Owen Gleiberman
June 14, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Phantom

Current Status
In Season
100 minutes
Treat Williams, Billy Zane, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Simon Wincer
Sci-fi and Fantasy, Mystery and Thriller, ActionAdventure

We gave it a C

In the famous King Features comic strip, which first appeared in 1936, Lee Falk created a superhero who was, in effect, the missing link between the Lord of the Apes and the DC Comics crime fighters. With his black mask, rippling purple bodysuit, and air of lethal stoicism, the Phantom was the precursor to Superman and Batman, but he also had a white-guy-in-the-jungle mystique — imagine Tarzan with attitude (and a better wardrobe budget). Today, however, there’s got to be more to a tough-talking superhero than the fact that he’s gone native and looks terrific in skintight fuchsia. As the Phantom, Billy Zane, buff to the max, has a likable insouciance, but there’s not much he can do to flesh out this relic. With its generic stunts and chases, its hand-me-down cheeseball mysticism (the plot hinges on a hunt for magic skulls), the film, while crisply shot, has even less personality than such crusader retreads as The Rocketeer and The Shadow. The Phantom needed a gimmick, a twist, a thrust of identity. He’s like Spiderman without his web. C

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