Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bechtloff Movie Night: Spawn (1997)

Of all the early Image comics character, I think Spawn was easily the best. Of course that's sort of like being the smartest kid on the short bus. Still, while it's easy to dismiss Spawn, this is a character who got a theatrical movie released a mere 5 years after he first appeared in comics. Granted that's a record that would later be beat by Kick Ass, but this was at a time well before the flood of comic book movies we've seen over the last decade or so. This was 1997, Batman and Superman were pretty much the only superheroes to see the big screen at this point. For better or worse that's an accomplishment that you have to admire. But putting aside Spawn's place in the history of comic book movies, how does it hold up? Let's take a look.

Now before I even get into this at all I should say two things up front. First I am not a Spawn fan. My knowledge of Spawn comics is rather superficial. In fact all I really read was the first 10 or so issues and the first Spawn/Batman crossover. Also, I did not the see the PG-13 version that was released in the theaters, all I saw was the R version so that's what I'll be talking about.

Our story follows assassin/operative Al Simmons. During a mission in North Korea he is betrayed by his boss, played by Martin Sheen, and killed. Once in hell he makes a deal with a ridiculous looking CGI demon called Malebolgia.
OK I gotta stop the plot synopsis right here. That looks like shit. I know it was 1997 and CGI was still relatively new, but even by 1997 standards that is a raging dumpster fire. And you wanna know the worst part? It barely moves and doesn't even open and close it's mouth when it talks. So if you had no intention of getting any sort of complex movements out of it why not go the practical effects way and make a puppet? This is just lazy and insulting. Although I suppose being lazy and insulting is kinda appropriate for an adaptation of an early 90's Image comic.

Anyways the 64 bit demonic lord offers Al a deal. He can go back to earth if he becomes the new hell spawn to lead hell's army. He accepts and when he gets back to earth he meets two characters. One named Cogliostro, who used to be a hell spawn but freed his soul and now fights for heaven.  I really don't feel like typing his name over and over so I'm just gonna call him Reverend.

The other is the demonic Clown/Violator played by ever annoying John Leguizamo seen here farting out green smoke.
How very charming John. Reverend and Clown sort of act as the little angel and demon you see on people's shoulders in cartoons each trying to push Spawn in their direction. Spawn's former boss has a deal with Clown to release a deadly bio weapon only he has the cure for in exchange for....ummmm...I'm not really sure. I mean the government agency already had this weapon, it's not like the demon's gave it too them. They also had the cure. I really don't get why they were working with hell. Anyways Clown talks Martin Sheen into surgically implanting a device in his chest that will release the virus if Sheen is killed. Then Clown tries to get Spawn to kill Sheen. If this all sounds needlessly complicated and kinda stupid it's because it is. But at the end Spawn rejects vengeance in favor of justice and simply removes the device, destroys it, and hands Sheen over to the authorities with proof of his evil plan.

So how does this hold up? Not very well. I mean it's certainly not Batman and Robin bad, but it is Batman Forever bad. Leguizamo's Clown, while occasionally a little funny, is for the most part about as annoying as you could possibly imagine, the plot is convoluted and stupid, and many of the effects are laughably bad. In fact I think my dad summed it up nicely. He told me a few weeks ago that he caught this on a movie channel one night. Now keep in mind my dad's knowledge of comics comes pretty much entirely from comic book movies, but I asked him what he thought of it.

"It was like Ghost Rider, if it was written by a 12 year old" He told me.

Well said dad. So this may be an interesting chapter in the history of comic book movies, but it is still a pretty bad movie. But given that it was Spawn, could you really expect anything more? I mean aside from improving the effects what more could you really do with a Spawn movie? It is just Spawn after all.


  1. At least it wasn't a Rob Liefeld movie :P

  2. Actually, Superman made HIS theatrical debut in 1941, in a series of animated shorts only three years after his debut, Captain Marvel made his in serial in 1941, only ONE year after his first appearance, and Batman made HIS first theatrical appearance in 1943, only four years after HIS debut.

    Those three heroes paved the way for everyone who followed them. :)

  3. Yeah I meant actual live action full length movie

  4. Superman's first feature film was an edited version of his first serial, in 1948, so Spawn DID beat that, but Captain Marvel and Batman both beat him in turn. :)