Movies about comic books superheroes have traditionally concentrated only on the well-known, long established guys - - you know, the Supermans, Batmans and (one day, possibly) Spider-Mans of this world. But just recently that's all changed, with some of the trendier, more violent creations that currently fill the comic shops being given their shot at the limelight. Unfortunately, the end products (this summer's bloody brilliant Men In Black aside) have too often been terrible. The Punisher? Crap. Tank Girl? Shite. And, for many, there were only two reasons to watch Barb Wire - - the left one and the right one. Spawn, the big budget, mega effects outing that's based on Todd McFarlane's ultra-hip comic book - which ranks as one of the industry's biggest sellers since it was launched in 1992, despite hardly ever hitting comic stores on time - has been touted as the one to reverse the trend and provide us with a cinematic work as stimulating, shocking and entertaining as the literature it's based on. Unfortunately, they lied. This is one of the worst comic book flicks to ever hit the projection booth (trust me - - I've even suffered Roger Corman's never-released Fantastic Four), and must surely be one of the biggest cinematic non-events of '97.
A shame, for the plotline itself has all the potential for conflict, controversy and disturbing imagery and ideas. We meet a solid anti-hero - a government killer now resurrected as the general of Hell's armies and charged with starting the apocalypse - who the audience can root for because he's only agreed to such an abominable deal so he can see his wife and kids again. And yet, paradoxically, can we really care for someone who's doing the Devil's dirty work? The answer may sometimes be yes, but the script portrays him so confusingly (is he good guy or bad? Is his real motive love or revenge?) that the audience are never properly able to sympathise with
his sulphurous plight.
Spawn's essential problem is that age-old one of style over content, for director Mark Dippe has his background in special effects - and boy, does it show. What we have here counts as one of the most over-stylised, over-produced, overblown films to have hit the screen, with even the opening credits strong enough to induce nausea. I swear, I would have headed for the exit sometime during the migraine-inducing last 20 minutes - which are both literally and figuratively CGI Hell - had I not had to sit through the damnable thing for the purpose of this review.
The movie does have its moments. An unrecognisable John Leguizamo turns in a hilarious performance as Clown, a stumpy, bloated (and thoroughly evil) wise-cracker of a demon who helps Simmons through his painful metamorphosis into Spawn, before then changing into an infinitely less enjoyable CGI creation called Violator for the lead to fight. Our anti-hero's armour,
a biomechanical suit that's controlled by Simmons' thoughts and instincts, is truly awesome. Its shape-morphing and self- repairing properties owe a bit too much to the nimetic poly-alloy used by T-1000 in T2, but it's still a joy to behold, especially that billowing red cape.
Sadly all these side orders don't even come close to salvaging this dog's dinner of a film. Whatever story and issues may have existed in McFarlane's nicely drawn comics have been trampled underfoot by more than enough computer-generated tricks to fill ten movies, never mind one. The predictable MTV editing and wall-to-wall heavy metal soundtrack manage to irritate far more than they can ever impress. There's no artistry at work here, merely a gaggle of special effects prima donnas (the director included), each attempting to outdo the others during two rudderless, pointless, and, ultimately, very tedious hours. Avoid this film at all costs - and yes, that even includes all you fan boys out there....
A movie directed by a special effects technician - and it shows. Potentially interesting plotting and characters quickly take a back seat to a non-stop barrage of CGI bollocks so over-cooked that they quickly become underwhelming and, eventually, painful to watch. Take a packet of extra-strength Anadin if you must see it, but you'd be better off reading the original comics or waiting for the far superior animated series to show on TV or video.