Spawn, the comic book, has become a cult favorite, and it is obvious why. With its non-traditional anti-hero, with lots of chains and a dollup of satanic imagery, the comics naturally appeal to their anti-establishment natured fans. So it is natural that a film adaptation of Spawn would soon follow. However, the film captures the dark, gothic look of the comics, but little else.
Michael Jai White is Al Simmons, an operative in a top-secret branch of the CIA. Unbeknownst to him, his superior, Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen) is in league with the devil. When Simmons threatens to quit, Wynn persuades him to go on one last mission: to eliminate a bio-warfare plant in North Korea. However, the mission turns into a deathtrap orchestrated by Wynn, and Simmons dies and goes to Hell.
In Hell, a rather large computer generated demon, Maleboglia, makes a deal with Simmons. He can return to Earth to see his beloved wife, Wanda (Theresa Randle), if he agrees to lead Hell’s armies. However, Simmons is returned five years later, as an unrecognizable figure of burned flesh. Or NecroFlesh, as the case may be. His altered flesh can shapechange at its own will into armor, spikes, chains, or a cool cape. It also has amazing healing abilities. Simmons can die again, but only if his head is severed.
Anyhow, under the watchful eye of The Clown (John Leguizamo), one of Maleboglia’s minions, Simmons learns that he was betrayed. The real Al Simmons died, Wanda remarried, and he is now merely Spawn (as in Hellspawn, that is). Rather than listen to the advice of Cogliostro (Nicol Williamson), another human who faced the same fate, Spawn decides to seek revenge and kill Jason Wynn, just what The Clown has in mind.
Where the film succeeds is in its imagery. It creates a dark and unfriendly world and a introduces a mysterious antihero. The sets and costuming all add to the bleak gloominess. The film’s Hellish opening and end titles are nearly as disquieting as those of Seven (not surprising, considering their similar origin).
The film relies a bit too heavily on the use of computer-generated graphics, however. Easy to spot, and fake-looking, the effects almost become a distraction. The scenes in Hell are particularly problematic. They look like they’re lifted out of a bad computer game. I’m not sure if the effects-makers just tried to do too much, or did too little, but whatever the cause, the result doesn’t pay off as much as they’d like.
A bigger problem for Spawn lies in its script. First of all, the plot. It’s not that complex (pretty much a straighforward betrayal-and-revenge story), but somewhere along the way it gets all tangled. The film even includes a handy primer, for those unfamiliar with the comic world, in its rushed opening narration. But, still, unless you’re familiar with the story, things get unnecessarily complex. A good example of where things go wrong is with the character of Cogliostro. He film only gives vague hints at who he is, and his primary purpose, to mentor Spawn, comes so late in the film that it seems redundant.
The dialogue has some problems, too. It’s brisk and uninformative, especially when it comes to explanations or furthering the plot. However, there’s a lot of fat too, particularly with the non-stop non-sequitur delivery of The Clown, who does have a few funny moments (though not as many as he should have), and plenty of bad ones.
The movie resembles its origins in several ways. It’s dark and flashy like the comic book, yet as light as one, too. There have been better films adapted from comic books, and worse ones. However, Spawn delivers as much eye candy as the best, but not nearly as much substance.