A second coming for Spawn has been the Hollywood equivalent of the Guns ’N’ Roses album "Chinese Democracy". Deliberating, cutting and changing so much over such a prolonged period that the end result was always going to be an anti-climatic. Yet here we are, with comic book creator and filmmaker Todd McFarlane making the announcement earlier in the year that a fresh edition is coming to a theater near you.
Fans of the beloved anti-hero are almost split down the middle over the merits of the picture. Those that have watched and re-watched their personal VHS copy of the 1997 installment feel an attachment to the film and are cynical about a new adaptation. Others have simply run out of patience and if there is even a tiny amount of interest left, they think McFarlane should just put up or shut up for good.
His assertion is bold that another Spawn will be made. There is no studio, no casting agreement, budget or release date. Only the promise that a screenplay has been finalized. But all roads lead to a 2018 or 2019 supernatural horror flick and although there are grounds to be excited, it is best to tread with caution on this one.
Here are the 8 reasons why a Spawn reboot will suck and 7 why it will be just fine.
15 Will Suck - Budget
Horror movies are many things in the industry of film. But the greatest gift they offer is enthralling an audience on a limited budget. Unlike action instalments, thrillers or even comedies, great horror features can be made with minimal resources and fuss. From 1978’s Halloween to The Evil Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street and the 2004 smash hit Saw.
But Spawn is an unusual mix where horror meets the world of superheroes and science-fiction. Even the best moviemakers in this realm require enough cash to make the experience worthwhile and judging by the commentary made by McFarlane to date, he won’t have any pennies to spare. The first movie was created with $40m plus change, so he will have to work his magic without the bells and whistles afforded to other visionaries.
14 Won’t Suck - R-Rating
If the past couple of years have taught us anything in the movie business, it is that mainstream R-rated features are not only back, but back with a vengeance. Tired of the same old tried and tested PG-13 titles that always play it safe and cater to the children, studios have backed filmmakers who are willing to push the envelope and have audience members on the edges of their seat.
Marvel led the field by giving us two terrific flicks in the space of 12 months. The first would be the Merc with the Mouth via Deadpool, offering a superhero who was as keen to make as many dick jokes and sex puns as he was about saving the girl. Then we were treated to Logan, a movie that would be just as suited to a gritty Western setting if it wasn’t for the clawed hands and mutant superpowers.
McFarlane has said that his new Spawn experience will be “very R-rated” and dark. For anyone who saw the original, that will not require too much shifting in tone. On this count he gets two big thumbs up.
13 Will Suck - Studio Commitment
Or should we say – the lack thereof. It should not be a shock to Todd McFarlane that a cashed-up studio has not come to the table begging to take the project off his hands and fund the operation completely. The 1997 edition won over fans of the comics by large, but with a Rotten Tomatoes fresh rating of just 18% on top of an IMDb score of 5.2/10, what is the incentive for a company to pay big dollars when they could scoop it up for a bargain price?
New Line Cinema took a punt on the first blockbuster and there has been nothing but radio silence from that party since McFarlane went public. There are plenty in the industry that could hand over tens of millions to make it work – Sony, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Paramount Pictures, United etc. But without a comprehensive bidding war to up the price, the creator will be left with peanuts to play with.
12 Won’t Suck - No Marvel Or DC Affiliation
It will be almost refreshing to see a superhero feature that has zero connection to the MCU or DCEU. From Guardians of the Galaxy to Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Aquaman – a Spawn title can be purely an experience of its own accord. Forget the crossovers, spin-offs, post-credit sequences, sequels, prequels. This can be an exercise in returning to the basics of filmmaking where movies were designed for standalone purposes.
Granted Marvel has made a ton of revenue with Disney and Fox, while DC has done likewise with Warner Brothers despite their critical failures. There is currency in expanding a larger universe, but there has to be excitement starting from ground zero with a new cast and a clean slate in which McFarlane can work his magic.
