Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Spawn

Here we go again, rolling out Fishing in the Discount Bin.  I watch  movie I own, blog about it, and get on with my day.  We're going back to the 1990s with Spawn.  I watched it and wrote this on August 6, 2017.

I'm starting to see a bit of nostalgia for Spawn cropping up online, what with the recently announced new movie coming, and so I figured I'd pick up the original film from 1997 and give it a watch.  Man, I haven't seen it since I saw it in the theatre back in 1997.

Spawn has truly become one of those defining touchstones of the 1990s.  As I remarked on social media, the defining trends of the 1990s were indie and alternative.  Image Comics ruled over indie comics, and Spawn was their king.  Spawn was everywhere in the 1990s.  The comic was a #1 best-seller, the toys filled toy shelves -- and comic book stores, thus truly creating the secondary market for toys -- and there was a hit show on HBO that ran for three seasons. 

I remarked once that there are two kinds of superhero films:  ones that are made with love and care for the source material, and ones that are slapped together to cash in on a trend.  And watching Spawn tonight, it's easily the second type.  Spawn was big, so lets get this film out. 

And watching it again tonight, it is such a cookie-cutter superhero film.  You can see the action beats, you can see it follow the formula.  In fact, watching it again, it reminded me a lot of another cookie-cutter superhero film from the 1990s that I adore, the Shadow.  It kinda follows the same basic plot -- a man whose done heinous acts looking for redemption as a hero -- and even has the same ending...an ominous shot of the hero's eyes and logo, promising more adventures to come.  Spawn (the movie) is the dark and gritty reboot of The Shadow (the movie).

When I first saw Spawn in the theatre of the summer of 1997, I knew very little about the character.  I wasn't reading comics at that point, all I knew was that Spawn was the hot new superhero that was everywhere.  So I was shocked at how dark it was.  Our hero:  Al Simmons, a black-ops commando who travels the globe taking out terrorists.  However, he starts worrying about how all this killing is blackening his soul, so he decided to give it up.  But, he's talked into doing one last mission, where he's betrayed by his commander Jason Wynn and his partner Jessica Priest, immolated and left for dead.  In fact, he does die.  He dies and goes to hell, where the devil has a deal for him.  The devil -- Malbolgia -- will return Al to Earth to see his wife Wanda again.  But, in return, Al must be one of Malbolgia's generals in the apocalyptic war between heaven and hell.  Al agrees, and he returns to Earth as a Hellspawn ("Spawn" for short). 

Turns out, though, that because of that pesky free will that God gave His creation, he has to join Hell's army of his own free will.  A demon known as the Violator -- who takes the form of a vulgar clown -- tries to push Spawn to the dark side.  On the other side is Cogliostro, a Hellspawn who successfully turned his back on Malbolgia and now fights for the side of good, trying to pull Spawn back to the light and be a hero. 

Meanwhile, the Clown has been playing Jason Wynn and manipulating him in an attempt to bring about the Apocalypse.  Spawn gets all riled up to Wynn, and thus our conflict is born.  Will Spawn kill Wynn, and help bring about the Apocalypse, or will he spare Wynn's life and begin his path to redemption?

And that's it, man.  It's just that simple.  But man, does it try hard.  It tries so hard.  It uses every 1990s film-making technique in the books.  Industrial metal fills the soundtrack.  Scratchy credit sequences.  Religious iconography randomly scattered about.  Everything that screamed "look how edgy we are!" in the 1990s is here.  It's so 1990s it hurts. 

And the special effects!  People were already screaming in 1997 about how bad the special effects were.  Back in 1997, I didn't think they were that bad.  But now, seeing it again for the first time in 20 years...it's pretty bad.  "A rare off day for ILM!" was the headline back in the day, leading to ILM issuing a rebuttal.  Even though ILM is the top-billed special effects house, all they really did were the Violator effects.  And that comes across OK.  Everything else was done by smaller indie special effects houses...and, yeah.  All the money must of when to ILM for the Violator shots. 

At the end of the day, all I can say is Spawn is a rather run-of-the-mill superhero film.  But it tries hard.  Man, does it try hard.

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