Does The Spawn Movie Deserve Its 17% Rotten Tomatoes Score?
If nothing else, Spawn was – and is – one of a kind. Prior to the superhero franchise dominance we recognize today, Spawn dared to feature a relatively obscure superhero from an independent comic company — whose main character was also a black man.
For all its signaling virtue, the hubbub around the great Black Panther was largely misinformed. It didn’t feature the first black superhero onscreen, and having was nicknamed as such (despite the pleasure and importance Black Panther is) would only recapture the inclusive heroes of the past, including the eponymous Meteor Man and Pootie Tangwith Wesley Snipes Blade and yes, Spawn.
Spawn was dark and edgy, and screamed ANTIHERO with powerful capitalization straight from the depths of hell. SpawnThe comic book covers of (inked by creator Todd McFarlane), with their punky vibes, ruby red Dracula-style cape and piercing Predator eyes were gothic and scary to see on store shelves. Spawn looked mean, vicious.
In 1991, Todd McFarlane will leave Marvel (after having rejuvenated Spider Man first-hand with his spindly, lean approach to the character), breaking away and co-founding his own company with Image Comics. In May 1992, McFarlane’s Spawn hit the shelves, providing an alternative to Marvel and DC Comics’ Big Two.
Five years later, carried away by the hype of a new feature film, Spawn was the best-selling comic in the United States, after selling Weird X-Men of nearly 5,000 units (Marvel had also filed for bankruptcy a year earlier). Nonetheless, it was a dark and nihilistic comic, brilliant but hopeless and bordering on satanic. Even now, decades later, in a market entirely stifled by every possible superhero in the limelight, a Spawn film is always a risk. Back then, in 1997, it was a risk that completely backfired.
Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is a Marine, sent into situations to take out specialized targets. Looking to get out of the game for good, he plans to settle down and spend time with his beloved wife. During his “One Last Mission”, Simmons is double-crossed by his boss (Martin Sheen). Murdered and sent straight to Hell, Simmons is resurrected as Hellspawn – a general in Satan’s army. It’s the world of Spawn.
the Spawn the film is a terrible mess that moves from scene to scene so quickly and without any tact or mediative quality. It’s pretty inconsistent from the start, with plot point after plot point, but none worked out. Every character is doubly paper thin, with the dialogue being basic and the acting even worse.
What should be a perfect cast, with an extremely handsome Michael Jai White, is totally wasted; neither her natural beauty nor her true martial arts skills are ever really showcased. Martin Sheen, with his greasy black dye job, is particularly awful, and not enough pantomime to be funny either. Spawn doesn’t even have the factor so bad, it’s good, unfortunately.
It’s not a movie to laugh at, but rather (when its bad attempts at one-liners come in) a movie that’s straight up laughable, with IMDB’s “Trivia” section providing a more enjoyable time than just sitting back and support the Spawn runtime (John Leguizamo describes his time in the big clown costume as, “Like a penis wearing a condom“).
worse than hell
Spawn is a movie that actually got worse with age. Spawn looks visually worse than the Nintendo 64 games that were released at the time. Some say the CGI was being completed a few weeks before Spawnthe cinema release of, and it shows sadly.
Spawn’s cape, a tired, faded red leaf, smears across the screen, and it’s downright ugly to look at. In the final act, CGI completely takes over, making the screen look like it was created through Microsoft Paint – then annihilated through a blender. It hurts to watch (this is no joke, this is migraine territory and a seizure warning should have been provided). There’s a reason people called him one of the grossest films of its decade.
Compare Spawn for Blade again (a movie that admittedly submits to terrible CGI at the end), and Blade passes for the favorite child, even if Blade came out just 15 months later Spawn. The similarities are many, but Blade shows that a movie could be made with a lesser-known black superhero and also be wildly successful and badass. Spawn does not succeed at all.
There are very few positives for this movie. Perhaps the only big thing is John Leguizamo’s performance as the unrecognizable Violator, a grotesque and unforgettable character. Physically squatting to appear shorter throughout each of his scenes, Leguizamo’s clown is actively disgusting, with scenes where he regularly farts (in fact) eat live maggotsand dip the worms in the mayonnaise.
His mischievous performance here is actually reminiscent of a satanic version of Aladdin‘s Genie, or the role of Jim Carrey in The mask (another example of a well-done black sheep cartoon character). Again, though, even that is overshadowed by poor CGI that entirely obliterates everything in sight.
Spawn is very much a product of its time, and surprisingly, some people back then really loved it. With a budget of $40 million, the film fetched more than double its worldwide budget. In 1997, the usually on-point Roger Ebert was comically off the beat when he gave the film a near-perfect review, indicating:
[Spawn has] some of the most impressive effects I’ve seen. The disciplines blend into each other: Animation, make-up, costumes, process shots, morphing. They create a place and a look as specific as the places evoked in films such as “Metropolis” and “Blade Runner”. As a visual experience, “Spawn” is unforgettable.
To each his own, but yuck… It makes sense that the movie actually got worse with age (with CGI advancements), and if the great Ebert was still with us, his review would probably be reevaluated. Elsewhere, no one has done particularly well with the project. Director (and former visual effects artist at the time) Mark AZ Dippe literally hasn’t directed a feature film since, and in 2018, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Jai White said in a neutral tone“There is no video of me saying that I loved Spawn. I never said I thought it was a good movie.”
To be continued…
Despite a totally forgettable on-screen exit, Spawn is survived by a fantastic cartoon series that ran for three series between 1997 and 1999, a perfect video game guest Mortal Kombat 11 as a playable character (both iterations voiced by Keith David), and of course a comic book series has continued to this day, confirming that the character still has a firm footing in some parts of popular culture.
Looking to the future, and perhaps to right the wrongs of the past film, a new Spawn The feature is in development with Todd McFarlane set to direct, with Jamie Foxx in the lead role and supporting Jeremy Renner (Hawk Eye). Add to that the fact that this film is produced by horror mainstay Blumhouse (Get out, the invisible man, Halloween kills), and it all sounds like an extremely confident production.
Foxx spoke to Yahoo in 2020saying: “[I said to Todd McFarlane] Brother, I know one day you’ll make this movie, and I hope you keep me in mind.” He continued:
What Black Panther let us know it was so necessary, and now is the time. And Spawn is just an interesting character on its own. Buds that come together to bring you something special – watch out.
This all sounds extremely promising and should be better than the 90s Spawn movie, although that’s a pretty low bar to set. Does the original Spawn movie really deserves such a low rating? Should it be so universally decried? To quote Spawn himself: “Hell Yeah!”
Spawn Cinematic Universe teased by creator Todd McFarlane?
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