises the bulk of the story here) for later films. Maybe Todd McFarlane, who created the comic books upon which this film was based, was worried that he wouldn't receive funding for sequels, so a multi-film plan wasn't attractive. As it is, there have been no live action sequels to date (there have been animated versions of Spawn), but I think there may have been if the first film would have been handled differently.
As the film stands, too much time has to be spent explaining the plot. The A6 plot is complicated enough, but there is a very high-concept idea behind the creation of Spawn that also has to be explained, too. Also, a lot of characters, most critically Cogliostro (Nicol Williamson--one of my favorite character actors), are basically wasted. There just isn't time to get into them.
A further problem is that both Sheen and White use odd affectations in their speech. I suppose it's supposed to be over-the-top in a comic book way, but on this last viewing, at least, it was more distracting to me. Also, a lot of the cgi-heavy effects already look very dated, and there's a weird cheesiness to most of the scenes in Hell. On the other hand, I personally like that kind of weird cheesiness, so I didn't subtract any points for that.
And speaking of weird cheesiness, I'm sure a lot of people hate John Leguizamo's character in the film (Clown/Violator), but I love it. It's exactly the kind of surreal campiness--part horror, part humor--that I cherish. As Mike Mayo has said, he's like (an evil) Krusty the Klown on acid. That works well for me, but if you're not the kind of person who loves films like Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), you probably won't like this Killer Klown either.
There is also a great campy quality to the material overall, including some of the dialogue (a scene where a father yells at a son in "Rat City" for spitting out a meal they retrieved from the garbage because it's "wasting good food" is a treasure). Spawn, the comic, is really a bizarre amalgamation of a number of different influences, from horror to twisted fairy tales, and the film is not afraid to indulge in that.
The best part of the film, though, aside from Leguizamo's character, is Spawn as superhero. The costume and devices of the costume are fantastic, the cgi for the costume is excellent (I especially loved the cape), and White (as well as the stunt person(s)) does a great job physically. All of the action sequences involving Spawn were incredible. I wanted to see a lot more of that kind of material. In fact, the visual style of the film overall is admirably creative, all the way down to the opening and ending credits.
In the end, the film teeters between being something that's "so bad, it's good" and being just a good film with some unfortunate flaws, but in either case, it's still very enjoyable to watch. You just need to approach it not expecting a realist dramatic masterpiece, but rather with a love for the absurd.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm not sure if the Spawn comics really can be adapted to a film
medium. To sum it up: you have a murdered CIA hit-man who makes a deal
with a devil, comes back as deformed creature with strange powers, and
has to deal with a psychotic demon in clown form. Umm, yeah. Maybe Sam
Raimi or Guillermo Del Toro could'be made such a film, but alas, they
didn't, and the result is an inept production.
I'll start with the good points; John Leguizamo is perfect as the Clown; both over the top and malevolent. And a few of the visual effects are impressive. And there were a few nods to the comics (Sam and Twitch making a cameo at the end). But that's about it. Here's every other problem:
1. Michael Jai White just sucks as the lead. He's terrible. His interpretation of Spawn is not particularly heroic, or anti-heroic, or likable, or has any character moments, but is just an angry guy yelling: "I'mma gonna kill Wynn! Arrgg!! These powers rock!" Gone are any of the philosophical underpinnings of the character.
2. Hell and the devil Malebolia - laughable, laughable. They could've at least animated the devil's mouth to move in sync with his voice. If this is hell, I just laugh at it. And for those who say "Hey, it was 1997; those were the visual effects of the time," I say look at Independence Day, Space Jam, and Titanic, all films made around the same time with superior effects.
3. Martin Sheen, whom we all know is a good actor, adds little to the Wynn character. He concocts an idiotic plot about inserting a bomb in his heart, so that no one will dare kill him. This plot line isn't in the comics, but even if it was it would still've been idiotic. Doctors are really going to insert a bomb in someone's heart and not think: "Gee, this guy's gonna die someday, so there's no question this bomb will go off and kill people someday?"
4. Child actor Miko Hughes shows up in a subplot, and has to look for Spawn's dog. WTF? It's like the producers realized "We should make this more family friendly by giving Spawn a kid sidekick," but then realized there really wasn't anything he could do, so they had him go look for a dog instead.
5. And after all this, we have a mess of a climax. Spawn fights off the Clown in Hell by transporting through the fireplace! And then we get the big cliché about ending with a shot of Spawn looking out on the city he will now protect. Please. An unsatisfying ending, due to zero character development or reason to care about any of the "saving" that Spawn did throughout the movie.
