Category Action Movie Reviews

Phantom, The (1996)

The Phantom (1996)

The Ghost Who Walks. The Man Who Cannot Die.

Known as ‘the ghost who walks, the man who cannot die,’ the twenty-first man to hold the title of the African superhero, The Phantom, travels to New York to investigate shady businessman Xander Drax’s interest in the fabled Skulls of Touganda. A trio of artefacts which, when brought together, give their possessor great powers, the skulls have been sought for a long time by the Phantom’s age-old enemy, the evil Sengh Brotherhood and Drax is suspected of being a member.


With Batman souring the skies in the 90s thanks to Tim Burton, there was little competition for the Caper Crusader. Superman had his day in the 70s and 80s with the Christopher Reeve films. The Incredible Hulk had dominated the TV shows but never made it to the big screen. Spider-Man had been relegated to a couple of low rent TV movies and the likes of the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Iron Man were all still yet to get off the ground. So it was left to a lesser known hero of yesteryear to make the jump from page to screen. The Phantom was a popular comic strip which originally came out in the 1930s (and pre-dates Superman by a few months) and was about ten years too early in getting released. With the fuss regarding comic book heroes nowadays, a more appreciative audience may have been found. But back in 1996, everyone was like “What? Huh? Who?” and unfortunately this is probably The Phantom’s most inherent weakness – just who is he?

Well the idea of a superhero (who doesn’t actually have superpowers, he’s more like Batman) who bizarrely wears a purple spandex costume whilst trying to blend into the background of the African jungles doesn’t really sell itself for a start but The Phantom is decent fun, if nothing else. I think the best way to sum it up is that The Phantom is, at times, like watching Indiana Jones rattle around in a full body purple jumpsuit. It’s got the same old school, pulpy serial vibe that the Indy films had and, whilst playing itself straight, never takes itself too seriously and isn’t afraid of poking a joke at itself every once in a while. It should be noted that the script was penned by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade screenwriter Jeffrey Bloam so there are plenty of similarities in style with the films.

I think the underlying problem with The Phantom is its simplicity. It never really goes for broke: the action is sporadic and not very intense when it turns up; it’s not violent in the slightest, perhaps more aimed for a younger market; and there is not a great deal of sexuality. It’s all very child-friendly and a little too corny and camp at times. You never get the ‘wow’ factor with anything. Writing a review about it, I’m finding it hard to come up with any memorable scene to highlight or any dialogue to mention. Don’t get me wrong, The Phantom is entertaining. There a million and one terms that could be used to describe the film but “bad film” isn’t amongst them. The script keeps the pace of the film moving briskly along so it’s never overly dull. But on the flip side, it never once takes your breath away. Rarely have superheroes been so, average.

Billy Zane is decent in the lead role and brings about a reasonable degree of normality and ‘everyday Joe’ quality to the role, though he lacks that extra spark or wit to make the role truly his. He is able to balance that with the buffed-up physicality needed, although the purple costume does him little favours. But in the end, The Phantom is hardly the most memorable superhero to grace the big screen despite the glaringly colourful attire. Treat Williams hams it up dramatically as Drax and the feminine quote for the film is handled by Kristy Swanson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Swanson is the love interest and though she looks great, her character is given little screen time to develop any depth. Zeta-Jones is one of the bad guys and has been taking tips from Williams on overacting the villainous role. The casting is solid but the script gives them little to work with.


The Phantom isn’t going to offend anyone in any way because of its low key approach to the material and I enjoyed watching it. But it’s instantly forgettable compared to some of the genre’s more famous recent offerings. The Phantom may have had his moment to shine but he blew it and has been long forgotten with Spider-Man and X-Men bursting onto the scene.





Rocketeer, The (1991)

The Rocketeer (1991)Cliff Secord is a young pilot whose dream of entering into a big air race with his new plane are ruined when a shoot-out involving cars on the ground below him forces him to crash-land. But whilst he is grounded, Secord stumbles across a top secret rocket pack that was hidden inside the cockpit of another plane in the hanger. Strapping on the invention, he finds that he can fly and with the assistance of his mechanic friend, Peevy, he becomes the Rocketeer. It isn’t long before he attracts the attentions of the Mafia, the FBI and Neville Sinclair, one of Hollywood’s top actors, who has a secret of his own.


