I do think it is funny that it is not just the normal comic book heroes that get made into movies. Today’s movie is actually based on a newspaper comic book strip that writer Lee Falk started in the 30’s. Now while I have seen the comic strip once or twice over the years, this was not my first exposure to the Phantom. My first exposure was actually an old cartoon called Defenders Of The Earth, which featured not just the Phantom, but also Mandrake the Magician, another character Lee Falk created, and Flash Gordon. I only saw one or two episodes of that cartoon and honestly, don’t really remember much of it. As to why I own today’s movie, I think I was just in a random superhero movie buying phase and decided to buy The Phantom.
The plot: In the 16th Century, a group of pirates known as the Sengh Brotherhood attack a merchant ship and kill everyone on board, including the father of a young boy that was on board. Seeing his father die, the boy decides to jump overboard and swim to the nearby jungle island of Bengalla. On the island, a group of natives find the boy and take him to their village, where a ceremony is held and the shaman gives the boy a skull ring. The boy learns that he is destined to fight the evils of greed, piracy, cruelty, and injustice and when he grows up, he becomes a masked crime fighter called The Phantom. In 1938, A man named Quill is driving his mercenary team through the jungle, with a young native boy acting as their guide. When they can no longer travel by truck, Quill tries to get the boy to tell them where to go but the boy refuses, saying this part of the jungle is protected by a ghost that walks. Rubbing his finger across a skull shaped scar on his cheek, Quill says he isn’t worried and has the kid tied up and left in the truck while he and his men continue. Reaching a cave that serves as a native burial ground, Quill and his men start looking around and one of them, Styles, finds the object they are looking for, one of the Skulls of Touganda, resting at the feet of a skeleton. Quill has Styles throw him the skull, saying Mr. Drax will be pleased with them, when the skeleton comes to life and strangles Styles. As his men start gathering some of the other items from the cave to take with them, they hear drums in the distance and quickly leave but as they are heading back to the truck, the Phantom appears and captures one of the men, leaving his wolf Devil to guard him. As Quill and the other man escape in the truck, Quill says that he already killed the Phantom once. The Phantom lands on their truck and manages to throw the other guy out of it, then starts struggling with Quill. The skull falls out of Quill’s bag and the Phantom sees it but is distracted when he notices a Sengh Brotherhood tattoo on Quills arm, allowing Quill to cut him with his knife before jumping out of the truck with the skull. The truck heads onto a rope bridge and gets stuck and the Phantom is able to save the boy from the truck and get to safety before the truck falls into the ravine below. As the two mercenaries are picked up by the local jungle patrol, the Phantom, whose real name is Kit Walker, is back in his lair reading up on the Skulls while his manservant, Falkmoore, tends to his wounds. Afterwards, Kit sees the ghost of his father, the previous Phantom, and tells him what happens and his father is upset that the Sengh Brotherhood has one of the Skulls and tells Kit he must stop them. In Long Island, Diana Palmer returns home from her trip to the Yukon just as her uncle Dave Palmer, owner of the World Tribune newspaper, is hosting a charity dinner. When Palmer notices Xander Drax arriving, he tells him he is not wanted there and asks him to leave. Drax questions why Palmer’s reporters are harassing him and when Palmer tells him he can read about it when they publish the story, Drax threatens to buy the newspaper out from under Palmer. Later, Palmer, along with Diane, meets with Police Commissioner Farley and the Mayor and tells them that Drax is searching for something that involves a spider-web symbol. He tells them that he traced the origin of the symbol to the Bengalla jungle and planned to go there but since he doesn’t trust Drax, Diana offers to go in his place. Leaving the party, Farley gets into a car with Drax inside and relays what all Palmer knows. Drax has Diana kidnapped by a group of air pirates, led by a woman named Sala, and she is taken to a ship in the Bengalla jungle, where Quill and Sala keep her hostage. At the Jungle Patrol headquarters, Kit learns of what happened from his friend, Capt. Phillip Horton, and is shocked to learn Diana was kidnapped. Heading to where the boat is located, Kit sneaks on board and eventually makes his way to where Diana is kept. After disarming Sala, Kit frees Diana, who quickly knocks out Sala, and they make their way off the ship but end up being grabbed by Quill and his men. As Quill goes to kill Kit, Devil appears and knocks him down and Kit and Diana manage to escape and get in one of the air pirates’ planes but Quill and his men shoot it, causing it to leak fuel. Kit and Diana are forced to jump from the plane onto Kit’s horse, Hero, and the two manage to evade