Spawn

The Nightmare on Elm Street series started off strong and got bad very quickly. The original movie had some visual ambition: if Freddie was going to murder people in their dreams then those sequences were going to try to look dreamlike. By the third or fourth movie the dream sequences had lost any trace of surreality and had just become action movie set pieces. Freddie's victims were no longer dreaming of places that had emotional significance to them, they were dreaming of places like junkyards that you could blow up real cheap .

A similar thing happened in comic books. Theoretically anything that could be drawn could become a comic book, and guys like Jack Kirby were just as likely to draw a story set in the far reaches of outer space as they were to draw one that took place in New York City. But it doesn't take very long for Spawn the movie to remind you of how limited the idea of a comic book hero had become by the 90s. (And yes, I understand that Spawn the movie and Spawn the comic book aren't exactly the same thing, but most of the things that really bug me about Spawn's character were the same in both iterations.) Spawn's backstory checks off all the cliches of a 90's antihero: haunted by his own past (check); defined by a loved one he can no longer be with (check); responds to all crises by hanging out on a rooftop and brooding (check). Comic books used to have characters who roamed the galaxy eating planets; Spawn is a guy who has all the powers of hell at his disposal and still spends most of the movie shooting two guns.

The real problem, however, is not that there's something generic about Spawn's character, but that it's generic and bad. Al Simmons is a mercenary who apparently has had more kills than any other soldier in history (despite the fact that he seems to live in a suburb, not a warzone, because he goes back to hang out with his wife after he fires one rocket at one plane in the beginning of the movie. If he's racking up that high of a death count while being driving distance from his house his suburb must have a hellaciously low property value.) Since Al is such a bad-ass Satan wants him for his army, so after Al is fatally betrayed on a mission Satan makes him a deal: he can go to Earth to see his wife again but he has to agree to lead Satan's army. Now, I have no idea why Satan would make this deal; somehow he spends five years in hell with Al's soul (which you would think his his truest, most transparent self) without ever picking up on the fact that Al was pretty ambivalent about being evil - even though Al says at the beginning of the movie to everyone that will listen that he doesn't like killing and wants to stop doing it. Once Al is back on Earth it's a never ending stream of apocalyptic claptrap, which lazy writers like because talking vaguely about the ultimate battle of good and evil allows you to create high stakes without doing a lot of heavy lifting on your own.

The writing isn't the worst part about this movie, but there's no point in ripping on this movie for it's terrible CGI. (And if you want to get an idea of how terrible the CGI is, check out it's rendering of Hell at the end of this review. Keep in mind that Satan's mouth can't close and also isn't synced to his voice.) Yes, the film looks like garbage, but the technology just wasn't there are the time to make a realistic looking hellscape on a computer, so you can almost forgive them for their misguided ambition. In contrast, better writing was available to them. They could have written a more interesting character; it doesn't cost that much to add extra dialogue to a script. If they were going to commit to having a poorly rendered hell in their movie they could have put a little more thought into what would define their vision; creating a few novel motifs for the inferno wouldn't have cost any more to animate and it would have looked better than what they got, which basically resembles the background of a Mortal Kombat level. They had the entire history of religious symbolism to draw from so they could have done so many things that would evoke powerful iconography, so why have Spawn get crucified on a fence in a back alley? It's a dream world so dream big; don't dream up a junkyard because that's just depressing.

Winner: The Cat

Spawn on IMDB

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