But there is some good in the world: after all, I walked out of this knowing that if any demonic Clown comes after me, I sure can count on Spawn to decapitate him for me. And if my dog ever runs away, I can count on Miko Hughes to find him for me. And if I ever get confused during a movie, I can count on Nicol Williamson's tacked-on voice-over to provide exposition.
And finally, if I ever go to hell, I know I can look forward to a place filled with cartoon characters. YEE HEE!
Everyone seems to agree that the original Spawn comic is excellent material for a pointless, violent, stupid and thoroughly amusing movie. This movie, however....It isn't all that violent (if you compare it to the comic book), but it is stupid and utterly pointless. Amusing? It could have been if they had inserted a prolonged torture scene of John Leguizamos Clown character: one of the most un-funny, irritating and tacky "comic relief" characters ever to have (dis)graced the screen. Move over Chris Tucker and Pauly Shore - we have a new candidate for overrated quasi-comedian of the decade. The special effects were kind of confusing - half of them were excellent and half of them looked like beautified Sesame Street animations (the demon "thing" of hell, for example, which had me crying with laughter). Let's hope for the next Spawn movie they take a few chances and make a grittier downbeat tale with more in common with the original comic and not like the muppet show from hell.
The first time I saw this...well, I wanted to like it. I had rented it
probably as soon as it came out on VHS. I hadn't read a Spawn comic but
knew one thing, he was a badass and a lot of people liked the comics. I
had high hopes. Boy, was I disappointed. Now as the time has passed and
I've gotten older, I've tried to like it for different reasons. For the
campy aspect of it, for Leguizamo's part, for anything...I still don't.
The effects are what they are, and you can't do much with a budget too low for your aspirations when it comes to a work like this. As it is, the suit and cape look pretty good, but it seems like those are the only things that any money were spent on. However, that is the least of my concerns for Spawn.
The acting is...in a word...atrocious. No one other than Leguizamo has any fun in this thing. He's like the guy at a crappy party that says, "Hey, screw it. I'm gonna have a good time whether the rest of you guys are or not!" Did I like his performance? Not really, but you have to give him credit for trying. That's more than I can say for the rest of the cast, crew, pretty much anyone else associated with this. Jai White is awful. The script doesn't help him at all but he was just the wrong choice. That said, there probably weren't too many African-Americans at the time that folks thought could pull it off, so he was chosen. Wrong choice, but I guess you do what you have to. Sheen was so bad I had to watch Apocalypse Now again just to get the vision of Spawn out of my head. Sweeney and Randle....who? They were in this thing? See what I mean?
The movie should NOT have been PG-13 either. We know well enough these days that even when a movie is put out in a director's cut on DVD with an R rating that it doesn't help much. Spawn should have been a "hard R" all the way from the get-go. It also could have helped itself being a bit longer, say 2 hrs total. But maybe it's the best thing that Spawn only tortured us for 90 mins. Any more of Spawn the way it is and you wind up thinking too much about Death's sweet release.
Like I said, I really wanted to like it. I watch it when it comes on FX or whatever other TV channel just to see if I can find a reason to like it, so maybe I won't feel the disappointment I felt the first time. It never works...and it never will.
I remember seeing this film as a kid, and i remember it being pretty
bad-ass. Joining IMDb, and seeing it at a 4.9, I was astonished. But
having been over twelve years, I decided to go out and buy the
Director's cut. Just to be blunt, it's nowhere near worthy of the
rating it's at. But, there is quite a bit of wasted potentiality. I'll
start off with the good, which really there is a lot of if you think
about it. First off, if you're really into action, look no further
because this film sports a nice amount of it. And the basic premise is
pretty interesting, but even the director's cut clocks in at under an
hour and forty minutes , so it fails to dive any deeper than it
certainly could've. The cinematography is by Guillermo Navarro, who
many of you probably know from his work with director Guillermo del
Toro ( "Blade 2", the "Hellboy" series, "Pan's Labyrinth", etc.), and
he does a bang up job. With the right direction this could have been a
masterpiece by all means. Mark A.Z. Dippé knew and carried out the bare
minimum of film making, and if you look into it is busy now-a-days with
animated Garfield productions. What a down grade, huh? About 90% of the
visuals are pretty damn good actually, and the acting as it is is all
right. For these things alone, I enjoyed this movie, where as I
despised "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" for its predictable generic
storyline and overly done flashy effects. Michael Jai White was far
from terrible and John Leguizamo was pretty terrific if not a bit
cartoony at times.