Long before Iron Man hit the cinemas, another flying superhero who wore metal was one of the sole flag bearers of a niche genre which had yet to hit its stride, Batman and Superman aside. The Rocketeer was ahead of its time. Had it been made during the comic book boom of the late 00s, it would have a found a bigger, more appreciative audience. But it was a flop when it was released in 1991 and I’m not quite sure why. The Rocketeer blows the socks off a lot of today’s superhero efforts and is a lot of fun in its own quaint, charming way. Thankfully, over the years it has grown a decent cult following.

Think Iron Man meets Raiders of the Lost Ark and you won’t go too far wrong in preparing yourself for The Rocketeer. The film is set in the late 30s and a lot of effort goes into bringing to life that era with a wide variety of cars, clothes, music, hairstyles and dating etiquette on show. This wouldn’t have worked in a modern setting and the old fashioned, vintage feel helps bring the story to life in a lot more fantastical fashion – the notion of a rocket pack may not seem so far-fetched to someone in the present day as opposed to someone living in 30s America. The period setting also allows the inclusion of those favourite whipping boys, the Nazis, as the bad guys.

The retro feel of the film really allows the film to embrace its Saturday morning serial roots in much the same manner that Raiders of the Lost Ark managed to replicate so well. The film is very episodic, with the Rocketeer going from one scrape to the next and getting involved in all manner of gun battles, fist fights and battles atop blimps. The action sequences are dealt with perfectly well – this is a family-friendly Disney live-action film after all and so there’s nothing here that will offend or cause concern. The majority of action set pieces and special effects are done using old school techniques including using some well-trained stuntmen. Though some of the flying sequences with the Rocketeer look a bit dated now, they still serve their function. Everything is all very innocent and gentle, as you’d expect from the House of Mouse. It’s too bad we don’t really get enough of them. To say this superhero is meant to fly, he doesn’t do an awful lot of it.

Sadly, The Rocketeer lacks the spark that made Raiders tick – the self-referential humour. Yes there are a handful of in-jokes and sight gags but they’re sparsely scattered around the film. The throwaway material works well with gentle humour and whilst The Rocketeer never gets serious, it fails to find the funny bone as well. Coupled with the shortage of truly captivating action sequences, the film consistently threatens to come crashing back down to Earth with a bump. Thankfully the film is light enough to be able to take the rough and tumble of some poor pacing. Things never get overly boring but at the same time there seems to be a lack of energy underneath.

The Rocketeer’s main weakness comes from its leading man, Bill Campbell. Whilst he’s not terrible in the role, his performance is so average that it is hard to remember anything worthwhile he says or does in the film. The role really needed someone more charismatic and memorable to bring the character to life. Considering the supporting cast of Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin and Timothy Dalton who all outshine him, Campbell is wooden and dull. Dalton, in particular, is having a blast (having hung up his 007 tux two years earlier) as a Nazi spy doubling up as a successful Hollywood actor. If anyone ever doubted whether Dalton had the charisma to pull off Bond (he was always one of, if not my favourite, actors to play Ian Fleming’s suave spy) then this role proves he did.

James Horner provides the soundtrack and seems content to rip off his previous scores once again. Aliens and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were classic scores yet Horner continually recycles his old work to remind us of how good he once was.


A bit cheesy, full of clichés and as light and fluffy as cotton wool, The Rocketeer is nevertheless an entertaining, family-friendly superhero film which deserved far better success than it had. Not every superhero film has to be uber-serious like The Dark Knight or Man of Steel.





Superman III (1983)

Superman III (1983)

If the world’s most powerful computer can control even Superman…no one on earth is safe.

After computer whiz Gus Gorman is caught embezzling company funds, ruthless businessman Ross Webster hires the petty criminal for his own scam. He builds Gorman a super computer and instructs him to hack into a weather satellite system to change the climate of Columbia, thus destroying the coffee crop so that he can corner the market. Superman intervenes but Webster has planned ahead and exposes the Man of Steel to a batch of red Kryptonite. This has the effect of splitting Superman into good and evil versions of himself. Can he control himself whilst stopping Webster and Gorman?


