The Phantom (1996)

the phantom poster 1996 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 7/10

Lighthearted and fun

Have to get what the movie is trying to do

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Phantom

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Genre(s): Comic Book/Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Release Date(s): June 7, 1996

MPAA Rating: PG

the phantom costume

Get ready for fist-flying, horse riding, gun shooting adventure!!!

A ruthless businessman named Xander Drax (Treat Williams) has his eyes set on a weapon of mythic proportions.  When his mercenaries led by Quill (James Remar) enter the jungle for a sacred skull, they come face-to-face with the Phantom (Billy Zane).  Kit Walker guided by the spirit of his father (Patrick McGoohan) learns the danger of the skulls and follows the trail back to New York where he is reunited with his former love Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson) who has just encountered the Phantom for the first time as well.  Now Diana and Kit are in a race to find the remaining skulls to stop Xander before it is too late…and the Phantom always gets his man!

Directed by Simon Wincer, The Phantom is a comic book superhero action-adventure film.  Based on Lee Falk’s Kings Features comic strip which began in on February 17, 1936, the film received mixed to positive reviews but fared poorly at the box office.  It has gained a cult following since its release.

the phantom billy zane catherine zeta jones

Sala…are you trying to seduce me?

In 1996, comic book superhero movies were few and far between.  If they were made at all, they were usually pretty poor.  The Phantom was an oddity in many ways.  It was a throwback film and a superhero movie along the lines of The Rocketeer.  I saw The Phantom in the theater and watching it again, I appreciate what it was and what it wasn’t.

The movie plays as an unapologetic serial.  Like Raiders of the Lost Ark, the movie is rock-’em-sock-’em cliffhanger based thrills filled with stock characters from villains to cabbies.  The movie loosely adapts “The Singh Brotherhood”, “The Sky Band”, and “The Belt” from the comic strip, and feels like a classic action adventure from the ’30s or ’40s.  Unlike some other similar type movies, the film smartly is rather short and sweet.  It doesn’t drag, but as a result, it doesn’t feel entirely developed.

The cast is good for the purpose of the story and the film.  Billy Zane’s classic chiseled looks fit the comic book character and Kristy Swanson has the intrepid adventurer that often fit in the serials as a woman who could be both a damsel and strong.  Catherine Zeta-Jones takes the sexpot femme-fatale role in the movie, and James Remar always plays a good bad guy.  Treat Williams is intentionally over-the-top as the power-hungry Xander and I wish Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa had been in it more (and not gone out like a chump).  I also like Patrick McGoohan as the guiding spirit of the Phantom.

the phantom billy zane vs james remar

Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…I mean Kit Walker. You killed my father. Prepare to die

The movie also is supposed to look like a serial.  It does this.  It takes exotic locations and mixes it with big city thrills in a noir style.  Unfortunately, in its bright glossy colors, it also doesn’t necessarily blend well into the screen and it definitely didn’t blend in with the darker tone that many superheroes were taking at the time.  The Phantom is a shining light and he looks like it in his suit…but if he had a gritty, dark suit, it would have changed the tone and look of the movie entirely (plus, the character).

The Phantom is still a fun, quick adventure.  It is relatively harmless, and kids can enjoy it, but now, they might be too jaded with the big budget Marvel and DC movies to give The Phantom a chance.  The movie’s post theatrical popularity did lead to rumors of a sequel, but plans of a relaunch scrapped Billy Zane riding again as the Phantom.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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