Tuesday, June 04, 2013


The Phantom (1996) and Daredevil (2003)

A couple of superhero films for this week’s Overlooked Films, Audio and Video at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Kristy Swanson and Billy Zane in The Phantom.

I am a purist when it comes to cinematic versions of superhero comics. I often have reservations about the actors selected to play the mighty roles. They’re all very good actors but they often fall short of both character and appearance as humans, and as I know them in my comic books. For instance, Tobey Macguire looks nothing like the wavy-haired Peter Parker in the Spider-Man comics. I don’t care what they look like behind their masked outfits.

Here’s more food for the speech bubbles…

I’d cross out Michael Keaton in Batman and George Clooney in Batman & Robin, Billy Zane in The Phantom, Tobey Maguire in the Spider-Man series, Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk in The Incredible Hulk, Brandon Routh in Superman Returns, Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth in Thor, and Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk in The Avengers. That doesn't leave out many.

Ben Affleck in the Daredevil.

Those I’d tick right are Christopher Reeve in the Superman series, Val Kilmer in Batman Forever, Ben Affleck in Daredevil, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the X-Men series, and Chris Evans in Captain America and The Avengers.

I’m not surprised there’re more nays than ayes.

Those who swing both ways are Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern, Thomas Jane as the antihero in The Punisher, Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm/The Thing in The Fantastic Four, because he is permanently cursed with his “orange rocky appearance,” Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider, Ron Perlman in Hellboy, and Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko/Sandman in Spider-Man 3.

Two masked superheroes I like quite a lot are Phantom—man who cannot die—and Daredevil—the man without fear. They’re both appealing as comic-book heroes.

So, I was a bit disappointed with the choice of Billy Zane as the jungle hero in Simon Wincer’s The Phantom. The only thing that worked in Zane’s favour was his broad smile. It was the smile of the Phantom.

The ghost who walks and guardian of the eastern dark dons a suit, assumes the name of Kit Walker, and travels to New York to track down a wealthy but crazy man called Xander Drax (Treat Williams) who will overcome anything, or anyone, to possess three magic skulls that will give him unimaginable powers. He takes the Phantom’s girlfriend, Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson) hostage, guarded by Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones in a semi-villainous role).

The story was average and more or less in keeping with many stories in Phantom comics. Zane’s appearance as the Phantom was not convincing at all though he tried hard to fit into the purple-coloured body-hugging suit, sitting astride Hero, his majestic white stallion, and Devil, his brave wolf, by his side.

The Phantom’s masked appearance in 2013 would have been more cutting edge, like Christian Bale’s Batman. Unfortunately, there is no Phantom movie on the cards.

If you have read Daredevil comics, you’ll know that Ben Affleck was born to play blind lawyer Matt Murdock in the film version directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Everything about Affleck, either as Murdock the lawyer wearing a suit and dark glasses and carrying a blind man’s cane or as Daredevil in a crimson body suit and mask with twin canes, his deadly weapons of choice, was perfect.

Daredevil is more human than the accidental superhero he becomes (the consequence of a mishap with toxic waste that renders him blind but gives him superhuman vision and other senses) as he pursues his father’s killer and arch enemy, the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan), and his hired assassin, Bullseye (Colin Farrell). An excellent superhero film.

Like The Phantom, the makers of Daredevil aren't thinking of a remake of the man without fear. I’m hoping Steven Spielberg buys the rights to the ghost who walks at least.


  1. Interesting Prashant - I thought Maguire and Zane were both good casting physically as Peter Parker and The Phantom. THE PHANTOM is OK but should have been better while I think SPIDERMAN 2 is probably one of the great comic book adaptations (probably helped having Michael Chabon work on the screenplay). I used to love Daredevil as a kid though my favourite was Lee Falk's other hero, Mandrake, as I always loved magic.

  2. I thought both the phantom and daredevil movies were pretty bad. Didn't care for them. I kind of like Morton Downey Jr as Tony STark.

  3. I wish THE PUNISHER did better at the box office so we could watch some sequels. Robert Downey, Jr. seems perfect as Tony Stark/IRON MAN. And Gwyneth is great as Pepper.

  4. SPIDERMAN 2 was one of my favorite SH movies along with THE AVENGERS, which was brilliant, and some of the Batman ones were good. But on the whole, these are not my favorite types of movies.

  5. Nice post, Prashant! Interesting to note how strict you are when it comes to casting in these superhero films. Wile I like some fidelity to looks, I'm pretty pleased if the actor can approximate the spirit of the character. I'm with you on the "ayes" you listed, though as I'm no purist, I can easily get behind an imaginative and classy take on a classic hero such as the Christpher Nolan DARK KNIGHT films.

    I thought THE PHANTOM was fun enough but suffered from weak casting in the central villain (Treat Williams) and the fact that the Phantom's purple suit, as true to the comic as it is, frankly looks ridiculous in live action. I thought Billy Zane tried pretty hard, anyway. I'd lump this one in there with THE ROCKETEER as nice tries, but not home runs.

    I do think the Ben Affleck DAREDEVIL gets an unduly harsh rap. I enjoyed it at the time and still do, though I'm sure when Marvel eventually gets around to rebooting this character, that Affleck won't be let anywhere near it.

  6. Billy Zane is cute, but he wasn't right for this part. I almost never like the actors they pick for superheroes. but nothing is as bad as Seth Rogen as The Green Hornet, I almost cried.