The bad points really hit this film hard. The pacing, attuned to its short run time, zooms by way too quickly with annoying video game like transitions and a score that didn't fit the film too well. Every time I was expecting more to be developed, I was let down. "Oh, this is a cool plot line-wait, what, we're moving on already? oh..okay..". And lastly, amongst 90% of the great CGI and make-up, the battle in hell is painstakingly terrible. They should've gone with an elaborate set and CGI here and there, but it becomes hopeless so you have to sit threw what you would call a lackluster climax.
But for what it is, I highly recommended this movie for its dark humor and awesome action.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie after I had seen the animated mini-series, and let me say I am sorry to have seen it all. I never really followed the comics, but after witnessing the genius of the animated version, I could never have imagined that it was possible to ruin such a good character and story so thoroughly and completely. It is flashy, campy, and ridiculous. The acting is terrible, and the effects are just terrible. The movie manages to create a completely inappropriate atmosphere and does nothing to reveal the depth and darkness of the title character. Dump this in the garbage and watch the mini-series.
There are moments in Spawn that stand out with exceptional creativity,
but what truly stands out about the movie is just how much of a mess it
The screenplay is a wreck, the acting is stiff and unconvincing, and the whole thing seems to fly by so fast, that we don't get a chance to experience much other than a look at some nifty visuals. In fairness, I suppose it is easy enough to argue that Spawn delivers its share of action sequences for a ninety minute movie, but perhaps it needs to back down a bit. It needs more story. In the end, Spawn feels like nothing more or less than an exercise in CGI and make-up effects.
It is pretty difficult to get involved with the story, in part because it makes no sense, but mostly because we simply do not care. The character of Al Simmons is about as cheap and plastic as the armour he suits up in during the second half of the feature. Quite frankly I don't find him all that likable. He is cold and nasty, even as a superhero. I really hate it when the good guys talk like the bad guys; when they cackle or make snarly remarks, like Dr. Westlake in the Darkman series.
Some of the special effects work, some don't. Our hero has a blood red cape which can expand to the size of Texas (don't ask me how). I liked that effect. The thing sort of has a computer generated life of its own, and its elegance clashes with the plastic of Spawn's armour. the primary villain is a clown from hell, who can turn into a ten foot armour plated beast which looks a bit like a cousin of the Queen from Aliens. That is another good effect. The climax takes us deep into the fiery pit of hell, which unfortunately does NOT so convincing. My screen saver is a more intimidating computer generated image. I was reminded a bit of the Brinstar level from Super Smash Brothers.
Like so many films do, Spawn ends on a note that just cries out for a sequel. Needless to say, there isn't one and there never will be. Spawn is entertaining in parts, but definitely not as a whole.
Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is an agent of a covert government
agency headed by Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen). He is angered by the
civilian casualties of the latest hit. Wynn sends him on the next
mission to attack a North Korean biochemical plant. Wynn double-crosses
him with assassin Jessica Priest (Melinda Clarke). He is sent down to
Hell where demon king Malebolgia offers him a deal. It's 5 years late.
Al returns to earth to see his love Wanda Blake (Theresa Randle) who is
now married to his best friend Terry Fitzgerald (D.B. Sweeney) and
raising his daughter Cyan. Evil minion Clown/The Violator (John
Leguizamo) reminds him of the deal to kill Wynn and lead the demon army
upon Armageddon in exchange for Wanda. Cogliostro was also an assassin
from Hell but he saved his soul and battle for Heaven.
It tries to be a darker and uglier type of comic book movie but it ends up more or less campy. I can't really take John Leguizamo seriously. Danny DeVito would have been much better. Everybody is trying too hard to be a cartoon character. Martin Sheen doesn't have to act evil. He would be so much more effect if he acts Presidential. The visual style looks cheap although Spawn himself looks good. The makeup looks pretty good and the CGI is incorporated as well as can be expected. I guess most of the effort was concentrated on the look of Spawn and everything else took a backseat.
Personal Note: I don't know how many time I have watched this movie and
each time i see it i love it more and more.The movie might be old but
it's still really well made I think it's even better then some of the
recent movies that came out.Spawn is my favorite super hero of all time
full action packed plus it has a love touch in it well the movie is
basically based on a romance.A man, Practically selling is soul to the
devil Malbolgia. Michael Jai White Does a good performance in this.
Well down to business great:A killer named Al Simmons " Michael Jai White"Want's to retire is job but is boss Jason win"Martin Sheen"send's him one last job as a set up and kill's him by burning him in a facility.He goes to hell and The devil Malbolgia tell's if he lead's his army of hell spawn's he'll let him see His wife Wanda "Theresa Randle" and the story goes on.
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