Tonight, We Spawn in Hell!
Spawn is directed by Mark A.Z. Dippe' and stars John Leguizamo, Michael Jai White, Martin Sheen, Theresa Randle, Nicol Williamson, and D.B. Sweeney. It is based on the comic book character of the same name and was Dippe's directorial debut.
Oh there's nothing like a bad superhero movie. A hero's quest to stop the evil villain and spread justice is marred by a clueless crew of filmmakers who make the hero look like a total buffoon and who have no idea how to properly execute the comic book material that someone placed in their laps. Spawn was released at one of the worst times a comic book movie could be released, and it attempted to be part of what was a long line-up of dark, brooding, attempt-to-make-you-feel-crappy superhero flicks that tried to be gritty and failed. The funny thing is, Spawn was actually kind of lucky coming out in 1997, for that was the same year that Joel Schumacher sent the Batman franchise into an 8-year hiatus with the release of the heinous crime to cinema that was Batman & Robin. I hope Mark A.Z. Dippe' sent Joel Schumacher a thank-you letter saying something like, "Dear Mr. Schumacher, Thank you for releasing Batman & Robin the same year as my first directorial project, Spawn. Because of you, my movie is safe from being considered the crappiest comic book movie of 1997. Warm regards, Mark A.Z. Dippe'" Spawn has all the faults of a first-time director, but he's not entirely to blame for all of the film's missteps. We should also be pointing fingers at screenwriter Alan B. McElroy, whose script is anything but acceptable. This is the same guy that would go on to write the universally hated Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever and a couple of WWE films, which never seem to be any good. So in hindsight, we should not have expected anything from this material.
Here we have a story involving some kind of centuries long war between Heaven and Hell. One of the rulers of Hell named Malebolgia needs someone to lead his army in Armageddon into battle at the gates of Heaven. This leader comes in the form of Al Simmons (Jai White), a CIA Black Ops assassin who is killed by his boss Jason Wynn (Sheen) while undergoing a mission at a biochemical factory in North Korea. Simmons is sent to Hell after he dies, where Malebolgia makes a deal with him. If Simmons agrees to lead the Armageddon army, he will be able to return to Earth and see his fiancee, Wanda Blake (Randle). Simmons agrees, but when he returns to Earth, he finds out that five years have passed, and Wanda is now married to another man. Guiding Simmons down the path of evil is the clown-like demon called The Violater (Leguizamo). Also taking interest in Simmons is a mysterious man with a hat named Cogliostro (Williamson).
Thankfully, Spawn doesn't overstay its welcome with a quick 96 minute run time. In those 96 minutes, however, we get a bare bones plot that is rather confusing to keep up with, especially if your first viewing is your first ever exposure to the Spawn character like it was for me. You have to keep up with not only everything involving the heaven-hell war, but also with everything that Simmons does on Earth during the film. Speaking of Simmons, I feel I should mention that after he goes to hell, he looks like a cousin of The Thing from Fantastic Four.
Anyway, Simmons' look is just scraping the surface of everything bad going on in Spawn.
- Yikes. What can I possibly say about Spawn that is good? I guess if anything, it's not horrifically boring. Not unless you don't have a sort of morbid fascination when watching a movie that you know is bad, and you want to proceed to laugh at said bad film in any way you can. I would credit Spawn with some comedy points if it was unintentionally hilarious, but the problem is, the movie actually tries to be funny! And is it funny? No. Not at all.
- Where Spawn really comes up short is in its cut-rate special effects. The sequences in hell are the worst in the film. Malebolgia looks like an awkward CGI cookie cut-out, and the hell backgrounds are totally fake-looking. Though on the plus side, sequences of Spawn using a cape to emerge and disappear are some neat visuals that are about the best that the effects get. By 1997, there must have been some sort of quality standard for visual effects, a standard that Spawn doesn't come close to reaching. Never mind the film's meager $40 million budget. Zippe' should have just cut down on the violence, because, sometimes, it's quality over quantity.
- Alan B. McElroy's script is really bad, featuring several awkward bits of dialogue and a story that doesn't know how to effectively get its point across. We get our first bad signal right from the get-go when the movie just dives headfirst into its background with no slow build-up. The narration we get is rushed and leaves your head spinning not even before we see the absurdly-long opening credits. When Simmons goes to Hell for the first time and agrees to lead the Armageddon army, Malebolgia tells him, "If you fail to lead my army, you will die." Apparently there is a Hell for Hell, but no, it's just a head-scratcher line from the script. I would give more examples, but I'd rather just let the truly curious watch the movie and find them.
- The movie is also super ugly to look at, being dominated by disgusting shades of colors most likely found in a dump or a sewer. Guillermo Navarro was the film's cinematographer, and he would go on to later win the Oscar for Best Cinematography for Pan's Labyrinth. What the hell was going on here? When the film's not taking place in hell, it's doing something in a location filled with murky lighting that sometimes isn't really comprehensible. If Navarro hasn't disowned his connection to this film already, then I hope he does it some day before he dies, or else Satan might need to have a few words with him.
I knew Spawn got pretty terrible reviews, so my expectations were pretty low. I must say though, wow. This was much worse than I imagined it would be. This is a major superhero misfire on multiple levels, and even though it's not Batman & Robin bad, it gives Batman & Robin a run for its money. I pray and hope that I don't ever have to re-watch Spawn at any point in my remaining life time. And, of course, it ends in a way to set up a sequel. Too bad that sequel never got out of development hell and will certainly never see the light of day. Spawn is depressing and chintzy, offering nothing stimulating or memorable for comic book junkies or any general movie goer. The superhero genre is much better off without the likes of Spawn defiling its name.
Recommend? Hell no
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