December 16, 2012

Spawn (1997): Not The Director's Cut

I used to be the greatest defender of Spawn, the film inspired by the groundbreaking comic as created by Diet Clive Barker Todd McFarlane. I saw the film in 1997 in the theaters and bought the soundtrack. This was worthy of over 15 years of going 'hey, that film is actually really good'. Now I can see that I was actually semi-retarded in 1997 and that the only thing running through my mind was boobs, guns, cool masks, and explosions, all of which Spawn has in varying quantities.

Not that I don't stop thinking about those things now but somewhere between total mental incapacity and the supposed road to recovery of my 30s, I've realized that despite the cool masks, the PG-13 amount of boob hintage, really well done masks, and CGI explosions that make Babylon 5 look like Lord of the Rings, I need a little bit more from my superhero films.

Now, don't get me wrong, Spawn did a lot of things ahead of it's time. While 1989's Batman was 'dark', it was also Tim Burton dark (see 'stupid'). Spawn was the actual attempt at bringing something sinister to the comic book film world and I have to respect it for that. I also love the fact that a black actor got to take the helm and lead the way (granted spending 90% of the time in full body makeup and losing his woman to a white man).

But I also think these things were accidents because the script for Spawn, well, at least the theatrical cut, is pretty silly and cut and pasted together. We never really get to see Spawn, the character, as anything more then a revenge-happy killing machine ... which is fine, but this was being billed as a superhero movie and, to me, most superheroes like rescuing people from time to time as opposed to pushing little kids, kicking dogs and getting all spitty whenever someone looks at him wrong.

Add to that that we are introduced to Spawn in human form as Al Simmons, a mercenary who, though misled, murders a billion innocent people in the first five minutes. Naturally, his remorse is ... there ... but he reluctantly accepts one more mission from the fishy Martin Sheen and then says he'll quit. We know this because he tells his wife, who seems completely fine with her husbands murderous activities, that he'll just have to do one more mission. Apparently, international assassination jobs and industrial terrorism in the name of better business is just like leaving the house for an insurance racket at the local Geico. 'Bye honey ... I am off to my new mission. Keep dinner in the oven!'

So anyway, Martin Sheen has made a deal with the devil, quite literally, to infect the entire population with a virus so that he can amass a lot of wealth and power ... even though by making these infected humans vulnerable, Satan will naturally invade Earth, make the wealth and power useless, and basically make the eradication of humanity just one step more then necessary. Well, at least after Satan invades heaven first with a leader, basically chosen at random, to lead essentially exact replicas of the man-warrior they are trying to create. I don't get it either.

Anyway, since Simmons is about to quit, Sheen and his breastful sidekick Melinda Clarke realize they only have this last mission to turn Simmons into Spawn. I mean, if he quit and everything there would be no way to track him down and force him to do it. I mean, Sheen is a bastard but he has standards. He would at least want Simmons to burn to a cinder and become the vanguard of hell's army on neutral territory as opposed to in the suburbs where it can get messy.

So Sheen sends Simmons on a vague mission to North Korea where he gets betrayed, shot, killed, and then burned to death until he dies from it. And then, naturally, goes right to hell. Where he encounters a CGI coyote whose lips don't move and talks like Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. He is then showed life as it has progressed in the last five years (! long commute from North Korea to hell) in which Simmons best friend has married the super underrated mega-babe Theresa Randle, who used to be Simmons main squeeze. The former best friend, D.B. Sweeney, propaganda man for Sheens' assassination service, also fathers a child with Randle (who wouldn't really).

Simmons, now all burned up and crispy decides his wife's fairly acceptable decision to move on and marry someone she trusts years after his death is the motivation for becoming a hell-spawn super demon who will burn the gates of heaven and murder anyone and everyone in the name of hairy CGI coyote thing.

The next half hour is a bit unclear (well, relative to the rest of the film anyway) as Spawn, as he is now known, comes to Earth and kind of walks around yelling and growing very bad CGI chain things from his pelvis and wrists. He also has a cape that is the size of a building and it helps him fly, block bullets, and turn invisible for short periods of inconvenient time.

Spawn's guide through this birthing process is Clown (or Violator) played perfectly by John Leguizamo. I really can't bash Leguizamo here because he really saves this movie by being completely hysterical and frightening as Clown. His performance is only seconded by Martin Sheen who so often looks as bat shit insane as his son Charlie would become that you can't help but see the Nicholas Cage sized genius of his performance as the big bad human villain.

Back to the film: Clown slowly convinces Spawn to murder everything and anything but, in the end, nothing can tear away the bond of a Spawn from his dog; seeing his beloved Spaz licking his hell-encrusted burn marks, Spawn realizes he needs to save Theresa Randle and his daughter (?), and maybe his dirtbag friend, instead of doing that whole heaven gatecrashing slaughter thing.

It isn't totally clear why Spawn is so important to CGI Coyote things' plans. When Spawn fights anybody, his main weapon is artillery from man-made guns. And when he fights Clown in his Violator form, Violator kind of beats the living shit out of him. So why not send Clown as Violator to lead the armies into heaven? I'm sure angels can block bullets and easily dispatch a man with an oversized cape.

Well, whatever ... and you jesus freaks out there will love me now ... but Satan is kind of dumb so his plan backfires and Spawn, realizing he has the power to shoot green jism from every orifice of his body, single handedly wipes out all of Satan's army and makes the Clown disperse in a pool of green goo. In the end, Earth and heaven are safe from an organization in hell that really wasn't that well put together in the first place.

I really like the performances in the film and it helps rescue it from being a complete disaster. Michael Jai White, as Simmons/Spawn, is fine but is mostly in big make-up and grunting so really, anyone could have played him. Martin Sheen and Leguizamo were fantastic so no complaints there. D.B. Sweeney was bitchy and whiny while Theresa Randle was gorgeous. She also does a devil dance thing at the end that made me hard ... pressed to say anything bad.

Oh, and Melinda Clarke. Boobs.

Also, the makeup effects are top notch. Clown's make up job is incredible as you don't recognize Lguizamo at all. Same goes to burn victim White, who is kind of gross as the physically abused hero. When he turns into full-on Spawn, the costume and make-up fusion is flawless and, regardless of the mess this film is story-wise, seeing Spawn pose and blow shit up is impressive.

However, for a film heralded as the 'special effects event of the year', the creators made sure that you could guess the year of the visual effects as each year passed. Not all visual effects from 1997 were bad (some still hold up well today) but it seems Spawn decided to go with the 'other' studio to complete the job here. This movie is laughably horrendous with its visuals ... so much so that even if the story were top notch, this would be a hard sell on visuals alone.

*bad visual effects, meet awesome make-up design

Sadly, the Spawn animated series was on HBO before the film came out and it seemed darker, more frightening, more adult and more put-together then this film. And that might be why there never was a sequel even though this origin story of course left everything open for multiple continuations.

Even as a nostalgia-burner this one fades fast. But the soundtrack is still pretty killer so it has that going for it.

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