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The Phantom Review

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The phantom must save 1930s America from a Howard Hughes-type who wants to become the American Mussolini trying to gather three bejewelled skulls which will give him occult superpowers.

★★★★★

Every couple of years, a forgotten pulp hero rides out of the past as some studio, hoping for a Batman-style franchise, buys up the rights to a comic strip-type character last seen in a 1940s Saturday morning serial.

Following the disappointments of Dick Tracy and The Shadow, here's a likeable but somewhat unexceptional adventure starring Billy Zane as the Phantom, a jungle adventurer who streaks about in a fetching but frankly silly purple body suit and bandit mask, protecting the innocent, fighting the baddies and searching for his pre-destined true love.

Set in the 30s, it has a pleasant feel - few superheroes have been as sunny and optimistic - as Zane breezes through chases and fights, stops for the odd quip - and pals around with a heroic horse, a dashing dog and the helpful ghost of his father (Patrick McGoohan). Treat Williams, a Howard Hughes-type who wants to become the American Mussolini, tries to gather three bejewelled skulls which will give him occult superpowers, while the Phantom impresses pirate queen Catherine Zeta Jones (a ludicrous performance) into changing sides, and exchanges semi-snappy patter with tomboy heroine Swanson.

Wincer and Zane are clearly amazingly enthused, but there's something missing. It's not just that the Phantom is out of step with an era that requires Batman to be a melancholic psychopath, but that, unlike TV's New Adventures Of Superman, it can't quite mix the derring-do with the romantic comedy. This is one of those movies you will like but at the same time feel a bit sorry for.

Despite the pleasant feel and fun performance from Zane there's something missing from this superhero adventure