Good heavens, look at the time! It’s been a while since I rolled randomly on the list of movies I’ve referenced but haven’t reviewed yet, so let’s do that again! Out of a list of 291 movies (why do I do this to myself), the random die roller picks… #247! And that film is… available exclusively on HBO Max, a streaming service I don’t currently have access to. Oh no, it looks like I’ll have to talk about a secret agent monkey another day. So let’s roll again… #195! The Phantom! This I can do!
The titular Phantom comes from a lineage of white guys trained by African natives, vowing to stop piracy, evil, and specifically the Sengh Brotherhood. The current Phantom in 1938 is Kit Walker (the dreamy Mr. Billy Zane), the son of the Phantom who was killed by the Sengh thug Quill (James Remar). He fails to stop Quill from stealing one of the Skulls of Touganda, a set of artifacts that, when combined with the other two skulls, will grant ultimate power. Quill is working for evil businessman Xander Drax (Treat Williams), who finds resistance to his plans from socialite Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson, from the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Drax has Diana kidnapped, and Kit–who just so happened to be her college sweetheart–rushes as the Phantom to save her from Quill’s evil sexy pilot, Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Drax easily gets the second skull and captures Diana again, forcing the Phantom to follow them to a place that’s not the Bermuda Triangle, but is totally supposed to be the Bermuda Triangle. There they find the leader of the Sengh Brotherhood who has had the third skull for centuries (man, the Phantoms suck at protecting these skulls). The three skulls are united and the only force that can stop them is the Phantom’s power ring. Hm… dressed in all purple, has a ring that emits a violet power beam, and saved the day (in part) for the woman he loves… Kit Walker confirmed as a Star Sapphire, a member of the Violet Lantern Corps! They even mention the gemstone in the film! …well at least I found that funny. Anyway, Sala–no longer evil because female solidarity against sexist men or something, it’s not clearly explained–Diana, and the Phantom escape while Drax and the Sengh Brotherhood die as their literal secret base under an active volcano explodes. Diana reveals she knows Kit is the Phantom, and the ghost of Kit’s father narrates that they’ll eventually be together.
The 90’s were a very different time. Superhero movies were not the zeitgeist they are now, and they tended to have less of a “gritty realism” feel than such films today. What I’m trying to say is that this movie is pure mid-90’s cheese. It also falls into a weird moment in cinema where it stars big names before they got really big. Like, sure, Billy Zane’s film debut was Back to the Future and got this part because of his performance in Dead Calm, but Titanic–the film he’s probably best known for–was still a year away. This also came out two years before The Mask of Zorro, meaning Caterine Zeta-Jones wasn’t as well known at the time. Not quite “before they got big,” but still.
But what would this movie be without Xander Drax? Treat Williams’ performance is, for lack of a better word, a treat. Drax is cartoonishly evil and loving every minute of it. He kills a guy with a blade hidden in a microscope, a death that is a thousand times more elaborate than it needed to be (especially when he kills another guy later by throwing a spear into him). He starts a presentation about the skulls with the bold declaration, “God is dead, and darkness rules the earth.” His last word is an excited, “Unbelievable!” followed by a cackle and him exploding. He’s just so campy and over the top, he really makes this movie memorable. I mean, beyond Billy Zane’s bulge.
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