June 21st, 2010

The Phantom

Do you like pulp action comics? I know I do. Two fisted heroes who use their wits, tough jaws and maybe a pair of .45s, to beat over the top bad guys is a recipe for a fun time. There are many superheroes that get to claim pulp roots. The Shadow, while he did not start in comics, is a pulp superhero. Batman is definitely a comic superhero with strong ties to the pulp tradition.

One of the longest running pulp action superheroes is the Phantom. He first appeared in 1936 in a King Features comic strip. Since then, he has become one of the better known comic strip characters.

The character in the comics was a purple clad guy running around in a skin tight body suit and simple mask. This even looked a little silly in the comics but still the look hasn’t really changed. He ran around with a matched set of .45 automatics which he used to fight crime and the evil band of pirates called the Singh Brotherhood. Got to love a name like that.

The Phantom apparently was the descendent of a long line of heroes named Phantom. The idea was it would be passed down from father to son for centuries so all his enemies believed it was the same guy. They even gave him the cool sounding tribal name of “Ghost Who Walks”. I am not real clear on what they were supposed to do if all a generation had was girls(hard to sell that as the same guy), but I digress.

In the 90′s someone thought it would be a good idea to make a movie of the Phantom. Why not? Someone was doing the Shadow after all. I will say I am probably one of the few people who really liked the movie of the Shadow. The Phantom movie stared Billy Zane as the Phantom.

I like Billy Zane. He is kind of quirky cool. Catherine Zeta Jones was in it as was Patrick McGoohan. There were good people in this movie. It had pulp action and pirates and mystic skulls. The film could have been good.

Could have, but it sadly was not. There are some nice bits in there, but on the whole it was terrible. The costume just looked dumb and there is no way around that. Sometimes costumes from comics don’t translate well, and sometimes they are just terrible.

The script was awful. The acting was just silly and bad. I have a love for this film as I do for some bad films who at least tried something cool.

So the story ends there. The Phantom stays a relic of the age when people got their comics from the funny papers and not online like we do now(Don’t email me. It is joke. I get that people read the comics in newspapers still).

Except the story is not over.

Syfy decided to take a shot at it. Syfy(which is still the dumbest name ever) network decided they would do a modern translation of the phantom. When I heard this I kind of cringed. It is SyFy. I mean yeah, they made Eureka, BSG, and Wharehouse 13. They also make Scare Tactics, Ghost Hunters, and a line of the worst movies possibly ever. These guys have successes buried in mountains of failures. Also the Phantom, general wisdom would say, is a hokey character to begin with.

So I watched it.

I watch most anything comic related. I am a sucker that way. If it appeared in in sequential art before it made it to the screen I will eventually see it.

The thing is, my expectations on this were way low. I am pleased to say then that it actually was far better than I expected. I will not get too far into the plot of the show. The plot was a little too convoluted for it’s own good.

The acting was all over the place. Some of the scenes were really badly written. It should not be any good at all, but it actually kind of was. There is a real heart to this redo. IT is self aware without being meta. The hero, Kit Walker, last of the line of Phantoms at first doesn’t know anything about it and when he does find out does not believe. He sees the costume and says there is no way he is wearing it. He eventually gets the still a little goofy looking but much more practical body armor.

The over the top villains are here, only with a more corporate feel. The good guy is the right mix of determined and unsure. The update from the more traditional older setting seems to work, mainly do to the fact that they don’t ignore the older version of the character. It is less like a reimagining and more an update. There are fun stunt bits, with our hero of course being skilled in Parkour.

All in all the 4 hour premier was a really solid origin story for a tv superhero show. Is it gr4eat television? No. There are a number of non starters in the show, but I enjoyed it. I forgot to critique it about half an hour in and just enjoy it. If the TV series is half as fun, I will be tuning in.

I am done rambling now.

Originally published at McCoy's Geeky Emporium of Thought. You can comment here or there.