It’s too bad that Todd McFarlane’s Spawn was made back in 1997, and without the technological savvy and storytelling slickness of today’s superhero films. For the time, its special effects were considered first-rate, and the casting of Michael Jai White as Al Simmons/Spawn is absolutely ideal. In retrospect credit must be given to New Line Studio to bankroll two comic-book based movies, Spawn and Blade, both featuring anti-heroes, and each headlined by an African-American actor. That was fairly innovative thinking (sadly) twenty years ago. The gamble paid off on both properties, while Blade would have several sequels, Spawn, has never been given the follow-up or proper big-budget treatment that would elevate this particular material. This incarnation is an overly busy, amateurish, and confused in its narrative construction.
Al Simmons is a highly efficient shadow ops assassin working under the orders of Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen). A four-foot tall clown (John Leguizamo) sent as the earthly ambassador of Malebolgia, basically a demonic creature otherwise known as Satan, works alongside Wynn orchestrating the world’s chaos and constant shifts in balance leading to death, suffering, and war. After another successful mission on foreign soil, Simmons is planning on exiting his profession to start a family with his neglected wife Wanda (Theresa Randal). But Al is summoned back for one-last job which leads to him being set-up and executed by Wynn and his double-crossing female agent (Melinda Clarke).
Five years have passed when Simmons regains consciousness in the skid row section of Rat City. What has felt like moments in hell has actually been a half decade on Earth, and a lot of things have changed. Wanda has remarried Al’s best friend Terry (D.B. Sweeney) and they have a five year-old daughter. Now, back on Earth and without his only love Al Simmons is forced to command Satan’s army, first by killing Jason Wynn.
Spawn is a fairly dopey movie, especially when compared to The Crow and others of the ilk. It rests squarely in the category of second-tier sci-fi flicks from the nineties, a sub-genre populated by the likes of Johnny Mnemonic, Universal Solider: The Return, Escape from L.A., and numerous other moderately enjoyably ditzy duds. McFarlane’s creation is still in search of an appropriate translation to the screen, unfortunately this disjointed attempt doesn’t do the character, mythology, or actors any favors.
Director: Mark A.Z. Dippé
Stars: John Leguizamo, Michael Jai White, Martin Sheen