Film / The Phantom (1996)

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The Phantom is a 1996 film based on the long-running comic strip of the same name. It stars Billy Zane as the 21st Phantom, Patrick McGoohan as his father the 20th Phantom, Kristy Swanson as his love interest Diana Palmer, Treat Williams as the villain Xander Drax, and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Dark Action Girl Sala.

The film is set in the 1930s, when the comic strip debuted, and draws characters and plot points from the comic's first few story arcs. This also means that it shows the Phantom's home as being in Southeast Asia, when the comic strip had long since retconned it to Africa.

The film provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Diana.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Diana has much lighter hair than in the comics, possibly to help distinguish her from the raven-haired Sala.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Rob MacGregor's Novelization contains a very lengthy prologue, expanding greatly on the one from the movie, telling about the journey of the merchant ship Miranda, where it came from and where it was going, etc., before its fateful encounter with the Sengh Brotherhood that left the captain's son (who eventually becomes the first Phantom) the sole survivor.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Kabai Singh and the Singh Brotherhood become Kabai Sengh and the Sengh Brotherhood.
  • Beam-O-War: When Drax tries to destroy Phantom with a death ray from his completed skull set, he answers with a ray of his own from his ring.
  • The Bermuda Triangle: The Devil's Vortex is a serial-numbers-filed-off version of the Bermuda Triangle, a region of ocean that has a reputation for ships disappearing in it; this turns out to be because the home base of the Sengh Brotherhood is in the middle of it, and they take strong measures against anybody who gets too close.
  • Biker Babe: Sala and her gang are the aviatrix subtrope.
  • Blasting It out of Their Hands: What the Phantom mainly uses his two handguns for.
  • Captain Obvious:
    Diana: Your dog's a wolf!
    Phantom: I know.
  • Cave Behind the Falls: The home of the Phantom is in a valley that can only be entered through a tunnel hidden by a waterfall.
  • Chekhov's Exhibit: One of the Skulls of Touganda can be found at a museum exhibit. One that both the bad guys and good guys happen to visit at the same time.
  • Clark Kenting: The Phantom's body language hardly changes when he's being Kit Walker, and his voice not at all; despite this, nobody seems to realise that they're the same person even after encountering both of them in quick succession. (Well, Diana figures it out eventually, and before Kit makes up his mind to tell her; but seriously, how is it not immediately obvious?) Diana figuring out the Phantom's secret identity is foreshadowed in the scene at the newspaper office where Kit talks and poses exactly like the Phantom did just a few scenes earlier, before realizing what he's doing and breaking the pose.
  • Continuity Cameo: The film includes a number of passing references to continuity elements from the comics, including names on background signage and cameo characters (such as Corporal Weeks of the Jungle Patrol).
  • Crystal Skull: Three of them, silver, gold and jade.
  • Dead Person Conversation: The Phantom has several conversations with his dead father, who acts as his Spirit Advisor. At least one of the conversations includes the ghost telling him something he didn't already know, suggesting it's a real ghost and not just his imagination. In another Guran walks in on Kit claiming he heard voices — plural. Al only hears the Phantom's side of the conversation in the cab, though.
  • Defiant Captive: Diana Palmer is kidnapped twice in the course of the story, but she is anything but weak and frightened. Instead, she's a wealthy treasure hunter with a taste for adventure in the Indiana Jones mold. When she's kidnapped for the first time, for instance, she is not scared but very angry: assuming she's being held for ransom, she declares that "you'll not get a red cent" from her family.
  • Dem Bones: Styles, one of the thieves, has the misfortune of being strangled to death by a skeleton that inexplicably comes to life.
  • Dressed in Layers: The Phantom wears his purple outfit under his street clothes. At one point, he uses his discarded overclothes to distract some mooks.
  • Eye Scream: When Drax finds out that librarian Dr. Fleming has been ratting on him to Diana's uncle, he asks him to look into a binocular microscope. When Fleming turns the adjustment knobs, blades shoot out of the eyepieces and blind him.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Xander Drax has impeccable manners even when he's killing or maiming underlings in horrible ways, which really makes it worse.
  • Flynning: The sword fight scenes at the end of the movie are (painfully) full of this.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting
  • Gold Tooth: Morgan, one of the thieves assisting Quill at the beginning, has one.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Quill has a scar on his cheek in the shape of the Phantom's skull ring, from where the previous Phantom punched him.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: The villain is tracking down the three "Skulls of Touganda", which will grant him immense power. There is a fourth skull, on the Phantom's Ring of Power.
  • Groin Attack:
    • One of Sala's favourite fighting moves.
    • Diana also does it to a Mook on the ship.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: After growing angry with the way the pirates were treating them both, Sala abruptly switches gears and starts helping Diana on the grounds that "us girls gotta stick together."
  • Hood Hopping: The Phantom does this while pursuing Drax's car in New York.
  • In Medias Res: The film begins and ends smack in the middle of the 21st Phantom's career. Backstory is provided by dialogue and the movie ends with the romantic pair going their separate ways again (but with Diana planning to return later). Just a regular week for The Phantom.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Drax does this to Ray Zephro with an African spear when he "wants out."
  • In the Back: Quill stabbed the previous Phantom in the back, both literally and figuratively.
