Retroplex Cinema: The Phantom (1996)

Retroplex Cinema returns with our 2nd movie in our 3-part series of comic book movies you may have forgotten about or haven't even seen.  Today we look at the pulp super hero, The Phantom!

The Phantom (1996)
The Phantom was released in the summer of 1996 and starred Billy Zane as the "immortal" superhero that was also known as "The Ghost Who Walks".  Before we explore the film, let's explore the origins of The Phantom himself. The Phantom comes from an American adventure comic strip created by Lee Falk. The Phantom featured  a costumed crimefighter operating from the fictional African country Bangalla. is the 21st in a line of crimefighters that originated in 1536, when the father of British sailor Christopher Walker was killed during a pirate attack. Swearing an oath to fight evil on the skull of his father's murderer, Christopher started the legacy of the Phantom that would be passed from father to son, leaving people to give the mysterious figure nicknames such as "The Ghost Who Walks", "The Man Who Cannot Die" and "Guardian of the Eastern Dark", believing him to be immortal!  The film version was loosely inspired by three of The Phantom stories, "The Singh Brotherhood", "The Sky Band", and "The Belt"; but adds supernatural elements and several new characters.
     The film's plot is simple and straight forward.  The 21st successor to the role of Bengalla's resident superhero must travel to New York to prevent a rich madman from obtaining three magic skulls that would give him the secret to ultimate power.  The film did not perform well at the box office but did receive generally positive to mixed reviews from critics.  The movie has found a following on DVD and Blu-Ray and every now and then talk sparks up about a reboot or even a sequel to the movie being made.   The film was inspired by several elements from Lee Falk's first two Phantom stories, The Singh Brotherhood and The Sky Band. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays Kabai Sengh, leader of the Sengh Brotherhood (the name of the brotherhood was changed to 'Sengh' in the movie, to avoid offending people named Singh), and Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Sala, leader of the Sky Band, a group of female air-pirates, both characters having appeared in the aforementioned stories. Jon Tenney has a small part as Jimmy Wells, a wealthy playboy who appeared in a similar role in The Singh Brotherhood. The more realistic plots of Falk's original stories were dropped in favor of an adventure tale that featured the supernatural Skulls of Touganda. Falk's story The Belt, where the Phantom fights the killer of his father, was also a major influence on the story; but the name of the murderer is changed from Rama to Quill, and the 20th Phantom, played by Patrick McGoohan, is portrayed as a much older man in the film than in the comic strip.
To coincide with the premiere of the film, The Phantom was used as a part of the Got Milk? campaign, based on the character's drinking milk in the comic.  Two different Phantom action figures were made by Street Player, and promotional Phantom-rings were also offered. Different sets of Phantom collecting cards were also available in countries such as the US, Australia, Finland and Sweden. Movie theater popcorn tubs and paper soda cups featuring the film's poster were also used to help promote the film.  Despite all this, the film didn't find an audience in theaters.  The movie is a fun adventure movie and worth seeking out for the family to enjoy.  The phantom will probably walk again in theaters one day, but for now this pretty good 1996 version will have to do for audiences around the world.

Check out the film's trailer below, a few comic book covers featuring The Phantom, as well as a look at an episode of the theatrical serial from 1943!

Film's Teaser Poster