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Spawn:
The Movie.

We both knew it would come this one day.

 

It's true.  Over the past couple of years, I've been making fun of whatever goes through my DVD player and, as you might have noticed, a lot of comic book movies/television shows are included in that.  I've been avoiding Spawn for a couple of reasons.  You and I both know it was a terrible movie.  Well, maybe that's not true, but I've yet to meet a human being who thought it was awesome.  And such opinions like these translate to my "reviewing" turning into "ranting."  This article will devolve, I already know it to be fact.  I remember seeing it in theaters (you know, because the trailer showed such sweet, sweet promise) and everyone left the show in silence, not wanting to bring up the fact that we just wasted our money and a little part of our lives.  Now, Spawn isn't the worst movie ever made...I could never support such a statement.  But it was bungled.  And no, I'm not going to say "OMG IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE LIKE THE COMIC BOOK" because that's boring and also dense.  People make more money from those who go to movies than they do from people who buy comic books.  It's just a fact.  So being mad that a comic book character gets changed when it's time for his pop culture debut is just being dense.  Sure, Hollywood has a track record for ruining these things, but even a failure of a movie makes more money than most of us will ever get to see as long as enough people go on opening weekend.  You know, before angry mobs paint a white X on the theater doors so that all might know that the plague lives in that particular house.

(Warning:  Comic  Book Geekery ahead!  Cool Kids please skip down until you start seeing picture of the movie!  You'll be grateful that you did.)

The other reason I've been avoiding reviewing Spawn is that it'll be hard to do so without mentioning the comic book roots of the character, its creator Todd McFarlane, and why I never got into reading Spawn.  You see, Spawn (the comic book character) came into being when I was still very much into comics (I stopped when Superman DIDN'T die, because crapped pissed off everyone).  The problem is that, even at age twelve, I thought the Spawn character was some sort of industry in-joke.  And by "in-joke" I thought it was Todd McFarlane giving the comic book world the middle finger. 

Let me explain. 

In the late 1980's, I was reading Spiderman comics.  I was 9.  Give me a break.  The thing is, this awesome new artist showed up and man, could he ever draw.  His name was Todd McFarlane and he was awesome.  Eventually he would get pissed (angry, not drunk) alongside a bunch of other artists about not making enough money and would leave (with his friends) Marvel Comics to form a new company, Image Comics.  That's the short of it...go to Wikipedia if you want a far-too-detailed account of that drama.  I was still young when this happened..but it meant that a NEW comic book company was now out there that was made up of 100% awesome artists, unlike...well...everyone else who was filled with suck.  Mind you I don't believe that's true now but I sure as hell did when I was in elementary school.  So why did Spiderman comics make me think this Spawn character was a joke/insult against Marvel Comics?

    

Take the Spawn character.  Claws, strange Spiderman-like mask, an addiction for being melodramatic on rooftops, and an endlessly long cape.  All these attributes are a big part of what makes Spawn, well, SPAWN.  They're also classically super-heroic, if you will.

The problem is that I was first introduced to Todd McFarlane's style when he illustrated Spiderman comics.  A couple of short years before Spawn came out, Todd McFarlane was already entertaining me with another character (that appeared in the Spiderman books) known as The Prowler.  It'll be obvious why I thought Spawn was a joke when you see him.

Maybe that isn't the best example of what I'm talking about. 

Let's see some more of Todd McFarlane's work on The Prowler:

I think it's pretty obvious that the time McFarlane spent drawing The Prowler heavily influence Spawn.  The colors are wrong and there's no "Dracula collar" to be seen, but man, visually they have a lot in common.  So much so that a twelve-year-old felt that he was getting in the middle of some goofy character-stealing drama by reading Spawn.  I don't know why, but Todd McFarlane's "screw you" to Marvel Comics just seemed so obvious to me back then.  I mean, here's the Spiderman cover he did that was super-popular and also super-successful right next to the cover he did for Spawn #8.  You might notice some similarities.

 

I don't know if this is a joke for the comic book fans or if it's Todd flipping off Marvel Comics for not meeting his demands.  When I was twelve, I thought it was just him being an ass.  And now, now I still don't know.  

