When the news that the long awaited Spawn movie to be directed by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane found a home at Blumhouse Productions, fans of the iconic Image Comics character found hope in seeing a movie many had thought lost in development hell. While fans may be a little disappointed that Michael Jai White won’t be reprising the role of Al Simmons/Spawn that he portrayed in the 1997 movie, the casting of Jamie Foxx is admittedly great casting for the character. The actor seen with creator/director McFarlane below has shown in his career for being able to play both
hero and villain and that balance is pivotal to tapping into the inner struggle that defines both Al Simmons and Spawn in this darker portrayal of the character. In the spirit of such news and to convince any naysayers hiding in the shadows, let’s review five movies that prove he has what it takes to be the famous Hellspawn.
5. Collateral (2000): Early in his film career, Jamie Foxx played Max, a taxi driver who is manipulated by Tom Cruise’s Vincent into behind his driver as Vincent drives through L.A. taking out the targets he had been hired to eliminate. Although Max is coerced into compliance with money and death threats, Max does his best to survive the situation as the night brings both the kidnapper and the kidnapped to a better understanding of each other. But as the bodies continue to pile up, Max takes matters into his own hands when Vincent’s mission becomes personal. Under Michael Mann’s direction, Foxx depicted a man forced to perform under extraordinary circumstances who is not afraid to put himself at risk to protect others from gangsters and killers alike even when it puts his own life in jeopardy. In the comics, Al Simmons always saw himself as a hero regardless of the rank he carried and as Spawn, he found himself constantly at the whim of situations that required his skill, instinct, and at times power to protect those he cared for from those that would do them harm. Jamie Foxx could show that humanity and moral compass that Al Simmons struggled to keep in his supernatural position as Spawn.
4. and 3. Jarhead (2005) and the Kingdom (2007): Although this Sam Mendes biographical war movie based on the 2003 memoir of the same name starring Jake Gyllenhaal earned mixed reviews, Jamie Foxx’s role as Staff Sergeant Sykes stood out in this movie highlighting the Gulf War and its effect on the soldiers involved. Foxx’s role as the no-nonsense Sergeant Sykes as well as his role as Special Agent Ronald Feury in Peter Berg’s The Kingdom (2007) show the actor has the experience and discipline to make a soldier or a government agent believable. In the comics, Al Simmons was a decorated soldier and later government operative who had even saved a President from assassination. His training and flexible morality under the idea of the greater good were among the characteristics Hell desired when he was recruited to become a Hellspawn. His training and skills made him dangerous and his sense of morality ensured he could be manipulated to Hell’s advantage especially in their war against the forces of Heaven. Sergeant Sykes constant dedication to the military and Agent Feury’s desire to avenge one of their own against the terrorists responsible for his death prove Foxx has the acting chops to make Spawn’s military background believable but also relatable.
2. Baby Driver (2017): Among the many great characters in this well received Edgar Wright heist movie, one of the best villains was Jamie Foxx’s Bats. Tattooed, unhinged, and completely homicidal, Bats proved to be a reliable but unstable member of Doc’s crew. Whether he was playing off his friction with Baby or killing crooked police or innocent people, Foxx played Bats in an honest and sincere manner that almost had you disappointed when he met his spontaneous demise. You liked him but you honestly couldn’t see his life ending in any other way. He could work with others but kept people at a distance which made them in a a way disposable should they interfere with his personal agenda. The inner conflict and isolation is crucial to balancing Al Simmons identity as a person and his career as a professional killer. Although he believed himself to be a decent person, readers watched Al struggle and eventually acknowledge the darkness within him and see the full effect of its power channeled through his powers as Spawn. Killing came natural to him although his decisions usually had unforeseen consequences at variety points in his life. While he made friends with a variety of people throughout his time as Spawn, a great majority of those relationships would be tested by his desire to free himself from Hell’s machinations regardless of the consequences of his actions. Although Bats had little to no remorse for his life and the decisions he made in it, his cool demeanor and tendency to clash with others would be perfect in flashbacks to Simmons’ old life as a soldier or his present conduct as Spawn. It could definitely be an Oscar moment right there.
- Django Unchained (2012): This movie alone proves that Jamie Foxx has the character and motivation to portray Spawn. In this Quentin Tarantino spaghetti western, Django is a freed slave now turned bounty hunter who travels alongside his fellow bounty hunter in a quest to free his wife from an infamous plantation and its owners. Django endures all sorts of hell and loss in the pursuit of love and that fact alone is crucial to portray Spawn because everything Al Simmons endured as Spawn was made for the same reasons. Al Simmons agreed to become a Hellspawn and return to Earth simply to be reunited with his wife Wanda. When he returned years later to find his wife remarried with a family, he reneged on his agreement to be a Hellspawn and did his best to protect Wanda and her family from all manner of evil forces that targeted them. He constantly tried to be reunited with Wanda proving his love for his former wife was the catalyst for a path of redemption for a lifetime of sins. So much of Django Unchained parallel things we could see within the new Spawn movie. The amount of death and bloodshed guaranteed in Django’s crusade parallels the amount of bodies and blood spilled in Spawn’s constant battles with forces from both Heaven and Hell although the latter constantly upped the scale on an almost cosmic level. The relationship Django shared with fellow bounty hunter and friend Dr. King Schultz could parallel Spawn’s relationship with adviser and former Hellspawn Cogliostro or Spawn’s relationship with Detectives Sam and Twitch, two NYPD homicide detectives who become trusted allies. Django’s struggle and eventual acceptance into the world of bounty hunting could properly show Simmons struggle with the idea of being a Hellspawn and the powers he now wields and what price they have. But the overlapping theme of what hell one can endure to save those they love is not only crucial to portraying Spawn but Jamie Foxx’s performance in Django more than any performance on this list convinced me that the actor could portray Al Simmons/Spawn just as well as Michael Jai White did in the 1990s.
As always, many factors contribute to how well a movie is received by the public. The script, the director, the actors, marketing are but a few that can make or break a film and the audience can even be more unpredictable especially in this age of comic book movies on the rise. Adaptations are unpredictable in both execution and public reception but fortunately this film brings to mind 1987’s horror film Hellraiser which had creator Clive Barker participate as both writer and director for the film to great success. With McFarlane heavily involved in the process and its titular character cast, perhaps this reboot might be a welcome break from the Marvel and DC films that have dominated the market for the last two decades. The only question I’m wondering is who else could we see in the film from the comic series? I wonder indeed.
While we wait, here’s a clip from the 1997 Spawn which was simply a good idea made at the wrong time. Regardless I still admit I still have a soft spot for it.