Comic Book Movies 101: Spawn

I am a huge fan of bad films. Thought I’d just start this retrospective off with that bombshell. I can appreciate the good will invested in some pretty substandard features. It’s as if you root for the underdog when watching some pieces of cinema trash. They have character and bags of charm when compared to more professional efforts. Unfortunately Spawn is far from being a charming underdog, containing very little to recommend, even for comic book fans.

I honestly have no idea where to start with this screen travesty, which only goes to show how far comic book films have come since 1997. This is not just a bad film, but an awful and putrid attempt at a comic book adaptation. It’s no wonder studio heads were uneasy about financing big budget comic book films after this mess was released.

How bad is it you say? Well, on a scale of one to ten this easily exceeds 11 (yes I am using the Spinal Tap metaphor but in reverse), on top of which it hasn’t dated well. The story (a cut and paste rehash of Tim Vigil’s Faust) is threadbare and uninteresting at best. At its worst it’s beyond comprehension and downright unimaginative. It’s a realshame that an actor such as Michael Jai White (someone please give this man the chance to do The Black Panther) is wasted in this dreck.

As I seethe bile-fuelled hatred, you may be able to tell that I’m not a huge fan. But it wasn’t always like this. I did at one time used to enjoy this as a guilty pleasure during my teens. It’s just a shame I had to grow up and realise that I’d been lying to myself over the years, giving this cinematic turd more credit than it ever deserved.

Yes, this really is a bad film in almost every way. Actors like Martin Sheen and John Leguizamo prove to be first rate ham actors. Leguizamo himself provides so many painfully unfunny moments of camp, as to defy comprehension. All of which detracts as it goes against the film’s supposed dark and brooding tone.

All of this could easily be bypassed (or at the very least partially forgiven) if the action sequences and CGI (which astonishingly comes from several ILM contemporaries) was up to scratch. But none of the action carries any type of excitement, thrills or even enjoyment. It feels flat and lifeless, not knowing whether it wants to be teen-friendly or dark and adult. What should be one of the film’s standout moments, a shoot-out with Spawn (using his powers for the first time), is so bland it verges on the anti-climactic.

The face-off between Spawn and Violator is probably the only sequence that produces any sort of thrill, but this is minor at best. The less said about the unbelievably poor showdown in the pits of hell, the better. All of which bangs the final nail in the coffin of this cinematic turkey. It’s clear from Spawn just how little faith studios had in screen adaptations of comic books. The Crow was possibly the only adaptation in the 90s which received any sort of praise from both critics and audiences.

With its hellish box office and unimaginative execution, this feature is destined to be long forgotten within the history of comic book movies. After watching this you truly will feel as though you have been to hell and back. You’re better off reading the original source material.

Dominic O’Brien

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