The Phantom

Paramount Pictures/The Ladd Company/Village Roadshow Pictures

Produced by Robert Evans and Alan Ladd, Jr.
Directed by Simon Wincer
Written by Jeffrey Boam
Based on “The Phantom” created by Lee Falk

Music by David Newman

Cinematography by David Burr

Edited by O. Nicholas Brown/Bryan H. Carroll

I have absolutely no idea why some movies become major hits and others fail miserably. Especially movies such as THE PHANTOM which ranks right up there with “Superman: The Movie” Tim Burton’s first “Batman” “Batman Begins” “X-Men: First Class” “The Rocketeer” and Ang Lee’s “The Hulk” as one of the best superhero movies ever made. Hell, it’s a damn good movie, period. The cast is outstanding, the locations beautiful, the action non-stop, the music appropriately heroic and romantic. This was a movie that should have been a blockbuster hit in theatres. But it failed to find an audience. I was one of those who saw it during the original theatrical run. I went during a matinee and there was just myself and two guys in their seventies who remembered reading “The Phantom” in the newspapers as kids. We all had a great time watching the movie. Since then I’ve recommended THE PHANTOM to a lot of people who have seen it and loved it. They claim that they never saw advertisements for the movie but that may be just as well. The tagline for the movie was so colossally stupid I hope the egg roll that thought of it was demoted to Junior Washroom Attendant (What the hell was ‘Slam Evil!’ supposed to mean?)

It may be that people just looked at the ads and assumed that The Phantom was a rip-off of Batman set in the jungle. Actually, The Phantom debuted in 1936 and Batman didn’t appear until 1939. Indeed, The Phantom is credited as being the very first costumed superhero. But so many things that made The Phantom unique has been taken as adopted by creators of other superheroes that it’s not surprising that many modern day viewers dismissed the movie as being an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Batman and Spider-Man. Which is really a shame. THE PHANTOM is remarkably faithful to the source material and a movie done with a tremendous amount of respect and love for the character.

The origins of The Phantom is told to us during the credits: In 1516 a young boy named Kit Walker is serving as cabin boy aboard his father’s ship. During a routine voyage to Africa to trade goods the ruthless Singh Brotherhood, a feared band of pirates, attacks the ship. The boy Kit is the only survivor and escapes to be washed up on the shores of Bengalla. The Bandar tribe befriends him, teach him their language and heir ways. Kit finds the body of his father, partially eaten by scavengers. He takes his father’s skull and swears an oath upon it: Kit and all his descendants will combat piracy in all its forms. And so The Phantom is born. When one Phantom dies, his eldest son takes on the role of The Phantom. As a result, there is a myth that The Phantom cannot die and is immortal. He is known the world over as The Ghost Who Walks and it is this belief that is The Phantom’s strongest weapon in his battle against evil. Only the Bandar tribe, the wives and family of the various Phantoms know the true secret.

THE PHANTOM takes place in 1936 where the current Phantom/Kit Walker (Billy Zane) finds himself up against Xander Drax (Treat Williams) a millionaire industrialist/crimelord who is searching for the Three Skulls Of Togunda: mystical artifacts that when brought together will give him ultimate power. Drax has two formidable henchmen in the mercenary Quill (James Remar) who killed the 20th Phantom (Patrick McGoohan) and female martial arts expert/pilot Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones). But The Phantom has help from the equally formidable Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy The Vampire Slayer, yay!) who has uncovered a connection between Drax and The Singh Brotherhood. Diana’s a plucky, adventurous girl with a mean right hook that still carries a big torch for a boy she loved in college. They had thought about getting married but his father died and he had to leave The United States to take over the family business. The boy’s name is Kit Walker.


Diana and The Phantom meet after Diana’s plane is forced down by Sala and her crew of female fighter plane pilots and The Phantom has to rescue her from a tramp steamer crewed by merciless killers. From then, it’s on to New York where Diana and Kit have a reunion that’s both painful and touching. But then Diana is once again kidnapped by Drax and his crew and taken to the horrifying island fortress of The Singh Brotherhood located in The Devil’s Vortex, from which no man ever returns. But it’s there that the third skull is located, held by the bloodthirsty Kabai Sengh (Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa) the current leader of The Singh Brotherhood. And they have their own plans for the Three Skulls…a plan that will also end their 400-year-old war with The Phantom…

Anybody who knows me knows I eat up this stuff and totally choke on it. I’ve seen THE PHANTOM perhaps a dozen times and I’ll gladly watch it a dozen more. It is the best of pulp action adventure that is presented in such a fun way that I honestly don’t see how anybody couldn’t watch this movie without a goofy grin of delight on his or her face. Billy Zane is totally perfect in the role of The Phantom/Kit Walker in the same way Michael Keaton was perfect for Batman/Bruce Wayne and Christopher Reeve was perfect for Superman/ Clark Kent.