ATTENTION COOL KIDS:  You can start reading again...we're done talking about comic books!

So.  Spawn.  The Movie.  Where to begin?

The thing about Spawn is that it isn't a terrible story.  While I was never a huge fan of the comic books, I do know the story and have to admit it's pretty cool in a melodramatic "push everyone's buttons" kind of way.  You see, Spawn is a guy who sold his soul to the Devil (or a devil, but whatever) so that he could see his wife again.  In exchange for this he gets superpowers and covered in latex.  Oh wait, that's the movie.  In the story, he comes back as a living corpse that has a living suit that grows whatever he needs.  This includes everything from a motorcycle to a 50-foot cape to suction cups on his hands (seriously, it's in the movie).  The living suit thing, called a symbiote (which was something that McFarlane drew for the insanely popular character Venom when he worked on the Spiderman comics a couple years before coming out with Spawn), pretty much lets Spawn do whatever he wants.  He also has magical powers.  And bullets can't kill him.  And he has x-ray vision.  And he can fly.  The downside is that he's hideous and while he can see his wife, a couple of years has passed since he died and she's since remarried and not interested in hooking back up with a magical zombie.  So we have a guy who can do practically anything but has to suffer from emotional turmoil.  Really a pretty balanced narrative and the dramatic potential is there.  The problem is that it sounds (and looks) good on paper.  So how could you screw this up?

 Holy Crap, they made it a 1980's action movie?

 

Get this:  We have a character who can shoot fire, attack you with living chains, grow claws and rip your eyes out....and when it comes time to fight he picks up guns Rambo-style and has himself a chase scene on a motorcycle.  Now, this film is rated PG-13.  That means very little blood so despite the fact that our hero is shooting about a thousand bullets per second people are literally just falling off balconies left and right.  You know, because every film that has a character with lots of guns has to feature at least three people falling off balconies. 
Of course, not every fight scene is like this.  But I have trouble counting fight scenes that are literally just computer generated images being slammed against each other as a fight scene.  More on that later, but I need to point something out. 

This movie was directed by Mark A.Z. Dippé.  This was his first film to direct.  After this, he would go on to do a Disney Channel made-for-TV movie as well as direct the giant fish movie, Frankenfish.  Of course while this was his first chance to direct, he was the special effects supervisor (or assistant supervisor at least) for several movies that must have looked good on his resume.  Mark apparently worked on Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, Back to the Future 2, and, most important of all, 1994's live-action Flintstones movie starring Rosie O'Donnell as Betty Rubble.  Of course, his job in those movies was to create special effects.  And, to his credit, there are a lot of special effects in Spawn.   But the problem here is that it's one thing to WORK with a lot of good directors and another thing entirely to actually be a good director yourself.  Still, Hollywood takes chances and sometimes those chances pay off.  I'm not entirely sure why they decided to roll the dice by hiring a tech guy to make the movie instead of a storyteller, but when you think about where superhero movies were back in 1997 it sort of makes sense.  Batman & Robin came out the same year.  You know, the one that has George Clooney as the gay Batman (his words, not mine) with the latex nipples starring alongside Arnold?  And the year before, Barbwire came out with Pamela Anderson stabbing people in the forehead with her giant hooker high-heeled shoes?  And the year before THAT we had Sylvester Stallone as Judge Dredd looking totally retarded and being out-acted by Rob Schneider.  Superhero movies were definitely not in the best of shape in the mid-1990's.  They'd recover when X-men/Spiderman came out in the millennium, but you have to imagine Hollywood was pretty half-assed about putting too much hope in any comic book franchise of the day.  How half-assed?  Take a look at who they got to be the "real" actor in the movie.

You'd think it's common sense, but Martin Sheen does not a villain make.

Yes, it's Martin Sheen.  Sheen plays Jason Wynn, the man who burned Spawn to death in his past life and who has engineered a virus that will kill everyone on the planet unless they agree to let him rule the world.  So we have a story about a demon-powered superhero who has to stop an evil Martin Sheen from releasing his super-bubonic Ebola virus?  The answer is yes, but with more retardation.  He ends up getting the detonator to the virus-machine implanted into his chest, so that if his heart stops everyone on the planet dies.    Brilliant narrative device you have there, Mark.

