The Phantom (1996) starring Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar, Patrick McGoohan directed by Simon Wincer Movie Review

The Phantom (1996)   2/52/52/52/52/5

Billy Zane as The Phantom in The Phantom (1996)

The Spandex Plum

There are certain genres and styles of movies which you can recreate, you can take something from a bygone era and do it again with audiences loving the nostalgic feel. Unfortunately I don't think that is possible when it comes to comic book/ super hero movies because those old style super hero flicks from the 30s, 40s and 50s were very different. Okay what I mean by different is that watched now they seem camp and cheesy and to purposefully try and recreate that seems wrong yet that is how "The Phantom" comes across. I'm not just on about the fact that "The Phantom" is set in the 1930s but the action, look and humour is all old school and it makes it cheesy and not always enjoyably cheesy. Having said that "The Phantom" is not the worst super hero movie I have ever watched and whilst there is plenty which is wrong with it there is still something funny about Billy Zane in a plum coloured spandex body suit.

When evil New York businessman Xander Drax (Treat Williams - Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead) learns about 3 magical skulls which if brought together would unleash untold power he sends his henchman Quill (James Remar) and woman, Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones), to Bengalla to find the first of these skulls. It also leads to Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson), the daughter of a newspaper owner to head to Bengalla to find out what Drax is up to. But it leads to The Phantom (Billy Zane - Only You), a legendary ghost of the jungle to take action and when he discovers that Drax is after the three skulls heads to New York under his alias Kit Walker to try and prevent it from happening.

Treat Williams as Xander Drax in The Phantom (1996)

So to make something clear, everything about "The Phantom" is old school from story through to look and action and it is done intentionally or I presume so as director Simon Wincer tries to recreate the super hero movies of a bygone era. And in fairness he does with a storyline which is simple to follow and is more of a vehicle to deliver action, humour and in this case the whole nostalgic look. It does mean though that this storyline which sees The Phantom trying to stop Drax getting the 3 skulls is incredibly slim and you sort of stop paying too much attention to it as you know it won't deliver many surprises.

Instead what we are lead to pay attention to is the whole feel of "The Phantom", that nostalgic look, action and humour such as a swashbuckling sword fight, a tongue in cheek moment of megalomaniac evilness through to the way the Phantom slides down an elevator cable with his boots causing sparks. And I won't deny that all this is entertaining and does have a whiff of nostalgia about it but to be blunt it is all incredibly cheesy. And that is the problem because in trying to recapture that bygone style it goes too far and encroaches on becoming a pastiche and not a good one at that. I almost get a feel that to start with the intention was to go old school but at some point people lost faith and started to camp it up too much.

It means that whilst I am sure the intention of seeing Billy Zane as The Phantom in the plum coloured spandex body suit was firstly to deliver nostalgia and make us smile it goes too far and we end up laughing at how bad it is. It is the same when it comes to Treat Williams as the evil Xander Drax who often ends up feeling like he is trying to give us Gene Hackman's Lex Luther. It just doesn't quite work and when people start to over do it and intentionally deliver lines in a camp way it falls to bits. In the end when it comes to the performances the only good thing was that we got to see Catherine Zeta-Jones do a bit of swashbuckling action which I am sure lead to her getting the role in the Zorro movies.

What this all boils down to is that whilst I am sure the intention was to make "The Phantom" an old school super hero movie it goes too far and becomes even cornier than watching those old movies. It's not terrible in fact once you get into the fun spirit of things "The Phantom" is amusing but it certainly wont top anyone's list of great super hero movies.