Superhero movies are a massive cultural phenomenon in current times. The movies have something for everyone, ranging from being action adventures, (‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’) to hard hitting R-rated dramas that look hard at the culture of superheroes themselves. (‘Kick-Ass’) The one genre of superhero films that hasn’t been explored too much is that of the horror kind. However, one film did push the boundaries between superhero and horror, and has been the one character that is usually associated with that genre of superhero horror films. ‘Spawn’ caused the audience to re-think what a superhero is while establishing its own tone and visual style in a market that had very much defined what superhero films were supposed to be.
Created by Comic and Toy industry legend Todd Macfarlane, Spawn is a character often used as the epitome of adult comics. While most comic book culture is for superheroes that embody the best reflections and idealisms of mankind, Spawn is a dark and scary character who dishes out his own brand of violent justice. He can even be likened more closely to an anti-hero if nothing else. The origin story of Spawn himself is a dark and disturbing tale, more so than any other conventional superhero. ‘Spawn’ sees a special ops Agent, be betrayed by his colleagues and wind up in Hell, with an offer he cannot refuse. His untimely death causes much turmoil and unrest within the soul of the agent, Al Simmons, who then literally makes a deal with the Devil to be able to return to his life and his loved ones. Not realizing that this return would be years after his death, causing everyone to move on, and having him left to fulfil his end of the deal; lead Hell’s Army on Earth. The Good
‘Spawn’ had lots of potential to be a truly groundbreaking superhero movie. All the right elements were in place. The character was the first ever supernatural horror superhero. The lead character of Al Simmons was one of the first African American superheroes to be depicted on screen by actor Michael Jai White. The actor himself was an accomplished martial artist with a lot of stunt work under his belt, making the action sequences that much more authentic. And the ‘Spawn’ franchise already had a huge built in fanbase that came with it. Recipe for success, or so most would think. Where It Went Wrong
While being very adult and graphic, ‘Spawn’ featured elements that seemed too vulgar, for the sake of being vulgar. Namely, the portrayal of John Luigizamo as The Violator. Essentially meant to be Spawn’s guide on Earth from Hell, The Violator was completely over the top and crude with his poop jokes and just over all demeanour. While the movie and story featured very philosophically subtle concepts such as a deal with the devil, (Faustian) and redemption at a cost, the inclusion of a character like Violator, felt out of place and brought down the quality of the rest of the film. The Ugly
The premise in the beginning also felt very flimsy. The big boss, played by Martin Sheen, wanting to murder one of his own, seemed unnecessarily complex. If the character wanted to tie up loose ends, then Al Simmons could’ve been ‘taken out’ in a multitude of other ways that would’ve been less ‘Bond Villain’-esque. But the dramatic manner of Simmon’s death almost seemed over the top. Where It Went Right ‘Spawn’ was completely Michael Jai White’s show. The lead actor in the title role is really who holds the movie together, as he is on screen for most of it, and the entire story is reliant heavily on his shoulder. The horrible ordeal of being encapsulated in a skin tight body suit, along with a mask that, admittedly made it heard to breath; as well as performing his own stunts within such a costume, White acknowledged that if not for his Martial Arts training and breathing techniques that he learnt as a result, his experience would’ve been a lot more difficult. Any other actor may have had even greater difficulty portraying a character in those circumstances.
‘Spawn’ was an admirable attempt at creating a superhero that was of the horror genre, more so than any other has been done thus far. The film ended on a positive note, leaving the door open for a sequel. This sequel has been in the works for decades now, always see sawing from progress to taking further steps back. All involved are optimistic, including creator Todd McFarlane and actor White, however, it would be very interesting to see a horror superhero film in today’s world, where the superhero genre rules the box office. McFarlane may even have success creating his own adult orientated universe of superhero films, something that is lacking in the shared universes of today, namely the Marvel movies, that target mostly kids and family friendly audiences. With McFarlane’s existing stable of original comic book characters, it’s a concept the creator should definitely explore.