The fallout from Superman II was still fresh in the minds of everyone behind-the-scenes in this series. Richard Donner had been fired during production of Superman II (despite having shot over 80% of it during the filming of Superman), producer Tom Mankiewicz and composer John Williams had left the series, Richard Lester was hired and re-shot a lot of the film, adding an unnecessary comic side to the proceedings. Actors voiced their concerns about what was going on, notably Margot Kidder who had her role as Lois Lane almost removed from this one as punishment. Without Donner at the helm and Mankiewicz pulling his strings, the Superman series quickly descended into farce and this is the first entry which had no input from either of them. And boy does it show. Superman III is an outing so different to the original that it’s a shame to include them in the same franchise.

The opening sequence set during the credits is a ridiculous slapstick routine in which Superman accidentally sets off a chain reaction of disasters in a street. The sequence seems to be totally out of place with everything else in the series preceding it but it’s a dangerous sign of things to come. Even Leslie Nielsen wouldn’t be seen dead doing something like this in one of his spoof films! How one can take anything else in the film seriously after this sequence is beyond me. Nothing comes from this sequence either and it seems tacked in for no apparent reason only than the director can do it if he wants.

The film quickly goes from bad to worse with the introduction of Gus Gorman and the stringing along of the story is basically a weak device to string together a couple of set pieces, most of which are of the comic variety. Superman III is perhaps fondly remembered for one imaginative sequence and that’s about it. Can anyone else remember anything about it apart from the good Superman versus evil Superman fight in a junkyard? The scene is so out of place in this film because it’s actually excellent and it’s a real shame because its one of the highlights of the series. Superman battles himself from pillar to post inside the junkyard and the special effects are great with Christopher Reeve seemingly fighting himself in many shots. Reeve is particularly good playing his darker, sinister side and watching him booze it up and act misogynistic is a riot. Reeves can never be replaced as Superman as he had the right combination of looks, physique, charisma and general likeability that the character needed and he shows why he became the true star of this series. His ability as an actor was never really tested in this series but he gets to show off some of his skills here.

Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is given so little time on screen as a result of voicing her opinions over Donner’s departure (good for her though) and Superman is given a secondary love interest. It’s an insult to fans of the first two Superman films as the chemistry between Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder was excellent and their ‘will they/won’t they’ pairing made for some of the more entertaining moments from both films. Her replacement, Annette O’Toole as Lana Lang, lacks any sort of connection or spark with Christopher Reeves and the romantic sub plots are given scant time as a result.

Fortunately for Gene Hackman, he managed to get out of playing Lex Luthor again and so the writers simply create a Luthor-lite character with Robert Vaughan’s Ross Webster. Vaughan’s a decent actor but the role is terrible and the script doesn’t really have him do anything, well, evil enough to be considered a major threat. Casting Richard Pryor as Gus Gorman is one of the worst casting decisions ever. The man is hilarious in his stand-up comedy, less so in most of his big screen outings. Being saddled with a family friendly rating is like cutting off his limbs.. The man just isn’t funny in this as he’s not able to be himself. He’s saddled with a dodgy script which has him doing silly things like skiing off the side of buildings wearing cowboy hats. That’s not the comedy he is renowned for. Trying to buy him as some villainous computer genius is arguably up there with trying to believe Denise Richards is a nuclear physicist in The World is Not Enough. Unfortunately this character is given so much screen time, in fact just as much if not more than Superman himself.


Superman III marked the turning point for Superman on the big screen simply for the fact that it tries to be a comedy when the material just isn’t meant to be funny. Yes, the series could be light hearted when it needed to be but this one forgets where to draw the line. The junkyard fight scene aside, this one is the least memorable of the series and is a very bland outing for the Man of Steel.





Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Nuclear Power. In the best hands, it is dangerous. In the hands of Lex Luthor, it is pure evil. This is Superman’s greatest battle. And it is for all of us.

After a young schoolboy writes to Superman asking him to do something about the nuclear arms race, the Man of Steel decides to intervene and help his adopted planet. He gathers all of the nuclear weapons in the world and hurtles them into the sun, hoping that an era of world peace will follow. However what he doesn’t know was that Lex Luthor had acquired some of Superman’s hair from a raid on a museum and attaches it to one of the missiles. The resulting explosion creates Nuclear Man, a solar-powered android that is programmed to destroy the Earth and Superman.


