Hey, remember when this was roughly as good as we could hope to get with comic book movies? I do, and thank god the days of Spawn and its far too numerous ilk are long behind us. If anything, Spawn should remain in the 90s when its hardcore, edgy aesthetic was the norm in the medium, and has simply aged poorly.
It comes roaring out the gate with a poorly rendered CG introduction that provides an exposition dump before we’re launched into the present day. Pay attention to all of the mythology that’s being dumped into your lap in those opening moments because it will be elliptically referred to throughout, and those visuals will be recycled several times over. It looks and plays like the introduction to a syndicated series, think Hercules: The Legendary Journeys but with more Edge™.
The entire thing has an overbearing quality to it that makes it play out as camp or, and for far too often, as the brain-dead juvenilia scribbling of a particularly violent and horny teenage boy. Look at the film’s lone original character, Melinda Clarke’s Jessica Priest, who exists not only as cannon fodder but to linger on the edges of the frame in skintight leather with peek-a-boo lingerie. Or the unnecessary presence of Miko Hughes’ Zack, a homeless child that’s supposed to…I don’t know, remind Spawn of his humanity? Much of his material is poorly conceived and played, and Hughes was no slouch as a child actor if you watch Pet Sematary. The less said about the one-dimensionality and gross sexualization of Theresa Randle’s Wanda, the better.
But none of these poor points can quite prepare you for John Leguizamo’s scene-chewing bluster as Clown/the Violator. When left to his worst impulses, Leguizamo can be a manic and maddening screen presence, and no one bothered to tether him to reality here. Not even a fat suit and layers of makeup can slow down this motor mouth, and you welcome the moments when the Violator rips through his corpulent flesh. The puppetry to bring that monstrosity to life has aged nicely while the CGI has not. Guess which one Spawn decides to favor with its money shots and long-lasting glimpses.
Maybe if all of this violence and noise was in service of a story that was coherent and contained enough on its own to warrant a sequel, one could be more forgiving. But Spawn clearly thinks and operates like the opening salvo in a noisy, bloody franchise that never materialized. Maybe it’s for the better since the sight of actors like Michael Jai White, Martin Sheen, and Nicol Williamson trying not to embarrass their careers here is the major highlight of the film. Although, there is something to be said for a typically nuanced and fine actor like Sheen going for broke and chewing ALL of the scenery. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it’s something.