The series of “Spawn” was created by renowned comic book writer and cartoonist Todd McFarlane. First appearing in 1992, the character of Spawn has become quite well-known in the world of comics, and even by some people outside of them. He even got a cameo appearance in the Xbox version of Soulcalibur II. Yes, he is a fun character, and in 1997, he got his first live-action film adaptation.
Spawn is a very visually dynamic film. Its plot isn’t actually all that important, and stripped away from the fantasy setting, (if it actually is fantasy), then the plot is closer to your standard revenge film. Man is betrayed by someone in a higher power than him, and wants revenge. This is how these types of films work, and the plot more or less follows this format to a tee.
The man who is betrayed is named Al Simmons (Michael Jai White). He’s a military assassin who gets sent on one final mission. Little does he know, his employer, Jason Wynn (Marin Sheen) means this quite literally. He has sent another assassin to kill Simmons during this mission. Instead of a simple bullet to the face, Simmons is burned to death.
Then, five years later, he comes back to life, disfigured from the burning, but otherwise seemingly unphased. Despite the fact that his body seems to be completely in ruins, he is able to move quite well. See, Spawn actually went to Hell, with The Devil keeping him there for those five years. The Devil wants Simmons to return to Earth to kill the man who betrayed him, and then lead Hell’s army to defeat Heaven’s army.
Al Simmons doesn’t seem too sure about the idea, but with the promise of being able to see his wife again, he reluctantly accepts. He becomes Spawn, and goes on a quest to murder Jason Wynn. He gets help from The Devil’s voice on earth, a clown called “The Violator” (played wonderfully by John Leguizamo). His quest takes him to many different locations, has a few fun action scenes and is quite a bit of fun.
But like I said, the plot of Spawn doesn’t really matter. The importance–if there is importance, which I think there is–is in the film’s visual direction. Despite coming out in ’97, there are some parts of the film’s visual style that hold up even today. An example of this is in the way Spawn transforms from his disfigured, scarred body to his costumed attire. The transformation still holds up, and to me at least, that is impressive.
Unfortunately, some of the film’s visual techniques do feel really dated, and in these cases, it is really apparent. The Devil himself looks terrible, almost looking like he was ripped directly from an old video game. He shows himself as a dragon-like thing, one whose voiceover work doesn’t match his mouth movement at all. But it doesn’t look like they even tried to do that. The dragon itself was menacing enough, and back in ’97, it definitely did its job. It just doesn’t look any good now, and does take you out of the film somewhat.
Something that may go unappreciated, but was a successful experiment, was the way scene transitions were handled. When a scene transition occurs, the previous one appears to melt, revealing the next one. It’s a little touch that goes a long way in adding some more depth to the visual style of the film.
Also looking good is Spawn himself, with his costume translating nicely to live-action. His cape flows beautifully through the air, and everything about him is detailed enough to make it seem somewhat realistic, despite the fantasy setting. The setting is also something that is worth mentioning, with the city Simmons lives in being shown as a dark place, with the only brightness coming from the home that he used to share with his wife.
Spawn does feel a lot like a B-movie, in many regards. The acting is completely over the top, the action sequences are loud, overly violent and incredibly explosive, and the film has an overall cheesy feel to it. This might actually make it more enjoyable, because if it was taken seriously, and if it did have a gritty, semi-realistic feel to it, it might not have been fun. That’s what the film really is, it is fun to watch.
Spawn may not the most memorable film, but is certainly an enjoyable one to sit down and watch for an hour and a half. It’s a fun film. It won’t make you think particularly hard, but it’ll keep you entertained. The visual style and effects used, for the most part, still stand up on their own, and they help give the audience more reasons to watch the movie. The action is fast and fun, John Leguizamo’s “The Violator” is hilarious, and the film is just an entertaining watch. Nothing more, but it doesn’t need to be. It accomplishes its goal to entertain the audience and bring its titular character into the public consciousness of mainstream Hollywood audiences.