Is the world ready for another Phantom? After the disastrous 1996 movie starring Billy Zane (which, FYI, could have starred Bruce Campbell, who lost out on the gig to Zane), the SyFy Channel certainly hopes so. The result is a new four-hour “Phantom” mini-series that premiered last week. Much like the network’s other four-hour mini-series “Riverworld”, the Phantom arrives on the air with an ulterior motive – as a backdoor pilot for an ongoing series. There are some possibilities for a good TV show here, but the mini-series itself is a mixed bag.
Set in the present, “The Phantom” stars Ryan Carnes as Chris Moore, a New York law student who moonlights as a parkour daredevil. Unbeknownst to Chris, his real name is actually Kit Walker, and he’s the latest in a long line of Walkers that have worn the mantle of The Phantom, a crimefighter with a penchant for, as it were, “smashing” evil. Years ago, when he was a boy, Kit’s mother was murdered by assassins of the Singh Brotherhood, the long-standing arch nemesis of the Phantoms, who have figured out that the best way to stop the Phantom’s meddling is just to, well, kill the Phantom before he gets the chance to be trained in the arts of evil smashing.
Now a grown man, Kit faces his destiny when the Phantom’s representative Abel Vandermaark (Jean Marchand) shows up at his doorsteps with the cold hard truth – that the people he thought were his parents are in fact not his real parents, and that his destiny lies elsewhere, and it doesn’t exactly include law school or uber cute EMT Renny Davidson (Cameron Goodman). On the bright side, being the Phantom means teaming up with the beautiful Guran (Sandrine Holt), getting his own skull-themed lair on an out-of-place island, and a groovy, bullet-proof, purple-tinted Phantom suit that has been updated for the times. After all, that old Phantom costume certainly doesn’t leave much to the imagination.
The “The Phantom” mini-series is an Origins Story, as Kit learns about his father, the previous Phantom, and comes to accept his preordained path. The second half sees Kit, now firmly suited up as the new Phantom, going up against the Singh Brotherhood, who are being led by the deadly Rhatib (Cas Anvar), himself the latest in a long line of Singhs to run the ancient crime syndicate. Slowly but surely, Singh’s plans to cause global mayhem and inflate the organization’s financial bottom line begins to take shape under the auspices of Dr. Bella Lithia (Isabella Rossellini), one of those mad scientist types who will do anything as long as she gets to practice her little experiments. She’s evil, if caring too much about your deadly experiments is a bad thing. Well, actually it is, since her experiments involve mass murder.
Directed by Paolo Barzman, a veteran of genre TV, “The Phantom” shows off a surprisingly gritty veneer that I wasn’t expecting. At least, at first. The mini-series’s first half is also its best moments by a long shot, featuring fine acting from the cast, some nice writing by the Knaufs, and a couple of excellent action sequences. Unfortunately it feels like someone else wrote and directed the second half, which is exactly how you would imagine a modestly budgeted “Phantom” TV show would look like if it wasn’t concern with being great, but had settled for okay. For a crimefighter that has lived in myths and in the shadows, the Phantom sure exposes himself quite liberally during the second half, including the mini-series’s finale, which is ridiculously extended and features a couple of cringe-worthy moments. It’s all very depressing given the strong first half.
On the plus side, Ryan Carnes makes for an affable and capable hero, even if he is on the short side. Co-star Sandrine Holt, at 5’10”, easily towers over Carnes like a mother and her child, which is a tad disconcerting since she’s supposed to be the sidekick and, I presume, potential future love interest for Kit. Carnes is more physically compatible with Cameron Goodman, but she doesn’t seem to have much of a future in an ongoing TV show save for the occasional guest spot. Jean Marchand, as the Phantom’s mentor and taskmaster, is appropriately creepy, ominous, and caring all at the same time. Still, he doesn’t hold a candle to Sandrine Holt, who offers some soulful glances into the camera whenever she’s onscreen. Honestly, I have no idea why this woman isn’t working more. She’s simply stunning.
I haven’t seen any reports on how well “The Phantom” fared in the ratings, so I couldn’t begin to tell you if it’ll make it to the small screen as an ongoing TV show. (As an aside, the “Riverworld” mini-series did quite well for the network, but signs of an impending “Riverworld” TV show is non-existent as of this writing.) Would I like to see an ongoing “Phantom” TV show? Most certainly. Despite the mini-series’s disappointing second half, there’s a lot of promise here that, if nurtured correctly, could make for an entertaining action-adventure show in the vein of, say, “Highlander”. They should definitely work on keeping the Phantom more of a “ghost” vigilante, though. His lack of need for secrecy in the mini-series borders on the absurd.
Paolo Barzman (director) / Daniel Knauf, Charles H. Knauf (screenplay)
CAST: Ryan Carnes … Chris Moore / Kit Walker / The Phantom
Sandrine Holt … Guran
Jean Marchand … Abel Vandermaark
Cameron Goodman … Renny Davidson
Isabella Rossellini … Dr. Bella Lithia
Ron Lea … Detective Sgt. Sean Davidson
Cas Anvar … Rhatib Singh
Sedina Balde … Jacquot / Jeannot Roux
Luis Oliva … Dr. Jason Kim