11 Will Suck - McFarlane Deliberation
One of the first instances Todd McFarlane made mention of a reboot was unearthed in 2007. This followed news that a Spawn 2 was scrapped when talks broke down in 2001, leaving star Michael Jai White out on a limb as the project went into shutdown mode. In essence, the franchise went cold for 6 years and it appeared as though the creator and all in sundry made peace with the fact Spawn was consigned to the history books.
But any good project is worth fighting to preserve. Ryan Reynolds spent years ensuring Deadpool was made into a reality, despite being hamstrung by the 2009 disaster X-Men Origins: Wolverine and agreeing terms on DC’s Green Lantern. Rather than stew in the disappointment, he powered on and saw it through. If McFarlane can take note, then it could be a success. Yet those examples are few and far between, often speaking to a greater problem.
10 Won’t Suck - No Michael Jai White Reprisal
As talented as Michael Jai White is, there is no getting away from the fact that Spawn’s underwhelming box office performance at $87.8m can be attributed in some way to his B-listing celebrity status. For a small budget picture, New Line could not have secured an A-lister if they wanted to, but without the big names to draw out the millions in theaters, the movie fell well back into the pack twenty years ago.
It goes without saying then that the 49-year-old would best be served sitting a reprisal out. Perhaps coming back in a cameo might suffice, as his inclusion as the first African American in a complete superhero title is due recognition. Yet there is a large supply of quality actors out there who can give Albert Simmons their own interpretation.
9 Will Suck - Lack Of Mainstream Awareness
One central issue for the Spawn reboot is the moviegoer’s appetite to see a fresh edition. Following a glut of superhero motion pictures in recent times, from The Avengers to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there is only so much currency in one genre to utilize before the audience gets bored and turns attention to a Michael Bay movie or a children friendly animated romp.
Spawn is well and truly considered something of an underground, fringe presence that indulges the teenager/20-something/young adult age groups. Combine this with a limited budget and B-list stars, and the mainstream awareness gauge is dropping significantly. Such a deficit can be managed with clever marketing, take note of the I.T. reboot for instance. Yet it would be a challenge that is against the odds for most studios who are more interested in banking on guaranteed commodities than having to work hard on new and interesting strategies.
8 Won’t Suck - Screenplay
Earlier this month, Todd McFarlane opened up about his process to writing the next instalment. As MovieWeb reported, the hard bit was not finding enough material, but cutting out the content:
"Today, the official news is the script is done, at least the first rough draft," McFarlane explained. "As you can see here, it's actually been done for a couple months. The initial rough draft was about 182 pages. That's way too long for Hollywood. They like it to be about 120 pages... I now have it down to 136 pages. I'll knock out about another ten or twelve pages out of that, and we'll get it there."
Quantity is not always the best gauge of quality, but it does tell us that he has more than enough to make an engaging story out of a 2-hour experience.
7 Will Suck - Unoriginality
Is anyone in Hollywood out there looking for a fresh script that has not be created yet? In 2017, the industry reverts to the reboot as a matter of course as they struggle to invent a feature on its own merits. Disney is now churning them out for fun, transforming classic animated titles to live-action editions. See The Jungle Book, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast as examples.
Originality is now the calling card of television series. From The Sopranos to Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Blackish and even in the superhero domain via Supergirl, The Flash, Daredevil and Jessica Jones – the best and boldest storytellers are taking their talents to the longer format where they can explore backstories and character arcs with more scope. Movies do not give us anything close to this these days.
We have seen Spawn before, so a new title has to overcome that baggage and tap into something truly unique.
6 Won’t Suck - Director Choice
Imagine having a new superhero franchise ready and waiting to make, and have your pick of the best directing talent available. Could Mad Max: Fury Road’s George Miller bring something to the table? What about Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, the Coen Brothers, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Wes Anderson or Martin Scorsese?
Given the subject material, many of these top filmmakers would probably pass at the opportunity, but this is essentially a clean slate in which McFarlane can make a bold choice and back their vision for the project. They will be limited by many of the issues listed here, yet this savior operation could be the perfect vehicle for someone with a big enough ego and opinion of themselves to excel a forgotten a maligned character back into the mainstream conscious with an edgy movie that gets people talking.
