I Saw A Film!

For centuries a superhero of African origin has righted the wrongs of the jungle, fighting the good fight from father to son, maintaining the secrets of the purple “Ghost” suit, riding on horseback with his trusty wolf companion back before the big war in 1938. Where various hard-scrabble villains are searching for goofball anthropological artifacts that promise all manner of powers. It’s easy to forget how influential Indiana Jones was.

Our purple-suited African hero is played by none other than Billy Zane! I am guessing there just wasn’t a black actor available for the role of an African superhero in the mid-nineties. They were probably all hard at work making White Men Can’t Jump sequels. It’s OK as this particular “Africa” bears so little resemblance to anything remotely African that they could have just given the role to Klaus Kinsky or Emo Phillips for f$ck’s sake and we’d be just fine. This is an Africa without Africans, without African wildlife, nor African flora. Granted the first few minutes do open with a tribe that could pass for something resembling an African group of people who mysteriously take to the little white boy who washes ashore after a pirate attack on his father’s vessel. It’s a bit of a marvelous thing to comprehend. I was chuckling to myself when all the hype about Black Panther happened a couple of years back calling itself the first black superhero film, as, of course, it wasn’t, but when you have amazing crap like this sitting there just 25 years ago it does make one wonder! And, of course, Spawn and Blade didn’t really get the marketing push they could have.

OK racism rant aside, this is a ridiculous film in the vein of the horrible King Solomon’s Mines, which was really only watchable because Sharon Stone was a downright cutie, doing her best with material that would have made Cheech and Chong wretch (Yeah I’m still picking on those boys). The Phantom even sort of checks KSM at one point having a congenial tribe of “rope people” who help him foil some pursuers. King Solomon’s Mines had a ludicrous group of “upside down” people who swung from trees by the ankles like one-trick Cirque Du Soleil performers.

We are first introduced to a tireless adventurer played by James Remar, and I always forget how good this guy was. He appears in a bunch of stuff, always the heavy, but he’s always memorable. However, inexplicably, I always forget him. He stands out for me as the outrageous killer in the Eddie Murphy vehicle 48Hours. Remar as Quill is out causing issues and mistreating a young lad that our African Hero must soon rescue in a very made-for-tv sequence with a rope swing that physically couldn’t sky-hook to where they land. It had a feel of that old “cliff-hangers” show in the late 70s that had me hooked as a kiddo and every week I’d wait all week to see how the protagonists were going to get out of the sticky plot situation invented to keep me wondering all week (directly an old and original film serial tradition revived). When I’d tune back in a week later they’d just cheat and I’d always be mad.

The Phantom soon tires of its mock African settings and heads off to a mock NYC of the era. We are soon introduced to evil corporate madman, Dax played by Treat Williams, who hopes to own a bunch of jewel skulls which provide the aforementioned power. There is however, a secret extra skull, in the one skull “to rule them all” approach. Before long you’ve lost interest and have gotten a drink and some chips and let several minutes of the film go by while you put the laundry in the dryer. You set it on hot, but not too hot, and you toss one of those dryer sheets in because they make it smell really nice.

You catch a moment of the film where the wolf goes and “talks” to the horse and they hurry up and and arrange themselves under a disabled bi-plane that they somehow work out is going to crash and our heroes will need to jump off the plane (without anyone flying it) onto the horse. Oh, you think, it’s going to be like that.

Catherine Zeta-Jones shows up in her zenith of cuteness. She’s the bad-girl pulling off the good girl’s boots and threatening to steal them. Man, that’s just meanness. I started to hope that Jones would end up falling into a shark-moat, or into some lava for her finale, escalating the film into a more James Bond variation.

The film doesn’t deliver on crazy fantasy goods despite the all-in approach (it’s just a pile of stuff), nor does it titillate with sexuality (it is an utterly sexless film). It attempts to do a variation on the adventurer in a strange land theme but lacks anything like authenticity to carry the tired theme to a conclusion. Instead, in a rather Game of Thrones manner, it just continually adds more characters and calls that “story”. Before we get to a final showdown we’ve got Treat Williams and our heroes arriving at a volcanic island to face off with “big boss” of the pirates (you remember that pirates were the start of the whole centuries old Phantom tradition and killed the father of the original phantom). Sword fights are always a pleasure (well I like em), and somehow folks just seem to have kept their fencing skills sharp, never quite knowing when they’ll be necessary.

Shark moat and lava . . . skull fight . . . the lady switches sides . . . and well, you know, you get the idea. I just watched the thing and I can’t tell you how it ended, even if I wanted to.

it’s a freebie on Prime!

4 thoughts on “The Phantom (1996)

    1. browsing past the film, looking for something to watch, I actually thought I was looking at a mid-90s superhero film with a Black “AFrican!” protagonist . . . how wrong I was! So weird that they’d kinda follow in a “Tarzan” mode with this film!

      Liked by 1 person

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