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IN SHORT: 11 year old boys are gonna go berserk.
Everybody else is going to sit there, numb, as a very complicated comic book story is crammed into 90 minutes of celluloid. Screenwriter Alan McElroy has the right idea, allowing narration to compliment an opening montage in which the characters and situation -- the coming war between Heaven and Hell, and the devil Malebolgia's need for a leader of his Army of Armageddon -- are all laid out.
Ah, who am I kidding? The thing was terrible. Almost laughable (and Cranky is an avid comic book reader and collector, so I'm predisposed to liking this thing). Let me tell you a story . . .
It seems like only yesterday; teen Cranky sitting with his friends, waiting to have the beejeezus scared out of them at a showing of The Exorcist. In the back of the theater some girl starts laughing when Linda Blair cuts her first devil-tooth. From that point, The Exorcist was a comedy -- and a pretty funny one at that.
Anyone laughing at the opening has doomed Spawn from the start. Which is not to say it isn't deliberately funny, 'cuz it has its moments.
It doesn't matter what I say, 'cuz every boy kidlet from 8 to 15 or so is going to flock to Spawn. They already know more of the background of the characters than the film can present. They'll catch the reference to the Phlebiac Brothers, or the walk through cameo by Angela the Huntress . . .
Oh wait, you don't know what I'm talking about.
Al Simmons (Michael Jai White), a one man killing machine for the secretive government agency A-6, is murdered -- burned and blown up -- by his commander, Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen) and his leather clad lackey Jessica Priest (Melinda Clarke). He makes a pact with the aforementioned Malebolgia, the ruler of the Eighth Level of Hell, to lead the Army of Armageddon in battle. For Al's part, he gets to return to earth so that he can see his wife, Wanda (Theresa Russell) and revenge his murder by killing Wynn.
Except that he has no place to return to. It's five years later, Al is still burned to a crisp, and Wanda has married his best friend Terry (D.B. Sweeney) and has a daughter by him.
Now living among the homeless in a back alley by an abandoned church, Spawn is approached by two potential mentors. One is a 500 year old Saxony warrior named Cogliostro (Nicol Williamson) who seeks to turn the young hellspawn into a warrior for good. The other is a Clown (a truly enjoyable performance by John Leguizamo) whose job it is to ensure the killing of Wynn, thus triggering the release of a biological weapon that will destroy earth and jumpstart Armageddon. Failing that, Clown turns into a 13 foot tall demon called Violator who seeks to cut Spawn's head off, sending the pieces of his necroplasmic body back to Hell.
Too much story. Too little time.
Michael Jai White growls and barks. Martin Sheen overacts in true comic book story mode. Melinda Clarke looks great in leather and bodice, also in true comic book story mode. John Leguizamo, on the other hand, delivers a great performance, one that you can laugh at while anticipating the bullets and hellfire to come. They come in copius quantity, too. Especially the hellfire.
Like I said, 11 year olds are going to go berserk.
21 effects companies, helmed by the always impressive ILM put together the fire and brimstone and living costume and cape effects. Everything works, save the battle scenes between Violator and Spawn, which looks like a monster whacking around a doll. Director Mark Dippé pieces the movie together like a comic book, with narration or flashbacks or cinematic wipes calling attention to each transition. Like a comic, which goes month to month planting bits of story, characters flit through Spawn who won't be seen again until Spawn 2. And there will be Spawn 2, for the battle between Heaven and Hell is neverending. Next up, Spawn versus Angela the Huntress, or one of the other Phlebiac Brothers mentined by name.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Spawn, he would have paid...
Hell if I know. It's somewhere around $4
The kidlets are going to eat it up again and again and again.
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