5 Will Suck - No Word On John Leguizamo Return
The defining feature of Spawn in any context is not the central protagonist. If anything, Spawn is a sideshow to the gates of hell as Satan’s worst come out to finally play. None though, despite their ghoulish features, size or strength can compare to the one and only The Violator. The character was first introduced in the comics during a run in 1992 and ever since then, the clown has been front and center of the series. For those that are uninitiated to Violator, think of him as a cross between South Park’s Eric Cartman and Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight – a frightening blend.
There was one man who made the 1997 flick what it was, and this lied with John Leguizamo’s portrayal. While Jai White’s reintroduction is by the by, Leguizamo perfected the villain. There has been no indication that he would come back to the role, but it would be McFarlane’s loss and ours if he left it for another performer.
4 Won’t Suck - Image Comics Franchise Options
Established in 1992, Image Comics has been a staple for those looking for something a little bit edgier in their superhero material. Spawn helped headline the publisher’s top content, but it would be The Walking Dead that would be born from the company as AMC made the zombie thriller series one of the most watched in the world.
While no one wants to see Image go down the exact same path as Marvel and DC, the opportunities are there to make something greater than just a standalone instalment. Universal are doing it with their Gods and Monsters franchise as soon as The Mummy reboot hits theaters, and the MonsterVerse that encompasses Pacific Rim, Godzilla and Kong has arrived from Warner Brothers. Image have the opportunity to link to a host of other demonic characters from Invincible to Savage Dragon, Witchblade, and The Darkness.
3 Will Suck - Superhero Tropes
All of those opportunities to expand the world and build on a strong revenue base does mean selling your soul if just a little bit. We all know what a superhero movie entails, seeing the three stages from beginning, middle and end as the protagonist encounters a struggle, comes through the other side and learns more about themselves and humanity in the process.
Spawn does not necessarily fit that stereotype, following the path of an anti-hero as he is coerced against his will by one of the rulers of Hell – Malebolgia. The Hellspawns are by their very nature bad people who have ended up on the wrong side of the after life ledger. But Simmons is at his core a Black Ops operative who loves and cares for his family and by right, he falls into many of the tropes that have been explored ad nauseam in this particular genre.
2 Won’t Suck - Soundtrack
The late 1990s and early 2000s saw a surge in Nu Metal bands, groups who would combine elements of heavy metal with alternative sounds like grunge or hip hop. This was the basis for the 1997 film as the soundtrack packed in a long list of tracks from The Prodigy to Metallica, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Silverchair, Incubus, Slayer and Henry Rollins to name but a few. Granted the score was overplayed during the actual movie, drowning out much of the action that took place on screen, but it did entrench the motion picture in its time.
The majority of soundtracks these days are straight down the line with an orchestral hook with the inclusion of maybe one or two artists who have composed an original song for the instalment. Guardians of the Galaxy has blown that theory out of the water with a retro vibe courtesy of their Awesome Mix’s Vol. 1 and 2. With a limited budget on screen to work with, perhaps McFarlane and co. can help develop a new Spawn soundtrack that packs a punch and is actually worth purchasing.
1 Will Suck - Villains
Aside from The Violator, a villain who is almost loveable in a sick and perverted manner, there were no bad guys that were memorable in Spawn. Martin Sheen was a surprising inclusion but underwhelmed in the part of Jason Wynn. Then there was Wynn’s offsider in the form of assassin Jessica Priest. Her mission to kill Simmons in cold blood comes back to haunt her when Hell gives him another chance at redemption.
There are others that can be utilized in the reboot. From Vampire Lord Bludd to Mammon (a.k.a. The Forgotten One), Thamuz, Kali, The Curse, Urizen or mafia mob boss Antonio Twistelli. Only the comic book diehards will have any idea who or what those individuals are and much like Marvel, the franchise does struggle to have a villain that steals the film. There is material to work with, but much will depend on the casting and direction.