Does the Spawn Movie Deserve its 17% Rotten Tomatoes Score?

If nothing else, Spawn was – and is – one of a kind. Prior to the superhero franchise domination that we recognize today, Spawn dared to showcase a relatively obscure superhero from an independent comic company whose main character also happened to be a Black man.

For all its virtue signaling, the hubbub around the great Black Panther was vastly misinformed. It did not feature the first Black superhero on screen, and to have been dubbed as such (despite how fun and important Black Panther is) would only retcon the inclusive heroes of the past, including the eponymous Meteor Man and Pootie Tangalong with Wesley Snipes’ Blade and, yes, Spawn.


Spawn was dark and edgy, and screamed ANTIHERO with a powerful capitalization directly from the depths of Hell. Spawn‘s comic book covers (inked by creator Todd McFarlane), with their punky vibes, ruby-red Dracula style cape, and piercing Predator eyes were gothic and scary to view on the shelves of stores. Spawn looked mean, vicious.

In 1991, Todd McFarlane would exit Marvel (having rejuvenated Spider-Man first-hand with his spindly, lean approach to the character), breaking off and co-founding his own company with Image Comics. By May 1992, McFarlane’s Spawn hit shelves, offering up an alternative to the Big Two of Marvel and DC Comics.

Five years later, and swept up in the hype of a new feature film, Spawn was the top-selling comic book in the US, having outsold Uncanny X-Men by almost 5000 units (Marvel had also filed for bankruptcy a year earlier). Nonetheless, it was a dark and nihilistic comic, brilliant but hopeless and borderline Satanic. Even now, decades on into a market entirely suffocated by every possible superhero given the limelight, a Spawn movie is still a risk. Back then, in 1997, it was a risk that completely backfired.

Related: If a Spawn / Spider-Man Crossover Ever Happens, Todd McFarlane Is the Only Man for the Job

The Spawn movie was a mess.  Will Spawn ever succeed on the big screen?
Image Comics

Spawn: Origins

Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is a marine, sent in to situations to take out specialized targets. Looking to get out of the game for good, he plans to settle down and spend time with his loving wife. On his “One Last Mission,” Simmons is double-crossed by his boss (Martin Sheen). Murdered and sent straight to Hell, Simmons is resurrected as a Hellspawn – a general in Satan’s army. This is the world of Spawn.

The Spawn movie is a ghastly mess that transitions from scene to scene so quickly and with no tact or mediative quality whatsoever. It’s pretty incoherent from the beginning, with plot point after plot point, but none elaborated on. Every single character is paper thin, doubly so with the dialogue being basic and the acting even worse.

What should be perfect casting, with an extremely handsome Michael Jai White, is totally wasted; neither his natural good looks, nor genuine martial arts skills are ever really showcased. Martin Sheen, with his greasy black dye job, is notably awful, and not pantomime enough for it to be funny either. Spawn does not even have the so-bad-it-good factor, unfortunately.

This is not a movie to laugh with, but rather (when its poor attempts at one-liners arrive) a movie that is directly laughed atwith IMDB’s “Trivia” section providing a more enjoyable time than actually sitting down and enduring the Spawn run time (John Leguizamo describes his time in the clown fat suit as, “Like a penis wearing a condom“).

An incredibly handsome Michael Jai White does not get to showcase his face or martial arts skills whatsoever in Spawn
New Line Cinema

Worse Than Hell

Spawn is a movie that has actually gotten worse with age. Spawn looks visually worse than the Nintendo 64 games that were being released at the time. Some say the CGI was being completed mere weeks before Spawn‘s cinema release, and it infamously shows.

Spawn’s cape, a consuming mind-of-its-own tatty red sheet, sprawls across the screen, and it’s downright ugly to watch. In the final act, CGI completely takes over, making the screen look like it has been created via Microsoft Paint – and then annihilated by a blender. It actually hurts to watch (not a joke, it’s migraine territory and a seizure warning should’ve been provided). There’s a reason people have called this one of the grossest movies of its decade.

Spawn's CGI was finished weeks before release and it shows as some of the worst ever put on screen
New Line Cinema

Compare Spawn to Blade once again (a movie that admittedly does submit to some terrible CGI at the end), and Blade comes off as the favorite child, even if Blade was released just 15 months after Spawn. The similarities are plentiful, but Blade shows that a movie could be made with a lesser known Black superhero and also be wildly successful and badass. Spawn does not achieve that in the slightest.

There are very few positive takeaways for this movie. Perhaps the sole great thing is John Leguizamo‘s performance as the unrecognizable Violator, a grotesque and unforgettable character. Physically crouching down to look shorter throughout every one of his scenes, Leguizamo’s Clown is actively disgusting to be around, with scenes of him regularly farting, (actually) eating live maggotsand dipping earthworms in mayonnaise.

His mischievous performance here actually reminds one of a Satanic version of Aladdin‘s Genie, or Jim Carrey’s role in The Mask (another example of a black sheep comic character actually done well). Once again, however, even this gets overshadowed by poor CGI that entirely obliterates everything in sight.

John Leguizamo's performance is the one highlight of Spawn
New Line Cinema

Spawn is very much a product of its time, and surprisingly, at that time, some people actually really loved it. On a budget of $ 40 million, the movie made back over double of its budget worldwide. Back in ’97, the usually on-point Roger Ebert was comically off the pace when he gave the film a near-perfect review, stating:

[Spawn has] some of the most impressive effects I’ve seen. The disciplines blend into one another: Animation, makeup, costuming, process shots, morphing. They create a place and a look as specific as the places evoked in such films as “Metropolis” and “Blade Runner”. As a visual experience, “Spawn” is unforgettable.

To each their own, but yikes … It makes sense that the film has actually worsened with age (what with the advancements in CGI), and if the great Ebert were still with us, his review would probably be reevaluated. Elsewhere, no one came away from the project particularly well. Director (and former visual effects artist at the time) Mark AZ Dippe literally has not directed a feature film since, and in 2018, talking to The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Jai White said matter-of-factly“There is no footage of me ever saying that I liked Spawn. I have never said that I thought that was a good movie. “

To Be Continued …

Despite an entirely forgettable screen outing, Spawn is survived by a fantastic cartoon series that ran for three series between 1997-1999, a pitch-perfect guest spot in video game Mortal Kombat 11 as a playable character (both iterations voiced by Keith David), and of course a comic run continued to this day, confirming that the character still has a firm foothold in parts of popular culture.

Spawn survives his movie outing through regular appearances in games and comics
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Looking to the future, and to perhaps right the wrongs of the past movie, a new Spawn feature is in current development with Todd McFarlane set to direct, with Jamie Foxx in the titular role and support from Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye). Add to that the fact that this movie is being produced under horror stalwart Blumhouse (Get Out, The Invisible Man, Halloween Kills), and it all sounds like an extremely confident production.

Related: Spawn Movie Is Back on Track with New Screenwriter Brian Tucker

Foxx spoke to Yahoo in 2020saying: “[I said to Todd McFarlane] Bro, I know that one day you will do this movie, and I hope you will keep me in mind. “He continued:

What Black Panther did was let us know that it’s so necessary, and it’s the time. And Spawn is just an interesting character in itself. The heads that are being put together to bring you something special – look out.

It all sounds extremely promising and should be better than the ’90s Spawn movie, though that’s a pretty low bar to set. Does the original Spawn movie really deserve such a low rating? Should it be so universally maligned? To quote Spawn himself: “Hell Yeah!”

Spawn Cinematic Universe Teased by Creator Todd McFarlane?

Spawn Cinematic Universe Teased by Creator Todd McFarlane?

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