When planning this marathon I was looking at various categories I should cover and one of them was the “comic book movie before comic book movies were comic book movies” category. These days almost every comic book movie is guaranteed to make hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars but there was a time when making them was considered a risk. That turned around with X-Men in 2000 but before that they were rare and often, quite bad. I was going to do Spawn but I’m 90% sure I saw that when it first came out so then it came down to Billy Zane’s The Phantom and The Shadow. I couldn’t locate a copy of The Phantom for a price I was willing to pay so by default, let’s review 1994’s The Shadow.
It’s just after World War I and Alec Baldwin is a warlord with silly hair. We know he’s a jerk because in order to kill someone who is holding his friend hostage, he orders his men to simply shoot through his friend to get him. Then he’s kidnapped by this other guy and told he’s going to be turned into a good guy and this guy is also going to teach him to harness his powers of reading minds and turning into smoke. We don’t see any of this training and suddenly its seven years later and Baldwin is now The Shadow, an alter-ego that involves sporting a scarf, a hat, and a ridiculous looking fake nose. I will admit that when he is first revealed, I couldn’t help but laugh as although the movie thinks he looks pretty epic and badass, he really does look like a goof.
I should say that I know absolutely nothing about The Shadow outside of this movie. With the modern comic book movies I usually at least have a sense of who characters are and how accurate the events being depicted are to their source material. Here though, I couldn’t begin to tell you if this is accurate to anything so perhaps as a movie based on The Shadow property they completely fucked up but in terms of making a silly but entertaining mid-90’s action movie, they did alright!
The best part of the movie is definitely Alec Baldwin as he’s really just playing Alec Baldwin but as an occasional superhero. He’s charming and sarcastic and nothing happening around him ever seems to faze him. I liked when after his girlfriend explains this incredibly pleasant dream she had, she asks him what his dream was and he bluntly tells her that it involved him tearing his own face off. Baldwin is so up front with everyone about everything that it really makes the character fun to watch.
The villain here is a descendant of Genghis Khan and is meant to be the dark version The Shadow, which you can tell right away as he also likes to cackle unnecessarily but it’s far more ominous when he does it. When we first meet this guy he uses his mind powers to convince the creepy neighbor from Friends to drive into a fuel truck, which is a pretty good way to introduce your villain. Later on he mentally forces a guy to jump off the top of the Empire State Building. At first it was pretty funny as it happens right behind Baldwin and he never acknowledges it, but even after all these years it’s still pretty unsettling to watch somebody plummet from the top of a New York skyscraper. Those are probably the villain’s two highlight scenes as for the rest of it he is a pretty stock villain, but two memorable moments is more than many villains get so there’s some pride to be taken there.
The action itself is average overall. The Shadow’s fighting style isn’t too interesting as he just vanishes, appears next to someone to punch them, vanishes again, then rinse and repeat. It’s a great power to have in a fight though perhaps not the most cinematic one to watch. You would expect The Shadow to spend most of his time fighting the Khan descendant guy but actually the majority of the time he is fighting this sentient knife. Yeah it’s a knife with a little face that likes to bear its teeth and hiss at people. He fights it at the beginning as the warlord and again at the end as The Shadow and it’s remarkably silly each time. I won’t hold the effects against the movie too much as obviously this was 20 years ago now, but it’s no less goofy to watch this guy fight a bad looking CGI knife as most of it is spent in long shots so it appears he’s trying to stop his arm from stabbing himself.
The Shadow is goofy but it’s certainly not boring and I enjoyed my time with it. I can see why it hasn’t become a genre classic but I can definitely see how it has achieved some form of cult status over the years. It’s a perfectly entertaining time that I likely will forget in a few short weeks but had a good time while it was happening.