This starts us down the road that describes what's ULTIMATELY wrong with this movie.  So far we've got a demonic superhero who wants to avenge his death and see his wife again.  Now throw in the fact that there's a super-genius who wants to take over the world.  Then throw in the fact that The Devil wants Spawn to do his bidding...and let's not even mention the Clown.  We'll get to "The Clown" in a moment, but I want to delay that as long as possible. 

Please don't make me talk about the Computer-Generated Satan.  He's a cartoon and therefore immune to being considered a villain in this film.

Oh God, it's time for the Freaking CLOWN.  I'm still not ready.

  

Say hello to John Leguizamo playing the part of "Clown".  Clown is the comic relief character of the film and is, oddly enough, the real villain of the show.  He's also the reason this film sucks mightily.  Clown is apparently Spawn's "life coach" and his job is to train Spawn into being a warrior for Hell.  I think.  It's a bit more clear in the comics, but in the movie, it's sort of vague.  The make-up used to disguise John so he can walk down the street without everyone going "Holy Crap, it's the guy who played the Clown in Spawn! Let's get him!" is really good, as no one is going to recognize him dressed like that.  There are a lot of reasons to hate Clown.  The problem is that he completely dominates every scene that he's in.  Reasons to hate Clown:

John Leguizamo farting.  Thanks.  It might be fun to point out that parts of the Latino community consider John to be the leader in bringing Latin-Americans (I have no idea what the PC name is anymore) into mainstream Hollywood.  The problem is whether they want that.  They do realize that John has a tradition for playing characters so annoying you want to stab them in the eyeballs, right?  Besides this, Leguizamo was The Pest in the movie The Pest (which was about someone who was, of course, a Pest you wanted to stab in the eyeballs), the animated Sloth that deserved to die in both the Ice Age Disney films, and freaking Luigi from the live-action abortion known as The Super Mario Brothers.  :sigh:  To his credit though, John's also been in Moulin Rouge, Land of the Dead, and a few other "good" movies.  So I guess he proves that being famous for being annoying isn't going to be the death of your career.  Not that he doesn't deserve a nice eyeball poke for playing a Clown who shows us the poo-stains in his underwear.

What, you thought I was going to let John show them to me and not share the misery?

John Leguizamo.  As a clown.  Dressed up like a cheerleader.  Gah.

Now Spawn has a lot of weird moments where Clown ends up doing some goofy special effect that's pretty much only in the film as a visual fart joke or, well, the equivalent of a fart joke.  In the above image he sings opera with his face projected on a balloon while his head deflates.  That's not the thing that's funny.  This is:

 

These are both shots of people looking at Clown doing something special-effect driven.  Like quoting The Wizard of Oz as he melts into the carpet. 

Actor:  "So what's my motivation for this scene?"

Director:  "A madman has taken your family hostage, an animated corpse in a latex bodysuit is about to rescue you, and a clown just walked in.  You're looking at the clown."

Actor:  "What's the clown doing?"

Director:  "Never mind.  Just pretend you're watching television."

Actor:  "Wait.  What am I supposed to be looking at.  Seriously."

Director:  "Fine!  You're looking at an obese annoying clown that's just stopped the entire movie so he can make a lame fart joke that'll cost thousands of dollars to animate on my computer."

Actor:  "I can work with that."

And this brings us to why Spawn fails.  Take a look at the following image and see if you can figure out what I'm talking about:

Still not sure?  I'll give you one more chance:

Spawn fails because of moments like this.  Spawn doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be.  Hell, it doesn't know what kind of scene its trying to have.  In the image above you're seeing Spawn struggle with the pain of realizing he's really dead and lost everything that was precious to him.  While that's happening on-screen, Clown keeps making obscene jokes.  On the right side of the screen:  Acting.  Drama.  Pathos.  On the left:  Juvenile humor and special effects.  And there you have it.  You really don't know who to root for or even what kind of movie you're watching.  It starts with the main character going to Hell, coming back as a super-powered homeless man who ends up adopting some random kid and is plagued by an evil flatulent clown.  Throw in the fact that he wants revenge and is filled with sadness that his life has been taken away from him and now he's been drafted into Hell's army because he's apparently "the Chosen One."  The film is literally all over the place as any drama is immediately undermined by John Leguizamo in a fat suit.  Oh and somewhere in there is Martin Sheen with a super-virus that will destroy the earth and give Hell more souls so they can take over Heaven or something.  Did I mention that this film is ALL OVER THE PLACE already?

