Spawn (1997)


I just never saw the hype behind Spawn when I was a kid in the nineties. While everyone sang the praises of Todd McFarlane, and everyone I knew ate up the Spawn comics with a shit eating grin, convinced Spawn was the second coming of comicdom, I just could never understand the big deal. Throughout the decade of the nineties I’d be like that guy in the museum who’d have to take four steps back to try to understand a painting and then just shrug in confusion and move on to something else. That was me with Spawn. Everyone I knew loved it, I’d take four steps back time and time again to re-evaluate if I was missing something key to it, shrug and move on to something else. Even with the meticulous collectible action figures being released for collectors, and the spin-offs of the comic being doled out for fans, I just could never quite grasp why this title in particular struck a chord.

Thankfully I wasn’t the only one to think this as Todd McFarlane’s momentum eventually wore off in to nothing, while Spawn ended up fading in to obscurity as another nineties relic that no one has interest in reviving any time soon. And who can blame them? Beyond his cool costume, the story of Spawn is tedious, self-important, C grade schlock. It’s ridiculous. And what’s worse is that the studio who adapted “Spawn” in to a mid-budget superhero film turned self-important C grade schlock in to campy action schlock. The film version of “Spawn” completely misses the point of the comic books, which is not to say there’s much of a point to the comic books than to convince the reader it’s high art. When really it’s mostly derivative hogwash pandering to the awful nineties edgy fad where every hero had to be dark, gritty, perpetually scowling, and wielding a humongous gun. New Line opts to dodge the religious themes and mythical diatribes, and for good reason.

It’s self-indulgent and nonsense. My first time going to see “Spawn,” I was fourteen and fifteen minutes in to it I felt like a ninety year old as the film just seemed intent on assaulting all of my senses. I kept covering my ears cringing, and looking around asking “This is loud. Is this loud to anyone else?”  Michael Jai White plays Al Simmons, a mercenary who is set up by his boss and cohorts to take the fall for a botched hit. Simmons is left to burn alive and is sent to hell for eternal damnation. Inspired by hatred and intent on avenging his death, the evil Malebolgia grants him resurrection, and vengeance with the help of a living sleek super suit that allows him to bring down his enemies, all with the promise of leading the armies of hell in to Earth. Meanwhile Martin Sheen is an evil military exec threatening chemical warfare, DB Sweeney is glum, John Leguizamo plays the scenery chewing Klown whose mission seems to be antagonizing Simmons for the whole film with flat comic sketches, while Simmons basically walks around moping about his wife Wanda and stalking her daughter.

“Spawn” is basically a wasted effort and one that’s aged about as well as the character has in modern culture. The title character is so archaic and bland with his mission in this new life utterly uninteresting and void of any compelling material for the audience to chew on. As for the special effects, they are awful, even for a film in 1997. It’s hard to believe five years earlier Steven Spielberg brought us dinosaurs on film that look amazing, even by today’s standards, and “Spawn” can barely muster up enough respectable CGI to convince us Spawn is in hell let alone wielding a humongous cape that lives and breathes. The characters knock around on-screen while director Dippe delivers an uneven film in tone and atmosphere. Sometimes the film opts for inadvertent comedy while other times it wants to solely be a Gothic action horror film. To boot while the comic book counterpart of Spawn relied more on horror devices to bring down his enemies, this Spawn is more comfortable around endless firearms and quirky one-liners.

And this character is so brilliant, when he can barely scathe a monster with a machine gun, he just fires at it some more and hopes for the best. By the time “Spawn” rolled around, the momentum of the series and McFarlane was wearing off and fan boys in America began to realize that there really wasn’t as many dimensions to Spawn and McFarlane as he’d originally convinced them it held. There’s been talks of a reboot for almost two decades after this nonsense stumbled in to theaters. All things considered I think Spawn should remain in the nineties with his other forgettable anti-hero cronies. “Spawn” has aged about as well as a banana in the sweltering sun, and in the process the film in all of its schlocky, campy, nonsensical glory reveals that the initial premise birthed by Todd McFarlane really was never too high brow to begin with. Let Spawn rest in peace in the nineties with “memorable” characters like Prophet, Supreme, and YoungBlood; it’s where he deserves to be.

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