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Spawn (1997)
Rated PG13

Starring: Michael Jai White, Martin Sheen, and John Leguizamo

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Finally, a comic book movie that gets it right. Now, I've never been a big fan of the comic book incarnation of Spawn. Not because I didn't like the character, he just came along after I'd put aside comics for the most part. So, this movie was really my introduction to him and what an introduction it was.

Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is a government assassin, working for a division known simply as A-6. He hunts and kills international criminals for Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen), the head of A-6. Over the years, it seems that Simmons has developed a conscience and decides that he no longer wants to kill as a profession. Wynn, who has secretly agreed with the devil to provide a suitable candidate to lead Satan's army in exchange for world domination, chides Simmons to take one final mission -- a mission that proves fatal to Simmons.

Simmons is sent to Hell, where he strikes a deal with the devil to be allowed to return to Earth to see his wife, Wanda (Theresa Randle). Satan agrees, but Simmons must lead the forces of darkness on the assault on the gates of Heaven.

A demon known as Clown (John Leguizamo) serves as Satan's emissary. He simultaneously gets Wynn to do the devil's bidding and gets Simmons -- now hideously burned and dubbed Hell Spawn (Spawn for short) -- ready for his tenure as the leader of Armageddon's charge. Clown's exterior hides a much more hideous incarnation, known as Violator, which can emerge if need be.

Spawn vows revenge on Wynn for setting him up, but a former assassin named Cogliostro (Nicol Williamson), who fights for good, tries to get Spawn to resist the urges of violent retribution and fight on behalf of the people of Earth. Will Spawn turn and annhiliate those that made him die? Will he turn his powers to defend the Earth against Wynn and Clown's plan for Armageddon?

Thankfully, Spawn's creator, Todd McFarlane, turned his project over to people who cared about the final product and decided not to water it down. This movie was suprisingly adult and intelligent while still remaining a step away from being too serious. It was great fun and thoroughly exciting stuff.

The look of the film was impressive as well. Even the closing credits were unique. It's obvious that a lot of effort was made to keep the film from looking cheesy. The subject matter deserved a serious undertone and the effects and visuals deliver. So, when the script calls for a little humor, it doesn't end up falling flat on its face (ie. the Batman series).

This movie is what the Batman movies should have been: less concerned with being politically correct and more concerned with the hero than the villains. But, I guess when the hero is as interesting as Spawn is, that isn't a problem.

But, Spawn isn't a perfect movie. The story is convoluted and requires Cogliostro's character to narrate some of the major plot points for clarity's sake. Not a major problem, but a problem nonetheless. The performances of Michael Jai White and John Leguizamo more than make up for any minor flaws in the film. Leguizamo, in particular, is a lot of fun to watch as he seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself as Clown.

So, while I can't say how true to the comic Spawn is, I can say that I really enjoyed the movie version. If you like this kind of thing, you'll enjoy the hell out of yourself. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Trivia: Spawn creator Todd McFarlane can be seen as a bum in the movie. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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