Saturday, March 8, 2014

Spawn


  A dark, Gothic comic book to begin with, Spawn never had an easy transition to the big screen. At the time, when you said "comic book movie" you obviously meant something like Superman: The Movie, or Tim Burton's Batman. Both well respected movies. Both relatively family friendly. (In Superman's case, maybe excessively so...) Then you try to pitch the head honchos a comic book movie... about a hero who gets his powers straight from Satan? The more you try to explain, the worse it would seem. See, he's an assassin who's a borderline psychotic who gets killed and winds up in Hell and makes a deal with the devil to lead his satanic army against god and his angels in exchange for seeing his wife again... and then there's John Leguizamo's character. Oh boy.

  There is no part of this that sounds PG-13 or even remotely family friendly. For movie studios looking to make some money, this is a very uncomfortable prospect. After all, their #1 priority is to maximize the appeal of this movie- of any movie -so that more people will see it. Obviously. More people = more money. Would Spawn have been better without studio imposed restrictions? Most likely. Would it have been that much better? I doubt it, and... this is the first time I've doubted it. In a roundabout way, I grew up with this movie- although I wasn't allowed to see it as a kid, it's always one I wanted to see. Much like Small Soldiers, and Mars Attacks. My parents lumped it in with that 'edgy' group of movies that was just out of reach for a kid like me.

  I saw the toys in stores, the ads on TV, the trailers, the box art at the video stores, the posters, the comic book adaption. I wanted to see Spawn very very badly. It looked awesome. So when I finally saw it, I was 14 and admittedly, it was a pretty cool experience for me. So when it came time for me to assess the movie with my underdeveloped movie critic sensibilities, I blamed all of it's flaws on the studio interference. Honestly, it's quite easy to do because without studio interference this movie might have been Rated R. I would've like that, and fans would've too. Yet, the Director's Cut is Rated R, and that doesn't fix any of it's problems. Mainly because it was still shot with PG-13 in mind, so a little Director's Cut can only restore what was altered or cut our prior to it's release. Sigh.

  Anyways, the problem does not solely lie on the studio involvement, much blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of first time director Mark A.Z. Dippe. As I read what I'm writing here in my head, I say his name with a slow and over-articulated draw that is dripping with disdain. Yeah, the guy has done good visual effects work on movies like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, but why on Earth they handed him a forty million dollar summer blockbuster like this will always escape me. You need a tried and true director for stuff like this. Dippe is out of his league and it shows. This sophomoric effort is disjointed and lacks any real bite. A movie like Spawn needs teeth, so to speak. You have all this wonderfully dark and grim thematic content, yet you squander it on the most banal humor that only a five year old would find funny, and you shortchange the movie in the action department as well.

  Spawn is a mess. Entirely. There are some cool parts, no doubt. Michael Jai White makes a good hero, and he has several really cool scenes in the movie. The alley fight with the giant demon-gecko, The Violator, springs to mind as one of the few times this movie worked really well. The setting is another example. Much of Spawn's journey has him returning to an alleyway that the homeless have turned into a makeshift city. It's a grim set and filthy, yet it's also interesting and fully realized. Something that most of this movie isn't. When it comes down to it, I argue Spawn needed more action scenes to qualify as a guilty pleasure. It's stunning that this movie is so short on action. So much of the movie is chewed up by awful voiceovers that overly explain everything, and stupid scenes between Leguizamo's Clown and (a horribly misused) Martin Sheen, that Spawn is almost a leftover character- scrambling to find time to make use of his new powers and kick some ass.

  He's relegated to operate under some terrible pacing issues that makes the film suffer so badly that it can't even scrape up enough energy to be a fun bad movie. For anyone who owns the movie, and has willingly sat through it more than once, it's appeal must lie in some warped sense of nostalgia. I know it does for me. It's an hour and thirty eight minutes of wasted potential in all areas, save a few. Like I said, there are some scenes that work so well, you're almost impressed. In those scenes you get a glimpse of what Spawn could have been, and sadly wasn't. But first and foremost the one aspect of this movie I find absolutely awesome, is the design aspect. Spawn looks really damn cool. The way his armor activates and adheres to him like a second skin, the look of his mask, his cape. He looks awesome. The movie does him justice, if nobody and nothing else.

  Unfortunately, this is not the "special effects event of the year!" anymore, and I doubt it ever was. The computer effects in this movie for the most part, are just... painfully outdated. I'm not one to rag on old effects, but these are so bad, someone should've reconsidered making this movie like they did. The scenes of hell are entirely computer generated and it's bad looking. Objects float around looking like a Windows 95 screensaver, textures are of such a low resolution they look flat and fake, pixels and other artifacts crop up frequently, oh and they couldn't render hair worth a damn. The devil himself, Malebolgia, looks just as awful as the setting he's trapped in. If I was him, I would most certainly enslave Michael Jai White to try and murder God so I could finally escape that flat 2D looking Hell and find myself some better looking CG accommodations in... maybe a Pixar flick?

  So, in closing, Spawn has all the ingredients there to have at the very least be a guilty pleasure movie. Fantastic design, some cool scenes, Michael Jai White, some occasional cool effects, and that's about it. It's up to you to decide if that's worth the stilted acting, gross humor, terrible pacing, and amateurish direction. For me? Eh. I watched it as an excuse to review it. Or... did I plan to review it as an excuse to watch it? It's such a misfire of a movie, but one that I have nostalgic feelings for. A movie that is nothing like what it should've been, yet still so different from anything else of it's time. It's a mixed bag, and one that I'd love to remember fondly, honestly, yet I just can't.

    Ladies and Gentlemen...
                                           Spawn.

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