Spawn 1997

The movie is an adaptation of the Spawn comic books created by Todd McFarlene, and it came out in 1997. It stars Michael Jai White as Al Simmons, a mercenary, a killing machine. Simmons is so good at killing and war that even hell itself wants him on their side as they plan their final attack on Heaven. To get him on his side, Hell works with his boss Wynn. Wynn wants world domination, Hell wants other world domination, they strike a deal. Wynn will send Simmons on a mission to take care of a North Korean biological weapon developmental facility. Reluctantly, after promising the love of his life that he will quit, Simmons accepts the mission. On the mission Wynn kills him and sets him on fire. Sent to hell, Simmons accepts to become a general for Hell. In return he will have powers to get revenge on Wynn.

Throughout the movie, Simmons, now Spawn will need to figure out who he is, what he is, how the world and the lives of those close to him have changed since his murder. And most important of all, he will need to decide if his revenge is worth setting the whole world on fire.

Spawn could have been the start of something, but it ended up being more of a cult film, not a movie that paved the way for the whole barrage of superhero movies that we are under today. Watching it now, it does seem like it came out too soon, for a whole variety of reasons.

The biggest reason as to why this movie feels like it came out way to soon is the special effects. The computer generated images have really aged poorly. That wouldn’t have been such a problem if they weren’t such a big part of the movie and the characters powers. Every scene in hell is a CGI scene from hell. The layers of hell, with the many hell soldiers feel like something out of the first or second Mortal Kombat video game. The worst CGI is the design and appearance of Satan himself. Looks like a random stock CGI animation at worst. At its best it looks like a final boss from a N64 game, like Star Fox 64 aka Lylat Wars. The practical effects, which are sadly used for less often than the CGI pick up the slack, but their quality is inconsistent as well. The suit and its demonic forms/gadgets look great, but the big fight against Violator in the alley, which switches between CGI and practical effects is confusing to say the least. That’s not to say that every CGI effect is bad. The cape looks great in every scene. There are a few scenes where the cape transforms into various shells and both the design and execution of said design look great even today.

I feel bad for the director, Mark A.Z. Dippe. In some way he is exploring unchartered terrioty. While there were superhero movies in the past, like Batman and Superman films, they didn’t deal with anything as dark as the stuff Spawn has to deal with. They were black and white, Spawn is grey. The clown Violator demon is a the biggest triumph of this movie. You have to walk a very fine line because the character is both disgusting and boorish, you want him to be a joke at times, threat at others. It also helps that John Leguizamo is all in with the role, going all out with every scene he’s in. The movie kicks up a notch every time he’s on the screen. Every artist pulls from others, those we came before them. If Dippe were to make this movie again in 2022, I’m sure he would find it much easier, and he would have a lot more guiding light as to what works both on screen and on the page of a comic book. Adaptation is a hard and complex business, especially when you must do it as a pioneer.


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