Spawn 1997

With the impending release of a new Spawn film next year that will be written and directed by original comic book artist Todd McFarlane (!), it’s time to take a look back at the eclectic 1997 version. It’s a mixed bag that’s mostly filled with stuff I love, in particular a real nasty comedic edge brought to the table by John Leguizamo’s profane, obese, horrific hell clown The Violator, who lets face it, kind of steals the show. I read that every actor under the sun was considered for the lead role, from Denzel to Samuel L. Jackson to Tony Todd, but I feel like they really lucked out with martial arts legend Michael Jai White, whose sinewy presence lends itself to the dark character and practically radiates pent up rage. Spawn was once Al Simmons, a government assassin who was royally fucked over by the evil mercenary Wynn (Martin Sheen, trying his darnedest to shake the good ol’ Hollywood boy image) and sent to the fiery pit of hell, only to be resurrected as a half demon antihero with more whacked out powers than Beetlejuice and a serious hankering for revenge. That’s this movie anyways, I’m not sure how faithful it is to the comics. Guided by a pseudo Van Helsing looking mentor dude (Nicol Williamson in his final screen role) and pining for the wife (Teresa Randle) he widowed, he embarks on a bloody odyssey to… well to kill Martin Sheen and anyone who gets in his way doing it. Oh yeah, and Leguizamo’s demon clown follows him around making horrifically dark jokes (“I’ve been around since before you were soup in your momma’s crotch) and chewing more scenery than the actor has in the rest of his collective career, which is some fucking achievement. It’s funny because this film simultaneously contains some of the best and worst special effects of the 90’s; Spawn looks, feels and sounds terrific, with tactility and tangibility that should be admired, swooshing reptilian cape, glowing eyes and all manner of slice n’ dice weaponry. However, when we see him visit the devil in hell, the CGI used to bring old Satan to life look absolutely abysmal, like a Starfox final boss they forgot to completely render. I suppose they didn’t have enough budget to make everything slick, but honestly they should have just cut those scenes completely rather than have that embarrassment parade across the screen. Still, it’s hardly a blight on the movie and if anything is part of its scrappy charm, I’ve just been accused of being too much of a critical Pollyanna lately, so I have to throw in the occasional jab at a film I love just for credibilities sake in this snooty community of cinema we live in. Overall this version of Spawn is a blast of beautiful special effects, horrific imagery, vivid performances and Leguizamo mugging the camera like an aggressive dog. I’ve read that he was in that fat suit for so many takes one time that he actually had to deliberately piss himself, which I’m sure only added to the manic energy he has, like how’s that for method acting. I’m not sure what McFarlane has planned for his new one (Jamie Foxx has landed the lead), but I’d advise him to retain the bite and ferocity this one has, as well as its dark humour, weird dream logic and practical effects vs CGI. I’m sure he knows what he’s doing though, it’s not like he’s the original creator of the whole comics series or anything.

-Nate Hill

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