Advance Review: Syfy's The Phantom (Airing June 20)
Review by Craig Byrne
Syfy's "movie event" of The Phantom premieres in the United States on June 20, and we've had the opportunity to do an advance review.
The pilot movie is more of a four-hour mini-series which will air back-to-back on Sunday night starting at 7PM.
The Phantom has always been a favorite character of mine since first seeing him in the Defenders of the Earth cartoon in the 1980's, where he teamed up with Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, and Lothar against the evil Ming the Merciless. I bought related comics over the years and always wondered why the Phantom hasn't had the same success here in the States that he has had in other countries. Yes, there has been the comic strip, and there have been numerous comic book series, and even a recent situation where two publishers both were aiming to publish The Phantom, but it's nowhere near the overseas recognition the character has gotten, where the Swedish Fantomen magazine has had over 1500 issues published - that's over 600 ahead of Superman's Action Comics, for those of you keeping count at home.
One of the most interesting aspects of The Phantom is the fact that he's a legacy character. Every generation's first born son is a "Kit Walker" and takes on the mantle of The Phantom, "The Ghost Who Walks," a character who recurs over the centuries to the extent that people might think it's been the same man for all of these years. I admit I'm not entirely sure how this is handled in the comic strips, if this has actually happened, with sons taking over for their fathers, but the generational aspect is very interesting to me and comes into play here in the movie. A newcomer who has no idea about The Phantom or his legacy could quickly learn from watching this, and no one will feel left out.
When the first bits of the RHI/Muse/Syfy Phantom started coming out, many people were hesitant. They weren't happy with the costume, which didn't look very flattering in the initially released photography. Then there was the first leaked trailer for the project, which - no offense to the people who put it together - seemed to highlight the best rather than the worst of the movie. The recent Syfy Channel promo for the series was much more accurate:
Unfortunately, there are aspects of the original promo that do make it all the way through. The accents and behavior of the villains are very over the top and childish. I understand that the source material is a comic but I don't understand why it was presented this way. If someone randomly tunes in and sees the villain stuff, they'll sadly miss the better parts this movie has to offer.
Ryan Carnes begins the movie as "Chris Moore," a young man who doesn't remember his young childhood and the accident that took his birth mother, beyond some dreams. He doesn't find out until this movie that his "parents" were actually adoptive and that his true father was the previous Phantom. Chris is an expert at the sport of parkour, which will come in handy when he starts wearing a purple suit and fighting crime. He also has a love interest in Renny Davidson (Cameron Goodman), the daughter of a police sergeant. The interactions with Chris and Renny near the start of the movie seems to be all set-up and a little forced; by the movie's end, without giving anything away, the chemistry is definitely there and she could be a fantastic female lead if this were to go to series. I think part of why I like her is that she's not clueless - her character always seems to suspect when something is up.
Chris Moore's world turns a bit upside down when he first meets Abel Vandermaark (Jean Marchand), a mentor who worked with his father. After tragedy strikes, Vandermaark takes Chris to Bengalia, where he meets the loyal Guran as well as a whole support team that trains him to be the next Phantom, complete with a protective suit.
Within the context of that original trailer, it looks as though the movie is mocking the Phantom's original outfit by replacing it with something "new and hip;" in the actual movie, the new suit does have a much-increased functionality and actually looks quite cool in motion. I'm not sure I'm liking the mask - it still reminds me of Marvel's Shroud - but the rest of it works out really well.
I really like The Phantom's support team, and the element of anyone who is under the protection of The Phantom wearing a special ring also comes into play. I really liked the Skull Cave and Bengalia is great. I cannot believe that exquisite set was made for the purpose of just a TV-movie.
The mentor, Vandermaark, irritates the heck out of me, though I know that's the intention of his character.
I didn't get very far watching Syfy's Flash Gordon, but I can definitely say that, even though that one featured Smallville's Eric Johnson, this project is much truer to form. It is well-written by the Knaufs, who also wrote Marvel's Iron Man comic for a while. The effects and sets are top notch, and the acting - at least from those who aren't over-the-top villains - was good. There's a makeup effect near the end that is rather unfortunate, but they could cover that up, I guess, if they were to do a sequel. It's really bad.
Best of all, The Phantom left me wanting more. I have no doubt in my mind that I'd watch a Phantom series, and maybe if the response and ratings are good enough, Syfy will continue the series beyond this movie. There is definitely setup for more. I just hope the principal cast from this movie would be along for the ride. They can keep the costume - change the mask if they want - and we could have a great super-hero series on Cable TV for the first time in years. I love, and encourage, the use of comic book classics for television adaptations, and from at least my peripheral knowledge of The Phantom, this stays true.
If you're home on Sunday night, is to watch it and see what you think. Keep watching, and I think (or hope) you'll be rewarded. I admit, my biggest criteria for liking (or disliking) a movie or TV show is whether or not I am entertained or bored. In this case, I was entertained and I was definitely not bored.