Time: 96 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence
Michael Jai White as Albert Simmons/Spawn
John Leguizamo as The Violator
Martin Sheen as Jason Wynn
Theresa Randle as Wanda Blake Simmons-Fitzgerald
Nicol Williamson as Cogliostro
D. B. Sweeney as Terry Fitzgerald
Director: Mark A.Z. Dippé
Covert government assassin Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is killed after being double-crossed by his boss, Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen). Upon arriving in Hell, Simmons is offered an opportunity to return to Earth if he’s willing to lead an evil army. He accepts, and is reincarnated as a “Hellspawn” — a twisted, horribly disfigured version of his former self. However, Spawn serves as a force of good, much to the dismay of the Devil’s henchman, a wicked clown (John Leguizamo).
I haven’t read any of the comic books of Spawn but from what I’ve seen of it looked very unique and has potential, definitely a character that could make for a bold and surprising movie. I remember going into the 1997 Spawn with an open mind, it wasn’t well received and probably wasn’t good but I was curious about it nonetheless. Literally all my hope for the movie went out the window the moment the opening credits scene started. While I haven’t seen Catwoman and Elektra, this is honestly so far the worst superhero movie I’ve ever seen, which is really saying a lot.
This movie has a lot going for it. An assassin who dies and returns from hell with superpowers with a badass suit, it seemed like it had all the potential for a weird and entertaining superhero movie. Despite everything going on though, this movie is just so dull and boring. Looking at the plot, there’s nothing particularly stupid conceptually, and there are far worse stories in other bad comic book movies. But there’s nothing particularly exciting or entertaining about it either. Spawn is a 96 minute long movie but fails so terribly at keeping your attention it feels like it is much longer. Despite the dark tone at times, it could get really stupid and cheesy, with some dumb one liners often from Spawn himself (not to mention they don’t really know how to use John Leguizamo’s The Violator in any effective way, whom just ends up being annoying). It really doesn’t suit the tone at all. Making Spawn a M/PG-13 movie would’ve made the movie more unique and ultimately better as it would’ve been able to go deeper and darker. But instead what we have is an incredibly dull and basic at best execution of a pretty interesting concept.
I haven’t seen Michael Jai White in much but he wasn’t really good in this movie as the lead character. Granted he isn’t given much to work with despite playing the titular character. Al Simmons/Spawn really isn’t that compelling as a character in this movie, which feels like a wasted opportunity. He just comes across as feeling like a rather generic wronged protagonist back for revenge. What deflated that aspect also is all the one liners that he has, and none of them work at all. John Leguizamo is the main villain, playing a character called The Violator who is a clown (and based off a character). Honestly, I’m having a hard time deciding whether his performance was good or bad. He was quite annoying but he is having fun and is absolutely embracing his character and is entertaining at times. What happens with the character at the end was not so great, as the film tries to use a lot of CGI with him, which as you’ll find out later is one of the worst aspects of the film. I don’t know why Martin Sheen, of all the actors out there, ended up in this movie, he gets nothing to do other than play some generic boring one dimensional secondary villain, he doesn’t really get any chance to shine whatsoever. There’s not much to say about the rest of the cast.
This film was directed by Mark A.Z. Dippé, who would later go on to direct some Garfield animated movies, his direction here is pretty bad. Outside his work as a director, he is known as a visual effects supervisor on films like Jurassic Park and The Hunt for Red October, which is ironic considering that Spawn has some of the worst special effects of a movie I’ve seen, let alone a superhero movie. Somehow Spawn had a budget of $40 million and I don’t see how that is possible at all. The opening credits sequence was the biggest of all red flags. It looks so 90s and amateurish, and I felt honestly embarrassed for the movie. And the effects on the rest of the film were just unbelievably awful, it was Mortal Kombat Annihilation levels of CGI. One of the stand out worst CGI moments was a sequence when Spawn was in hell, and everything looked bad with fake CG people, fake CG fire, fake CG room but particularly the fakest looking CGI devil figure in a movie, when he speaks the lip syncing is completely off. It’s incredibly embarrassing. The monster effects were often the worst CGI moments. Quite simply, this movie wasn’t made in the right time. I liked the actual design of Spawn, and if he had better CGI he could’ve looked quite badass. Unfortunately, the CGI on him isn’t good either, but it’s better than most of the effects in the movie. Some of the standard action scenes with him just shooting people or something along those lines were okay. It feels like this movie should’ve been more violent and darker but for whatever reason they didn’t make it that way so a lot of the general tone is all over the place.
So far, this is the worst superhero movie I’ve seen yet. With less than stellar acting, a boring story with potential, and some absolutely atrocious effects, it really blew me away with how awful it was. I think the biggest reason that this didn’t work is because it was released too early. Spawn has an insane world with some insane things, its about hell, is about someone returning from the dead with superpowers and it features a weird short fat clown as a villain and it would only really work if it could go full out with the craziness. Spawn however released during the worst period for comic book movies, with other bad comic book movies like Batman and Robin. Also the quality of CGI wasn’t quite at the level that was needed for this world, also making an R rated comic book movie at the time was risky. Despite this, there is now a Spawn movie finally coming out next year with Jamie Foxx and directed and written by Spawn creator Todd Macfarlane and I’m kind of curious about it. This character and his world has the potential to make for a unique movie in the genre. We are now in a time where superhero movies can be R rated and can push the boundaries (Logan, Deadpool) and also feature some insane ideas. Let’s hope that Macfarlane’s Spawn movie matches its potential, but it won’t need to try too hard to be supremely better than whatever the 1997 movie is supposed to be.