Spawn. New Line Cinema 1997.

Before watching the movie:

Every time I think I understand what this movie is, I go looking for something to verify that and I come up with more confusing information. I think I can safely say that the main character is a recently deceased man recruited by demonic forces whose main internal conflict comes from coming to decide this work isn’t right. I’m not clear on much of anything else. Except this isn’t as similar to Blade as I thought. Every still I’m being presented looks like it’s from a different movie.

After watching the movie:

Malebolgia, the Devil, has been recruiting souls into his army to storm Heaven since time began, and now all he needs is one human soul to lead that army when the world ends. On Earth, Al Simmons, A6’s top assassin, has had enough of his boss Wynn’s collateral damage-heavy assassination missions and wants out, but Wynn kills Simmons rather than let him leave A6. Simmons comes back from the dead five years later thinking it’s the same night, and finds that his wife Wanda has remarried, Wynn has developed a bioweapon he plans to hold the world hostage with, and oh, also when he was in Hell he promised Malebolgia he would lead his army for a chance to see Wanda again and get his revenge on Wynn. Wynn is also working with Malebolgia, and while Malebolgia’s lackey the Clown goads Simmons into trying to kill Wynn, he’s also ordering Wynn to get an implant that will trigger the bioweapon to destroy the world if his heart stops, as an “insurance policy”. Malebolgia wants Simmons to destroy the world as his final step toward being ready to invade Heaven’s gates, but a mysterious figure urges him to use the powers of his new body for good.

Every time the Clown is on screen, the movie is dragged down. He’s supposed to be the disgusting comic relief character, but if an unsympathetic character can be comic relief, that isn’t the way to do it, and the tone set by the way they show how disgusting he is doesn’t come across as funny either.  He’s on a level of camp that doesn’t work with the rest of the movie, and then suddenly he’s on a level of violent and deadly that’s completely incompatible with the comic relief they want him to be.

That’s not to say the movie isn’t campy otherwise. The exceedingly dramatic narration Cogliostro provides to the story feels like it comes from a 70s b-movie, and the powers Simmons’s new body provides him feel like they provide whatever the plot needs, especially once he learns how to use them intentionally.  But that’s another tone from the Clown and from the late-90s extreme edginess the rest of the movie is going for.

I like that Simmons realizes for himself that Wanda’s new life doesn’t have a place for him in it, but I feel like they were too removed from that decision. They don’t seem to have gotten an explanation for the miniature apocalypse that just happened in their living room, nor do they even get a chance to wonder who the mysterious burn victim in magical armor who bonded with Wanda’s daughter Cyan and who the family dog won’t leave is. Still, it’s the opposite problem Superman Returns has, which already makes it a good problem to have.

For such a big-budget all-pro movie, this doesn’t feel much different from some very small productions I’ve seen from around the same time. The only difference is the CG is a little better and there’s a lot more of it. The late 90s/early 2000s had some really weird ideas about heaven and hell to work out, with a totally extreme and dark but not too dark bent. This is a mess, but it’s a mess with potential. Probably a lot better as a comic, but that doesn’t account for all of its problems. This could have been a better movie than it was.

One thought on “Spawn

  1. nscovell November 10, 2017 / 8:13 pm

    Spawn was such a let down. I thought the acting on all ends was terrible. I think Spawn was made in a time where CGI was hitting a high point and Spawn just kind of overdid it. I would have loved to see how Spawn would fare under the direction of someone like Michael Dougherty.

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