C’mon Hollywood: Don’t screw up the Spawn reboot!

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

When I was growing up as an awkward Goth kid (instead of the highly secure Goth adult I am today), I obviously gravitated towards “darker” and “edgier” heroes like Batman, The Punisher, and of course – the patron saint of grimdark edgelords – Spawn. Hell, I’m still a fan of Spawn, and even have a soft spot for the ’97 feature film (yes the one where The Clown literally showed Spawn his skid marks and farted a lot).

Anyway, it’s been twenty years since that film, and there’s never been a sequel or reboot to date. However, it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. See, SPAWN creator Todd McFarlane has been working to get a reboot off the ground ever since then. So why hasn’t it happened?

Three words: Total. Creative. Control.

That’s because Todd McFarlane didn’t just want to consult, or write, or produce the thing. I mean, yeah, he wanted do all of that, but he also wanted to direct to damn thing (mind you, he’s never directed anything in his life). Not only that, but it wouldn’t be like the first one at all…in fact, it was going to be a cop drama starring two side characters from the comics where Spawn is just a boogeyman who barely shows up. Which…doesn’t sound great. Good thing he never made it!

…until recently, as he stuck a deal with Blumhouse to get his vision off the ground. Which, I think, is a bad thing. But why is that? Don’t we want the original creators to get creative control? Isn’t the overly-corporate synergy of Disney and Warner Bros. diluting true artistic expression?  And don’t we want singular visions, like LOGAN or THE DARK KNIGHT, when it comes to our comic book heroes – films that could have only been made with that particular director, rather than by an assembly line?

Well, first things first, Todd McFarlane is not a director. Sure, it’s true McFarlane has director credits on imdb, but those are all for animation (i.e. things like the animation bookend in the Korn video “Freak on a Leash”), and we all know what happened the last time an animation director decided to make a live-action comic-book movie (hint: it was JONAH HEX). Furthermore, when Hollywood gave a comic-book creator the chance to direct his own film – i.e. Frank Miller’s THE SPIRIT – it wasn't just a bad movie, but a legendarily bad movie.

Now, that’s not entirely fair, I suppose. McFarlane has at least been involved in production, having helped produce the original SPAWN film. And even Jason Blum’s defense of McFarlane’s hiring (besides the low budget) – equating the skills of a director to being the manager of a company – has a lot of truth to it. Even if it is highly reductive. 

However, besides McFarlane’s lack of directing experience, the fact that the original creator is at the helm of a project isn’t an inherently good thing, regardless. I mean, look at George Lucas with the STAR WARS prequels or INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL for two of the most egregious examples. But it goes farther than that, as there’s also Gene Rodenberry’s famous “no-conflict” rule that hamstrung STAR TREK writers for decades post-TNG, or Ridley Scott’s awful ALIEN sequels that ruin the mystique of the titular characters. Hell, going back to Frank Miller and comic books, let’s not forget his sequel to his seminal THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES BACK (or rather let’s). And the thing all these examples have in common is time, i.e. those sequels (or in the case of STAR WARS, prequels) were made decades after the original. Because the thing is, people grow and change – especially after decades of life experiences – and it’s hard to go back to the mindset that made those things great in the first place. Sometimes, new blood is necessary. Just look at the success of the new STAR WARS films.

But, to be fair, bringing in the original creators can be a good thing too (like TWIN PEAKS), so it’s not always a sign for disaster (even if it often is). Also, honestly, a part of me was even kind of rooting for McFarlane as an underdog, spending twenty years trying to get his vision of the character on the screen. And, you know, people have a point about corporate synergy stifling creative control. For every DEADPOOL that tries something different with the genre, there’s a bland, passable Marvel film like SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, or a confused, dour DC film, or an overly-convoluted X-MEN film. Maybe we need an injection of new ideas!

Problem is, McFarlane’s idea isn’t very good. Again, it’s not even really about SPAWN. The thing is, I get why McFarlane wants to do “SE7EN, but with a supernatural boogeyman” version of SPAWN, as he wants to distance it as much as he can from the campy, effects-driven, PG-13 superhero-extravaganza film the original one was. And that’s entirely understandable. My nostalgic love for the – admittedly objectively awful – film notwithstanding, the new SPAWN film would almost have to be corrective to a certain extent. So going darker and more grounded – while not the most original route to take – makes a certain amount of sense with the SPAWN franchise.  

However, on the other hand, scale is extremely important in the SPAWN franchise. Hell, there’s a guy named OvertKill for God’s sake! The cool designs, powers, and mythology, are all a part of what made SPAWN stand out in the first place! Without that, I think you lose a lot of what makes SPAWN…well, SPAWN. McFarlane turning the reboot into yet another generic cop drama, but with a supernatural twist just doesn’t appeal to me, and honestly sounds only slightly more enticing than DELIVER US FROM EVIL.

Listen, I’m not asking for McFarlane to make the SPAWN reboot into another full on action-adventure film or anything, and in fact skewing more towards the horror-aspects would actually be a good route to go (especially from a character who, you know, gets his power from Hell). And don’t get me wrong, I am still rooting for McFarlane, and would love to be proven wrong. As a fan, I want this film to be good. But also as a fan, all the warning signs are telling me this movie is going to be hell-on-Earth. 

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