Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


An exciting moment from The Phantom
Lee Falk's comic strip

THE PHANTOM (1996). Director: Simon Wincer.

The Phantom, whose real identity is Kit Walker (Billy Zane), is the 21st in a long line of masked and costumed white heroes in the African island nation of Bengalla. Now that his father (Patrick McGoohan) has been murdered, Walker has taken on the mantle, which means he must temporarily walk out of the life of his lady love, Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson) -- until she is kidnapped. The Phantom's main adversary is Xander Drax (Treat Williams), who employs a beautiful mercenary and pilot named Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who in turn leads a whole gang of lady pilots. In addition to Drax, and his nasty  henchman Quill (James Remar of Blink), the Phantom must also contend with Kabai Sengh (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa), who runs an infamous and long-lived Brotherhood that operates out of an elaborate hideout in a cave on a mysterious island. Both Drax and Sengh are after three metallic skulls which will create a tremendous energy force when joined together, but both men need to be careful what they wish for ... The Phantom is based on Lee Falk's long-running comic strip (still published today), and is a highly entertaining and well-produced adventure film, although some of the plot points -- especially those concerning the skulls -- are over-familiar and never quite work. But there are some outstanding and thrilling action scenes in the movie, especially one in which The Phantom tries to save the life of plucky little Zak (Chatpong "Jim" Petchlor) as they dangle from a rope bridge that is falling to pieces after the heavy truck they are riding in crashes through it -- this is as good as anything in any classic cliffhanger. Billy Zane is fine as the Phantom, while Treat Williams [Deep Rising] tries to play in a jaunty style that doesn't really work that well, although Zeta-Jones scores as the sexy good girl/bad girl, Sala. Kristy Swanson [Deadly Friend] is pretty and competent but makes much less of an impression in this; she's primarily a television actress. Patrick McGoohan of The Prisoner only appears as a ghost.

I originally saw this movie in theaters and pretty much forgot about it, although it is certainly a worthwhile picture, with striking settings (from Africa to Manhattan to the Bermuda Triangle), a rich score by David Newman, and superb cinematography by David Burr. Perhaps my ho-hum reaction at the time was due to my comparative disinterest in the main character, and the fact that the plot could have used a little work. Still, this is a notable comic strip movie, well-directed by Simon Wincer.

Verdict: Believe it or not, this is better than the cliffhanger serial, The Phantom, ***. 


Neil A Russell said...

I saw this in the theater when it came out and believed I was the only person that liked it.
I liked Zane's smartass portrayal of the lead and he genuinely looked like he enjoyed playing the part.
Treat Williams is a fine actor, but his character just wasn't written to be bad enough (that was my main complaint with the villain in "Remo Williams") and the way he played it was just a little too enthusiastic. All that "Oh wow! Look at this!" wore thin.
I agree, it was beautifully filmed and the action sequences were far beyond anything the old serial could offer.
If I had to nitpick at anything, it would be the strange feel of the traffic on the city streets (just seemed too choreographed), and that silly chase scene with the airplane and the horse.

William said...

Dead on, Neil! Yes, I remember thinking that there seemed something "staged" about the flow of traffic on the alleged Manhattan street -- it did look weird, didn't it? And I agree with you about the sequence with the plane and horse -- it seemed a little ridiculous even for this kind of movie. Treat Williams' approach to the role was a little tiresome, as you say, but Zane did seem to be having fun with it and reportedly he really lobbied to get the part. Too bad the film went nowhere and there were no sequels.

Thanks for your comments!

angelman66 said...

What a cast! Must see this. Big fan of Zane and of Williams, who stole my heart in "Hair" and "Prince of the City."

William said...

Then you'll love this movie, as they are the most prominent actors in the cast. Lots of fun, too!

Britt Reid said...

Zane was/is a HUGE fan of the character, and worked his butt off to get the role.
He even shaved his head so the cowl would fit correctly!

William said...

Yes, Zane was very anxious to get the part and was very good as the Phantom. Too bad it never became a film franchise, as it was a good movie.

Thanks for your commen and for the link!