By the way, Clown can also turn into a giant computer-generated monster that is, admittedly pretty cool. His name becomes Violator whenever he transforms and you'll welcome a bit of computer-generated monster fun if only because it means it'll be impossible for Clown to appear on screen for a moment.  Did I mention that I didn't like Clown?

There is one moment that brings me joy in Spawn. 

Man, that's an evil smile.  I wonder what it's all about?

You'd smile too if you had a demonic attack groin.  You're literally looking at a still of Spawn's CROTCH biting someone.  Spawn has magic attack genitalia?  I take it back.  This movie is awesome.  Well, it would be, if there were more moments in it like this.  Sadly, this all you're going to see of Spawn's magic junk. 

It's time to finish this story.  I don't want to talk about the ending, but here goes:

I don't want to talk about how Spawn uses his magic X-ray vision to remove the detonator safely from Martin Sheen's chest without destroying the world. 

I don't want to talk about the computer-generated fight scene at the end, which seems to have been filmed in Confuso-vision.  Some computer generated effects are good.  When your entire movie becomes computer-generated, there's an issue.  Unless your name is Pixar.

 

I also do not want to talk about how Spawn fires green tentacles out of his chest that kill all the other Spawns that are just sort of hanging out in hell waiting for him.  Apparently Spawn was the Chosen One after all, as he pretty much defeats hell single-handedly....

...before he flies out of the computer-generated Hell, content that he's saved both Earth from a super-virus and Heaven from being attacked by an army of hellspawn demon warriors.

 I don't even think I'm conveying how convoluted Spawn was.  It was just so....all over the place.  As such, I'll just move on to a little bonus content.

Thanks to the joy that is DVD, I was able to watch an interview with Todd McFarlane concerning the movie Spawn.  In it he defends the movie but also explains why it wasn't successful as well as why it didn't make any of the comic book fans happy.  His reason:  It was rated PG-13.  Seriously.  He says (I paraphrase) that even though it might not be the best movie, it's the first and only film that will ever be about HELL and still be rated PG-13.  Thanks to that rating they had to remove the violence and simplify the plot.  He pretty much goes on to say that you really can't get a good adult film that has a reference to Hell and still have it rated PG-13.  

...I don't know, Todd.  Hellboy is just as much about Hell as Spawn was, has NAZIS and animated corpses in it, and was indeed rated PG-13.  Maybe society has changed drastically in the 7 years since Spawn came out, but I'm not so sure. 

Just so you'd think that I totally hate Spawn, let me just clear something up.  The comic book struck me as unoriginal from day one (I was twelve and apologize to all the Spawn fans) and obviously the movie sucked on toast.  But I wouldn't say that I hate Spawn.  Because of this:

After the movie came out, HBO produced an animated series called Spawn that was really close to the comic books...or at least a lot closer.  It's dark, brooding, and melodramatic. It's an interesting retelling of what we've seen in the movie as well as a lot of stuff straight from the comic book.  And you know what?  It's good.  Check it out. Because Spawn:  The Story isn't a bad one.  It's Spawn:  The Movie you have to look out for.

...that and Clowns with skid marks.

-jared

"who thanks you for tolerating his rant about McFarlane's little brainchild"

 

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Copyright 2006 Jared von Hindman or maybe just Jared Hindman.  It depends.  Any images used that are not Jared's are used via Fair Use review purposes and belong to their respective owners....who are nice people that don't want to sue me.  Most of these belong to Todd McFarlane, I'm sure and are, again, only used for review.  They're not mine, I swear!

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