Quill and his men and make it to Kit’s lair, the Skull Cave. Inside, Kit gives Diana a string of black pearls as a gift just as Horton and Falkmoore arrive. Diana shows Horton the symbol and he tells Kit to have a look and they tell her that she is involved with the Sengh Brotherhood and Kit tells Horton to have his men guard Diana and send her home, much to Diana’s displeasure. In New York, Quill and Sala bring Drax the Skull and Drax questions them about Diana’s rescue. Quill tells him about the Phantom, and shows him the belt from when he stabbed the Phantom with a 12 inch blade but he apparently didn’t die and Sala tells Drax that the Phantom is apparently in love with Diana. Drax holds a meeting with Quill, Sala, Farley, and two crime bosses, Ray and Charlie, and explains his plans to them and when Ray decides to leave, Drax kills him, then says they will still the second Skull, which is in the World Museum, that day. Meanwhile, Diana heads to the Tribune and is surprised to see Kit (in normal clothes) there talking with her uncle. Kit explains that the Sengh Brotherhood stole an ancient artifact and Jimmy Wells, a would be suitor of Diana’s, mentions seeing a similar skull at the museum. Kit heads to the museum, with Diana going with him and they find the skull sitting in a display. Kit breaks the glass to retrieve the Skull, only to turn around and find Drax and his men there. Kit is forced to hand over the skull and Drax starts to question him when he notices the skulls are starting to smoke and quickly grabs them as they show him where the third Skull is located. Taking Kit and Diana back to his building, Drax has Quill take Kit to be questioned but Kit manages to escape and, changing into his Phantom gear, starts to take out Quill’s men. Drax and the others leave and take Diana with them as “Phantom” insurance. Kit follows them and gets into a cab, driven by Kit’s new friend Al, but the police try to arrest him and he is forced to run. Kit eventually loses the police and is picked back up by Al, who starts driving him towards the docks where Drax is heading. On the way, Kit sees the ghost of his father and questions him about Quill having his gun belt and his father tells him how Quill had killed him. Arriving at the dock, Kit manages to swim out to Drax’s seaplane and climb onto the pontoon just before they take off. The plane lands near an island in the middle of the Devil’s Vortex and Drax and his crew paddle inside a cave only to be captured by the Sengh Brotherhood and taken to the Great Kabei Sengh, a direct descendant of the original Kabei Sengh who formed the brotherhood. Xander tries to bargain with Kabei for the third skull, offering Diana as bait to trap the Phantom but Kabei says Drax wasted his time as he doesn’t have the 4th Skull, which controls the other three. Kit appears and rescues Diana, who teams up with Sala to fend off the pirates while Kit grabs the third Skull and manages to kill Kabei. Finding a submarine, Kit has Diana and Sala get inside and he goes to launch it when he is attacked by Quill. As Kit and Quill struggle, Drax grabs the third Skull and the other two Skulls merge with it, allowing him to fire a powerful laser, which he inadvertently kills Quill with. As he comments on the Skulls power, Kit tells him that he has the 4th Skull and when Drax shoots the laser at him, Kit blocks it with the Skull Ring, which fires a beam back at the Skulls, destroying both them and Drax, then grabs the chain for the sub and escapes before the island explodes. Some time later, Kit explains the legend of the Phantom to Diana and takes her to her plane. Before she leaves, she asks Kit to take off the mask, as she knows his real identity, and he says that he is only permitted to do so to the woman he intends to marry. The two kiss and then Diana flies away, but the voice of Kit’s father is overheard saying that Diana will return to Bengalla to find Kit again.
The Phantom met with mixed to poor results from the critics, earning a 41% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is that, “The script gives Billy Zane little to work with, and thus he plays the Phantom as a friendly but completely one-dimensional hero.” The movie borrowed from some early stories in The Phantom series, “The Singh Brotherhood” and “The Sky Band” to make up a large portion of the story. The movie wound up being a flop at the box office, only earning a little over $17 million domestically off of a $45 million budget.
Not being 100% familiar with the character, I can’t say for certain how the movie stacks up to the source material, but on it’s own merits, this is an entertaining movie, but not a really good one. The acting was ok, with Treat Williams (Drax) being my favorite as he seemed to have a lot of fun with the role, but some of the other actors, including Billy Zane, just seemed to feel kind of flat. The story honestly felt weak and somewhat inconsistent at times. The action scenes were ok but the special effects seemed rather cheesy for the most part. A fun movie to watch in a “so bad, it’s good” kind of way but that is about the only reason to really watch it.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5