Forgotten Gems: The Phantom

Nerdling Tales takes a mostly spoiler free look at cult classics mostly overlooked by the public, movies that failed so hard they won, and the “what in the hell were they thinking” flicks. Join her as she reminisces about what makes these movies so interesting and full of hopeful sequel potential, and yet the general movie going population tends to forget their existence.

Just because I feel a little campy today we are going to talk about the super laughable The Phantom. Not the one in the opera.

The Phantom

Released: June 7, 1996
Director: Simon Wincer
Writer: Jeffrey Boam
Stars: Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar, David Proval, Jon Tenney, Patrick McGoohan, Bernard Kates, Robert Coleby

The Phantom is based on a comic strip by Lee Faulk. The movie is set in 1938 and is about a guy who runs around in a purple onesie (Zane) working to fight piracy and in justice in all of its forms. He was born in and mostly works out of the Bengalla jungle in Africa, but has been educated in America under the name Kit Walker. The Phantom, or The Ghost Who Walks, is title handed down from father to son thru the generations. There is not super powers passed down, just a ring with a skull on it and a gun. When Kit’s father was killed, he had to return home and take up the mantel. Sounds a little like another comic based movie due out here in a couple of years. A crazy millionaire, Xander Drax (Williams) is looking for the Skulls of Touganda with the aid of a mercenary (Remar) and an air pirate (Zeta-Jones). When the Skulls are united… blah, blah, super weapon, blah. It is super powerful and The Phantom has to stop them and gets help from his girl Friday Diana Palmer a news reporter for the World Tribune, who was also Kit’s college sweetheart before he had to go home and be a super hero.

The Phantom was one of those movies I loved when it first came out. I was 14 and it stared the original Buffy Summers in another kick ass female role. Watching it years later I could see just how bad the movie was. Strangely enough, I still love this flick. Don’t judge me! It is fun and cheesy and I love fun and cheesy. It holds a special place for me because I miss the fun campiness of superhero movies and TV shows. Don’t get me wrong, I love what the MCU and DCSU are doing with the superhero/comic book genre. I just miss the fun of an oh-so-bad-yet-oh-so-good superhero movie. It is a big reason that despite its flaws, I absolutely love Ant-Man.

But let’s face it, this movie has so much more of the oh-so-bad than the oh-so-good. Walker talks to the spirit of his dead father (McGoohan), who also narrates the beginning and end of the film, and no one bats an eye. Williams and Remar chew the scenery like it was their last meal. The dialogue is just so bad and delivered with a strange mania. The fighting scenes are comically slow. Either the stuntmen the production hired were really not good, or they tried to save some money with having the actors do as much of the fight choreography as possible.

The oh-so-good is Swanson and Zeta-Jones. Swanson does not blow us away as Diana Palmer, but she has a fiery, kick ass persona. When The Phantom initially goes to rescue her when she is on her way to Africa, she takes over the rescue effort and starts to lead The Phantom out of danger. She also throws a mean punch. Zeta-Jones smolders as Sala, the leader of an all-female air pirate squadron. She gets to be in the bad guy inner circle and it is fun to watch her be a mean girl. A ripped Zane was a nice little treat as well along with his adorable optimism we don’t really get to see with superheroes anymore.

All in all, when you watch The Phantom just be ready for the bad, but try and enjoy the good. It is available now if you have an HBO Go subscription.

For those who have seen The Phantom, what did you think? Did you love the campiness? Was the purple onesie a little too much for you? Let me know in the comments section and beware of the Ghost Who Walks (old jungle saying).

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About Nerdling

The Nerdling has an unhealthy obsession with books, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Star Wars. She finds hockey to be the best sport in the world (Go Dallas Stars!) and is working on her first novel, but mostly glowers at a blank screen. You can find her on Twitter @nerdlingstale on Facebook @NerdlingTales or Instagram @nerdling_tales

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