Canister X Movie Review #68: Spawn (1997)
Written by Alan McElroy
Directed by Mark A.Z. Dippé
Runtime 96 min.
3 out of 5
Seasoned soldier Al Simmons is double-crossed by his boss, Jason Wynn, and is assassinated. Heading straight to Hell, Al cuts a deal with the devil and is sent back to Earth. The catch? It’s five years later and his beloved wife Wanda is married to his best friend. Worse, Al’s rethinking his vow to lead Hell’s war against Heaven. Endowed with the powers of a hellspawn, he not only looks terrible but is hounded by a demented and demonic clown and finds himself at a crossroads as to what to do with these new abilities. Deciding to take his fate into his own hands, Al begins to mark out his own path as Spawn.
This movie is a CGI extravaganza unlike anything that had ever been seen in a superhero film at the time. Most of the effects are computer, and I mean com-put-er, but those were how effects looked back then so whatever.
That stuff aside, the movie’s all right. They got Al’s origin right, but really seemed to tame down the gruesome exploits of a hellspawn for mainstream audiences. Realistically, a true Spawn film would be rated R and loaded with language and so much gore that even the most desensitized audiences would cringe.
Michael Jai White as Spawn worked for me. He was tough, brooding, had the grumbly voice, and the dude knows how to fight! (He’s a real-life martial artist in several disciplines.)
John Leguizamo as the Clown/Violator was awesome. He was disgusting, funny, rude and was a thorn in Al’s side right from the get-go.
The story seemed more like an overview versus the thick of Spawn’s mythos. Spawn does have a dense mythology with a lot of players and it’s real hard to get all that into an hour-and-a-half movie. At the same time, they didn’t have a choice but to go short and sweet because Spawn—back then and outside of the comic book universe—was completely unknown. Even now, unless you’re a comic fan, not many people know who he is. Hard to convince a studio to green-light a long Spawn movie.
On the plus side, this flick is intensely atmospheric and harkens back to Tim Burton’s Batman movies in a lot of ways. There is a sense of Spawn’s world throughout the film and not just, “Oh, this is happening in that city down the block.” Some of the fights were top notch, too, especially the Spawn vs Violator battle when the Clown first reveals his true form. This was new for comic book flicks at the time and should not go unappreciated.
Maybe Spawn’ll get a second shot at the big screen? There have been rumors of that for years. You never know.