The Phantom (1996)
Written by Jeffrey Boam
Directed by Simon Wincer
Runtime 100 min.
3.5 out of 5
A ship taken over by pirates. The death of a father. A young boy thrown overboard. Washing up on the shore of the Island of Bengalla. A strange ritual and a vow. When that boy grew up and became a man, he became the Phantom.
Centuries later, this boy’s descendant—the 21st Phantom (Billy Zane)—is protecting his beloved jungle when thieves steal a sacred skull from a lost treasure trove. The Phantom learns the significance of the skull and discovers it is one of three and should someone ever possess all three, they would have ultimate power. Trailing the stolen skull to New York, the Phantom, now under his civilian guise of Kit Walker, seeks to track down the remaining skulls. While there, he reconnects with his old flame, Diana Palmer (Kirsty Swanson), and the two need to reconcile past differences while Kit learns the location of the second skull. Meanwhile, evil businessman Xander Drax (Treat Williams), in cahoots with the Sengh Brotherhood, a band of pirates—the descendants of the same pirates that were responsible for sinking the ship of the father of the first Phantom—wants the skulls for himself. Drax, too, discovers the location of the second skull at the same time Kit and Diana do and after a failed attempt at disposing of Kit, kidnaps Diana and takes her to the location of the third: an uncharted island.
Good confronts Evil when the Phantom seeks to rescue Diana while also stopping Drax and the Sengh Brotherhood from uniting the three skulls and becoming a powerful force in the world.
Phantom lore is fascinating, especially the idea that he never dies, or, at least, that’s what criminals and evildoers everywhere think. The Ghost Who Walks has been around since 1936, which predates Superman, making the Phantom one of the earliest superheroes.
I remember seeing trailers for this flick back when it first came out and getting all excited. It was a superhero, swashbuckling adventure. Even saw it in the theatre. On that day I was running a bit behind. If I remember right, I missed the previews and came in right when the movie was starting. The first words I saw were the words that kicked off the film, “For those who came in late.” I really thought the movie somehow knew I was late—or people like me—because then it went into a recap of the Phantom’s origin before launching into the main story. Ahh, to be a young, gullible fanboy again.
This movie was clean, wholesome superhero fun. There was a decent story, superhero action, humor and adventure, with a little romance thrown in. It didn’t take itself seriously, but wasn’t a giant camp-fest either. I still pop it in the DVD now and then and enjoy The Phantom as a nice break from the oh-so-heavy-drama-laden superhero movies of today. Sometimes you just want to see a good guy busting bad guys and that’s it.
Nowadays, this movie falls short in a few places—the “wow factor,” the costume, the life-or-death-save-the-world-or-die storylines—but I was happy with Billy Zane’s portrayal of the Phantom and with the movie as a whole. I’ve never read any of the comics so my view is completely on the flick and it being a simple superhero story. I will say that this movie has stirred in me an interest in the Phantom and am thinking of one day getting into the comics that spawned him.
The movie is definitely kid-friendly and as a parent who doesn’t let his kids watch a good chunk of today’s superhero flicks due to their mature content, this is one I’d recommend for families or those just looking for a break from the more grownup, adult-oriented superhero movies of today.