The Phantom is one of the first comic books I ever read, and my admiration for the character and its creator, Lee Falk, is immense. I've read almost every Phantom comic book put out and it is with a lot of excitement and some trepidation that I went to see the multi-million movie project based on the comic book.
Things started off really well when the phrase "For those who came in late..." was uttered. But liberties were taken immediately after that. Fortunately for someone like me, who likes authenticism, there were not too many of these. The plot borrows from the first comic strips (The Singh Brotherhood and The Sky Band) that appeared in 1936-37, and has some new twists.
Here, the Phantom (Billy Zane) is up against the evil Xander Drax (Treat Williams) whose main goal is to obtain three magical skulls and use them together to possess vast amounts of power so he can became the absolute dictator of this world. In order to stop Drax from getting the skulls, the Phantom battles a bunch of rogues who are recruited by Drax with the aid of Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson), Hero (his horse), and Devil (his wolf).
I thought some of the details were very well executed and remained true the spirit of the comic. The skull ring's mark on people's faces, the presence of the rope people, the Jungle Patrol, Dr. Axel's Hospital, the short wave radio the Phantom uses to listen for distress calls, and the vaults where his deceased ancestors are kept invoked vivid memories of the comic. However, there were some deviations from the comic. For example, right in the beginning, it is a "young man" who washes up on the beach who swears an oath upon the skull of his father's murderer to fight piracy, cruelty, and injustice in all its forms (not a boy). The skull cave is fairly "open" in the movie whereas in the comic it is guarded by the Pygmy Bandar and you have to pass a curtain of water to get to it. But I'm just nit picking.
Billy Zane's characterisation of the Phantom is amazing. The way he draws his guns, the way he rides his horse, his smile, ... they all work very well in this context. I thought Kristy Swanson also did a great job as Diana Palmer, and Catherina Zeta-Jones was perfectly cast as Sala. In general I liked all the characters except for Xander Drax. I just thought a lot of what this character did was simply awkward, but he had his moments too (like when he spells his name).
Even though Phantom buffs are likely to get the biggest kick out of this movie, anyone who loves action flicks will probably enjoy it. There may be people who aren't familiar with the Phantom who might dislike the movie because of the way it has been directed: the movie appears to have been directed assuming a familiarity with the characters, but I think Director Simon Wincer made the right choice with this decision.
The movie is clean, simple, and doesn't take itself too seriously. It has some really funny moments, and the action is terrific. Some of the stunts are absolutely spectacular, and much of movie is set in extremely picturesque and authentic backgrounds. The best thing about this movie is that it has the feel of the comic book down, and if you enjoy the comic book, there's little chance you're going to dislike the movie. This is thus far my favourite movie of the summer, and I highly recommend watching it on the big screen.