Remember that weird moment in Batman Returns where Batman, alone in his batcave, talks on the phone to Alfred in his normal Bruce Wayne voice? Imagine they took that scene and made an entire movie out of it. Oh wait they did it’s called “The Phantom”.
This is the perfect image to represent that movie, by the way. Phantom-mobile? Hell no! Take a taxi.
There are a lot of things going right in The Phantom, or if you would permit me to refer to it by its lesser known and more affectionate title, Purple Derps. But I think a lot of what it accomplishes is overshadowed by its beautiful and tragic imperfections.
I revisited Purple Derps recently because something primal told me it would help me with a writing project I’m working on.
The feeling I walk away with is how bizarre it is to see Billy Zane dressed up in his flamboyant evening gear and act so freaking normal. Let me paint a particular scene for you: we’re in the middle of the jungle. Purple Derps, his butler, some British field officer guy and the love interest are all standing around in a cave. Despite the following facts:
- The butler is Purple Derps’ own
- When I say “love interest” I’m talking subjectively about Purple Derps
- Purple Derps owns and lives in the cave in question
- HE’S WEARING PURPLE DERPS AND HE HAS A PET WOLF
He is not the most important man in the room. Trying to convince his love interest to return to New York, both he and the British field officer guy address her in the co-operative manner of an intervention.
If I’m in the jungle and a man in a giant purple condom tells me to go home, I’m gone. Message understood.
The more sensible and rational Purple Derps acts, the weirder it is. I know there are people who criticise Christian Bale’s Batman voice for being too narmy, but you know what? There’s no point going into these things half-cocked. Michael Keaton talks a lot about how ridiculous it feels to be suited up on set behind the scenes of the aforementioned Returns:
About every fifteenth day rolls…that’s usually where it rolls around with me, that I’m just kind of standing there waiting, and I kinda look at what everybody’s wearing, and I look at myself, and it gets really tremendously absurd, you know, you kind of step outside yourself and you realise…this is really nuts what we’re doing.
If you’re going to live in the jungle and have a pet wolf and be in an outlandish suit and be an immortal figurehead for folklore and superstition the least you can do is put on a grunty Christian Bale voice and STOP EATING MY CHEESE.
What’s happening? Just came in through the window. Eating some cheese, LOL!
No - not lol. You put that down and be Phantom, please.
Billy Zane is a unique example where he’s not being lazy, he’s being Billy Zane, and if ever they were going to risk a casual superhero that was certainly the time to do it. But this highlights that in the case of all movies and stories and works, no matter how ridiculous you’re feeling about making it, you’re needing to commit fully to the absurdities of it or the audience is going to smell you out.