  • It's Personal: Said word-for-word for Diane when she punches out Sala.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon: The Phantom opposes Drax out of duty and principle, but Drax's enforcer Quill is the man who killed his father.
  • Jungle Drums: The Bangalla natives use message drums to summon the Phantom when trouble is brewing.
  • Large Ham: Xander Drax.
  • Leave Him to Me: During the battle with the Sengh Brotherhood, their leader claims the right to be the one to kill the Phantom, and even stabs one of his own men who's about to beat him to it.
  • Marquee Alter Ego: In the comics, the Phantom's face is never shown clearly, even on the rare occasions when he is seen to take the mask off. This is not the case with Billy Zane's face in the movie.
  • Mood Whiplash: In his first conversation with his father, Kit tells him that he screwed up. His father comforts him, saying everyone makes mistakes. Then he reveals that he lost a Skull of Touganda to the Sengh Brotherhood. Suddenly his father passes him the Idiot Ball.
  • Mooks: The pirates are particularly bad. They've likely been doing this for decades and they are easily defeated in a sword fight by Sala and Diana, women who've likely never even picked up a sword before.
  • The Movie: The Phantom's live-action feature film debut.
  • Movie Superheroes Wear Black: Spectacularly averted! The Phantom's costume in the movie is even designed to "change color" depending on the lighting. It can shift from bright to dark purple, red, grey, or blue in a Shout-Out to how various publishers over the world change the color of his costume based of preference.
  • Murderous Thighs: A Rare Male Example. The Phantom does this to two Mooks in Drax's building.
  • Nature Hero: The Phantom is really good with animals.
  • Not What I Signed On For: Ray Zephro decides that hunting for occult skulls is not what he signed on for. Drax doesn't take it well.
  • Not Listening to Me, Are You?: Diana talking to her mother.
    Lily Palmer: How are you anyway, sweetheart?
    Diana Palmer: I've contracted malaria, mother.
    Lily Palmer: That's nice.
  • Novelization: A very good, suitably pulpy one by Rob MacGregor, which contains loads and loads of Adaptation Expansion.
  • Oh, Crap!: Charlie right before getting blasted by the pirate cannon.
  • Outside Ride: The Phantom does this on the villains' truck near the beginning, and later hitches a ride to the showdown on the landing pontoon of Sala's seaplane.
  • Over-the-Shoulder Carry: A restrained Diana Palmer gets this treatment from Sala when she is captured.
  • A Pirate 400 Years Too Late: The Sengh brotherhood.
  • Pirate Girl: Sala.
  • Plummet Perspective: Used during the first crossing of the rope bridge.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Attempting to tie together three very different (albeit classic) storylines from the comics into a coherent whole and still trying to maintain the Kit Walker/Diana Palmer romance. The reason the film fails is because it collapses under its own ambition.
  • Ring of Power: The Phantom's ring which has the fourth Skull of Touganda.
  • Rope Bridge: Which inevitably kicks off an action sequence when it starts coming apart as it's being crossed.
  • Schmuck Bait: "Oh, uh, one more thing if you don't mind. I'd like your professional opinion on something under this microscope."
  • Shout-Out: The Palmer family's bulter, Falkmoore, is named in honor of Lee Falk and Ray Moore, the writer and first artist of the comic strip.
  • Sky Pirate: Sala's crew.
  • Spirit Advisor: Kit's dad appears to him to goad him on his quest. A cabby driving the Phantom around is freaked out when Kit starts arguing with himself. He also doubles as The Narrator.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: When Kit and Diana find the jade Skull of Touganda at the Museum of World History, Diana suggests contacting an acquaintance of hers to have the skull retrieved. Kit however simply smashes the glass surrounding the skull and grabs it.
  • Threatening Shark: There are sharks circling around the wreck that Kabai Sengh uses as his throne.
  • Thrown from the Zeppelin: When Ray Zephro voices his dissatisfaction with Drax's plans and tries to leave the room, he gets a spear thrown on his back.
  • Totally Radical: Thankfully averted in the film itself, but played very straight with the tag line: "SLAM EVIL!"
  • Two-Fisted Tales: They did get that right at least.
  • Unfinished Business: The ghost of the previous Phantom is still hanging around because of this. He doesn't mind having been murdered so much — it's an occupational hazard — but he can't rest easy until he knows that the Phantom line has been secured for another generation.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Quill was once saved by the 20th Phantom, after he was attacked by a rabid monkey. Quill said that he would lead him to the Sengh Brotherhood's hideout. Instead, he stabbed the Phantom in the back, stole his belt and took it to the Brotherhood, who initiated him.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Diana's unwanted admirer Jimmy Wells, whose idea of a business trip is coming into town to be measured for a new suit.
  • Vertical Kidnapping: The Phantom evades some pursuing mooks by riding through the Tree Top Town of the Rope People, who snare the mooks and dangle them high above the ground.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: One complaint about the film is that it assumes the audience already knows who The Phantom is and what he does. The introduction has a very condensed version of the origin story (taken almost directly from the first panel of many of the comics) but other than that it pretty much starts in the middle of the 21st Phantom's career with no backstory.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Averted, if not inverted entirely. The Phantom only kills one main villain and indirectly kills another, while although he fights tons of Mooks, he always goes out of his way to take them out non-fatally.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: Xander Drax.
    Drax: It begins and ends with an X.
  • Yellow Peril: Kabai Sengh and the Sengh Brotherhood.
  • You Killed My Father: Quill is the man who killed the previous Phantom. He spends much of the movie disturbed by the discovery that the man he killed is apparently still in business. Kit explains the truth to him at the onset of their inevitable final duel.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/ThePhantom1996