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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Phantom is a 1996 superhero adventure tale that's packed with explosions, swords, guns, and cannon fights, a truck falling off a bridge, death by shark (with bloody water shown), chase scenes, and other stock conventions of the genre. Some women are seen in their underwear, and a man and woman kiss. Expect to hear "s--t," "hell," and "damn." Adults drink and smoke cigarettes.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
It's 1938, and all kinds of megalomaniacs are planning world domination through various means. New York financier Xander Drax (Treat Williams) is taking the steal-all-the-magic-power-skulls-from-remote-jungle-regions approach. That's how the jungle's protector, the title's "Phantom" (Billy Zane), learns of his plot and steps in, as superheroes must, to thwart the evil. Ruthless and bloodthirsty villains connected with the nefarious Sengh Brotherhood abound, which leads to many fights with many kinds of weapons, including a cannon. One man is killed in a New York executive suite by a madman wielding a spear (no blood is seen). Another dies when he falls into a shark-infested moat (bloody water is seen). The Phantom's murdered father speaks to him, and it's with bittersweet satisfaction that Phantom No. 25 is able to kill a Sengh henchperson and avenge the death of dad, Phantom No. 24.
Is it any good?
It feels like a copycat of Superman, Indiana Jones, and other period comic book adventures, but nevertheless fans of that genre may enjoy this retread of well-worn material. Suspension of disbelief plays a big role in such enjoyment, and the Phantom's origin story may stretch reality too much even for them. (It's hard to believe that, dating to the 16th century, generations of Phantom descendants have run around the muggy jungle in purple spandex and a Lone Ranger mask.) Billy Zane plays the Phantom with a sunny zest that's endearing. The stunts and special effects are fun, as when the Phantom wordlessly communicates to his galloping steed to catch him as he jumps off a low-flying plane. It should be noted that an original co-writer of the movie has reported that the script was written as a spoof, and when the film was produced without him, it was played as a straight action-adventure drama. This may explain the movie's uneven texture.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it would be like to be a superhero. Does the movie suggest that such a role is a burden or an honor?
How does the movie tell viewers that the Phantom's father is dead, even though he and the dad seem to be having conversations?
What makes for a good action movie? Is action more important than plot?
- In theaters: April 15, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: May 21, 2013
- Cast: Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones
- Director: Simon Wincer
- Studio: Paramount Catalog
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Superheroes
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: for action/adventure violence and some mild language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.