I really like how The Phantom is presented in this movie. First of all, Billy Zane insisted that the suit not be padded. So those muscles you see are actually his. And yeah, Billy Zane wears a purple bodysuit and makes it look damn cool. But the suit isn’t a bright purple. It’s a dark, muted purple that is even darker by what appears to be black tribal markings/tattoos on the suit that brings down the purple even more. It gives The Phantom’s costume the appearance of a tribal ceremonial garb he’s adopted for his purposes which works well with the jungle background of the character. And The Phantom is wonderfully low tech. He gets around on a magnificent Arabian stallion named Hero. His enforcer is a wolf named Devil. He carries no gadgets, just two black .45 automatics that he uses with such skill that he can knock a gun out of a man’s hand with a single shot. His radio is operated by his faithful servant/boyhood chum Guran (Radmar Agana Jao) who has to pedal the electric motor to give it power. Guran also won’t let you smoke in The Phantom’s base of operations, The Skull Cave.


It makes for a terrifically physical hero who relies more on his wits, brains and athletic abilities to get out of scrapes than we’re used to in these kind of movies. The Phantom can’t pull stuff out of his utility belt to get out of trouble which makes for a lot of really tense action scenes where you’re really wondering: “How’s he going to get outta this one?”

If you don’t know that I totally love Kristy Swanson, then be advised now that I do. I remember seeing the original “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” movie she starred in back in 1992 and I immediately became infatuated with her. And I love her in THE PHANTOM. She’s a vastly underrated actress who should have had a bigger career. She deserves it. She’s gorgeous, she’s intelligent and every time she’s on screen you believe what she’s doing. James Remar and Catherine Zeta-Jones have a great deal of fun with their badguy roles. And Patrick McGoohan is wonderful as the former Phantom who might be an actual ghost coming back to advise his son on how to handle the family business or he might be a psychological quirk that Kit needs to get through his job.

So should you see THE PHANTOM? Without a doubt, yes. In my opinion it’s one of the best superhero movies ever made and should be seen just for the performances and production values alone. It’s an awesome looking movie, period. The costumes the cars, the whole 1930’s period is recreated in fantastic style. And the damn movie is just so much fun. The Phantom is a hero is actually enjoys being a hero and it’s a change to see a hero who enjoys doing what he’s born to do to. He doesn’t angst about it or moan and cry or worry about paying rent or whatever. Simon Wincer directs this movie with a great sense of style and you get the feeling that everybody had a wonderful time making this movie.

If you’ve been reading my reviews and trust my opinion at all then go find THE PHANTOM, get the snacks and drinks of your choice and have yourself a great time watching a great movie. Enjoy.

100 minutes
Rated PG

12 thoughts on “The Phantom

  1. I just heard of you from a comment you made on the 50 Year Old Comics blog. I’ve been binge-reading a bunch of your reviews; mostly the ones where I’ve seen the movies and can follow what you’re saying about it. I decided you like the best comics movies for the same reasons I do, and express it much better than I ever could. I’ve never seen The Phantom movie but you just convinced me to order the DVD.

    1. Thank you. That’s very kind of you to say. I appreciate you taking the time out to read my reviews and I hope you’re enjoying them. And if even just one of my reviews can steer you to a good movie then I consider my job to be done.

  2. It’s sad that after box office debacle of this film, Hollywood forgot our favourite masked hero. He deserves so much more than that. We so wish to see him in live action again. Thankfully in 2017 to celebrate the 80th year of his publication, fans from India made a 40 min film depicting the origin story of the first Phantom in a contemporary narrative style. The film is amazingly faithful to the comics and has a perfect actor portraying Chris Standish/Kit Walker. The film titled “CHOLOMAN OSHORIRI-THE GHOST WHO WALKS” is in authentic Bengali language with English subtitles. The best thing about the film is that they updated the Phantom’s suit into an armour which looks super badass with the pupil-less white eye mask. the film is available in Youtube.

    1. Seriously? The movie is more than 20 years old. I figure that anybody who is even the slightest bit interested in seeing the movie would have seen it by now. And if you haven’t…*shrugs*

  3. Nice post. The Phantom is one of my favorite pulp movies of all time. The story, the cast and the locations, I like the whole package. For me as a miniature wargamer, it is always inspiring.

  4. BTW, Hef permitted the PHANTOM film to use the Playboy Mansion as the exteriors of Diane Palmer’s family mansion … reportedly the first time that the Mansion was used as a fictional setting in a film.

  5. the Phantom was an okay movie. Not a big deal, but entertaining. Liked Rocketeer a lot more. The Shadow was an example of wasted potential…our hero getting himself into multiple traps and his girlfriend having to bail him out. You feel about The Phantom the same way I feel about John Carter, which was an excellent damn movie.

  6. My son recently had a nice online chat with a customer service rep at Netflix, and suggested they add “The Phantom” to their streaming service. Lo and behold, it appeared there within days. So, any Netflix streaming service users out there, on behalf of my son, you’re welcome!

    We watched it yesterday, and it’s the lovely hi-res version. Those Thailand locations are breathtaking, and David Newman’s score is fantastic. Long live the Man Who Never Dies, the Phantom!

  7. Ahhh, The Phantom, second in a trilogy of 1990s films of SHOULDA WOULDA COULDA, but IGNORED (The Rocketeer and The Shadow were the other two).

    I loved each of them then, and still do today

  8. I really like this movie, too. And agreed on Kristy Swanson – your comment that you have no idea why some movies become hits could apply just as well to Swanson and Zane why some actors have better career than others. That’s one of the reasons I get so furious at actors in hit shows or movies or shows who complain about it – be glad you were in the right place at the right time because success isn’t guaranteed..

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