The Phantom (1996)

The 23rd Film I have seen in theaters…

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The world of 1996 was not ready for Billy Zane as “The Phantom”, but I sure as hell was. 

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On the island of Bengalla, there is a Phantom! Centuries ago, a young boy washed on it’s shores after watching the dreaded Sengh Brotherhood kill his father. The tribesmen gave the boy a magic Skull Ring and he dedicates his life to fighting evil and injustice. He was the first Phantom.

In 1938, Kit Walker is the 21st Phantom. A group of mercenaries land on the island and steal a Skull of Touganda, a relic of immense power. The mercenaries are lead by Quill, a member of the Brotherhood, and the killer of Kit’s dad. Quill flees with the Skull to America.

Back in NYC, Kit’s old girlfriend, Diana, is investigating Xander Drax a Howard Hughes style millionaire. She discovers that Bengalla Island is somehow involved in Drax’s plot  and travels there, but is attacked by a squad of female AIR PIRATES and is taken to their evil base on Bengalla. She is rescued by The Phantom and they head back to New York.

Drax gets a hold of a second Power Skull and uses it to reveal the location of the third skull – an island in the Devil’s Vortex. They all travel there, run into the Sengh Brotherhood pirates and battle it out. The Phantom’s ring ends up being the fourth skull which controls the other 3. The day is won and Kit gets the girl.

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Billy reaches peak “Zane” as The Phantom. I actually really enjoyed his performance here. I completely buy Billy Zane as a 1930’s pulp hero. There was no great character development, he’s just the hero.

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Treat “I was in Empire Strikes Back” Williams plays Xander Drax. Again, I don’t have any problems with this. His over the top Howard Hughes seeking mystical powers was right out of the comics of the era.

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Kristy Swanson played Diane, the love interest. They do the whole “Lois and Clark” thing in the film. Swanson did a good job.

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James Remar, of The Warriors, plays Quill. He was your typical villain.

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In one of her early featured roles, Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Sala – leader of the air pirates. She made an excellent femme fatale, and this helped her get better roles. She is considered a stand out in this film.

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The great Cary Tagawa is The Great Kabai Sengh, descendant of the man who killed the father of the first phantom. He made a believable pirate lord in what was surely a fun role to play.

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I saw this opening night. No one else did. It took the rest of you a little while, but as this film came out on VHS and later DVD it developed a cult following. There were a few other 1930’s pulp hero films that came out at this same time. The Rocketeer in 1991 and The Shadow in 1994. Unsurprisingly, those both bombed and, like Phantom, were two films I adored. 90’s audiences just weren’t feeling the old school pulp comic vibe I guess. About 10 years ago they were actually discussing a sequel, but that went no where. It would be interesting to do a 1950’s adventure with Zane passing the torch to the 22nd Phantom. Who knows.

This film was actually a perfectly modern take on the old adventures of the period. It was a throw back to the older stories of the 30’s and 40’s. It’s a shame that it did not do better, but I am happy with it. SLAM EVIL!

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