Friday, April 23, 2010
Spawn is one of those interesting misfires from the nineties — long before Hollywood "cracked" the comic book movie code. There are several culprits: questionable script, cheesy production values, inconsistent tone, lack of character development, etc. But it's hard to point the finger at just one...
The premise itself is pretty strong. A murdered black ops agent makes a deal with the Devil: in exchange for the opportunity to be reunited with his wife, he'll lead Hell's army. We all know how deals with Old Scratch usually turn out and this story is no different. Our protagonist comes back to earth — five years later, to find his wife happily remarried to his best friend, proud parents of a little girl. Making matters worse, our hero has a face scarred beyond recognition. It's enough to make most folks go totally Tales from the Darkside. On the plus side, he has a badass costume that gives him demonic super powers. Basically, our guy battles for the last speck of his humanity while attempting to resist the Devil's not so subtle nudges to go full evil — courtesy a demonic (mostly annoying) clown.
While Todd McFarlane's comic was wildly successful in its day and the HBO animated series a classic, the film was trapped in an awkward no man's land. Who exactly was the target audience? Teens? Okay. Gotta tone down the violence for that PG-13 rating. But it's still a story more relatable to grown ups. Costumes and super powers can only take you so far as wish fulfillment. It's hard to see how an action-horror flick involving redemption, lost love and revenge would resonate with the average 14-15 year old. Teens want to be Peter Parker or the object of his affection, Mary Jane. A disfigured agent of Satan who hangs out in cemeteries and dark alleys? Not so much. The similar themed Ghost Rider also underwent a more teen friendly transformation. Neither are examples of great comic book films with wide appeal. However, Rider was relatively closer to the mark.
I'll say this about McFarlane's idea for a $10 million reboot with Spawn as a background character a crime drama, not a good one. Even with all its flaws, the film did gross $87 million worldwide. It just needs tweaking in some spots. Maybe a younger protagonist with a less complicated backstory.
Still, it would be interesting to see a reboot in the hands of someone like Guillermo Del Toro, Sam Raimi or even Len Wiseman.