Did you know that this summer is the fifteenth anniversary of Spawn? Todd McFarlane’s devilish vigilante made his movie debut on August 1, 1997 and I’ve finally gotten around to seeing the movie. So what did I think?
It’s kind of hard to judge this movie. The plot is pretty straight forward; military operative Al Simmons is killed by his corrupt commander Jason Wynn and makes a deal with the devil to lead the forces of the underworld in exchange to be able to be able to see his fiancée (who happened to have had his child and married his best friend). There’s another deal that the devil made with Wynn, one that will pretty much start the apocalypse (there is a cardiac device that will trigger a series of explosions and release a plague if his heart stops) and allow the devil to rule what’s left of mankind.
Simmons’ conflict comes from his struggle with avenging his death. If he takes the advice of the demonic clown the Violator, Simmons will kill Wynn and bring on the end of the world. But if he follows Cagliostro, a former agent of the devil who was able to break free, he can save not only the world–but his former lover Wanda, his child and his best friend–from Wynn. And because deep down Simmons cares for these people, he follows the fallen angel to become an embodiment of justice. It makes sense to me.
Unfortunately, the special effects in this film were really distracting. By 1997’s standards, I guess they were groundbreaking. But watching it today, a lot of the CGI animation (like Spawn’s cape, the Violator’s demon form, and any of the scenes in hell with the devil’s legions) just reminded me too much of the Playstation games I enjoyed from that era. After doing some research about the film’s director and co-writer Mark A.Z. Dippé, it’s not surprising that the film was so visual effects heavy; he used to be an animator for Industrial Light and Magic.
The makeup and costuming effects were very well done. John Leguizamo looked utterly disgusting as the Violator’s clown form (and his one-liners were both cheesy and well played). Michael Jai White looked convincing in his Spawn makeup/armor, even though it did remind me of the Guyver. But it worked, except for one scene where Spawn was riding a motorcycle and his head was clearly painted onto a motorcycle helmet.
So why should you watch this film? Ultimately Spawn is a period piece, not in the sense that it shows off trends or what it was like to live in the 1990s.It’s a look back on what was considered cutting edge at that time. And in 1997 this film was cutting edge. Unfortunately, viewing this film in 2012, the film doesn’t hold up too well due to its over-reliance on special effects. On a positive, the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation of McFarlane’s comics, and Spawn was considered a modest box office success that started the comics movie boom of the late 90s early 00s. Without this, there wouldn’t have been Blade or X-Men which really got the comics film ball rolling. To sum it up, this is an average film that was important in the context of its era.