Every big hitting film series has a franchise killer of some kind which usually kills dead any hope of further sequels. Superman met his franchise killer in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a film which is rightfully dubbed as one of the worst superhero films ever made but one which also gets unfair treatment. Beneath the silly, the sublime and the ridiculous that is Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, there were a lot of studio problems which inevitably have had a major impact on the final product we see.

After the studio got into financial trouble, the budget was slashed in half and it shows. The film also ended up ninety minutes long yet it was cut down drastically from its original running time of one hundred and thirty five minutes! That’s a heck of a lot of film to cut out and you just wonder whether any of it would have been beneficial to the final release. Unfortunately I can only review what is in front of me and deleted footage and director’s cuts don’t mean anything if I’m not watching it. So is the reputation for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace justified?

Forgetting the financial problems, the series was on it’s last legs at this point from a creative point of view and you can tell by just how much is recycled from the previous films. It’s the same familiar set-up: Lex Luther is once again the villain after escaping from prison yet Superman has many other villains to choose from. Lois Lane and Superman go for a romantic fly and she discovers his identity, only for him to use his memory-erasing kiss on her again (isn’t that technically ‘date rape’). Superman has to fight another enemy with the same abilities (he’s already fought three Kryptonians in Superman II and took on his evil self in Superman III). I guess making a superhero who only has one real weakness and almost limitless powers does have its creative drawbacks!

Thankfully the comedy aspects which dogged the last film and Richard Lester’s contributions to Superman II have been replaced with a more mature side in which Superman makes some poignant speeches to the UN. It sounds more like an anti-nuclear propaganda reel at times with Reeves’ (who co-wrote the film) passion about disarmament clear for all to see. The introduction of a rival being who could take on Superman should have led to a lot more than we get here. Nuclear Man is horrendous. Sporting a ridiculous outfit which makes Superman’s blue-and-red ensemble look like the highlight of fashion, Nuclear Man looks like an 80s hair metal guitarist. He doesn’t lay waste to cities or use his ‘nuclear’ aspect for any nefarious purpose. Nuclear Man is devoid of any personality or defining features, he’s merely a henchman for Luthor and is there solely to provide Superman with a super-opponent to battle against. For all of Luther’s intelligence and cunning, he is after all a man and therefore no physical match for Superman.

The budget was slashed for this third sequel and you can tell with the special effects. Never the most convincing of flyers anyway, Superman now looks like he’s being held up by wires and super-imposed on a rear-projected background. The final fight between Superman and Nuclear Man takes place across a variety of poorly made sets including the worst moon set you’re going to see any time soon and contains the destruction of the Great Wall of China. It’s a daft cross between cartoon mayhem and WWE wrestling and it doesn’t work.

Familiar faces on the acting side of the film certainly help Superman IV: The Quest for Peace to at least maintain continuity with the rest of the series. Christopher Reeve IS Superman and no amount of re-casting will ever be able to change that. His performances as the bumbling Clark Kent and the dashing Superman are still some of the best that anyone who has stepped into a superhero costume has ever produced. Reeve seems somewhat bored with the whole thing now but he’s still one of the only things on show that works. Quite what Gene Hackman is doing back is another matter. The two-time Oscar winning actor is the best thing on display here and tries to compensate for all of the silliness around him. Margot Kidder is back as Lois Lane although after the damage done to her character in the last one, it’s almost pointless for her to reprise her role. Superman gets another mild love interest in this one so Lane isn’t really needed anymore.

It’s a pity because one of the strengths of Superman and Superman II was the on-off relationship between Lois/Clark and Lois/Superman. Across the board, it’s clear to see that everyone had lost their spark and interest in this series at this point. Even the writers seem to have forgotten the boundaries of science and have one of the human characters breathing in outer space without assistance.


Superman IV: The Quest for Peace isn’t as bad as everyone makes out but it’s still a debacle from start to finish. It was pure Kryptonite to the series and effectively killed off the Man of Steel for nineteen years. What a way to go out, eh?