The Phantom has been intermittently incarnated in the media. There was a 15 chapter Columbia serial The Phantom (1943) starring Tom Tyler, which is favourably regarded by serial fans. The character was incarnated into two animated series, Defenders of the Earth (1986-7) where The Phantom joined several other King Features heroes Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon and their various siblings in battling Ming the Merciless, and Phantom 2040 (1994-6), which concerns the activities of the Phantoms son in a futuristic setting. The first major film adaptation in the modern era was The Phantom (1996) starring Billy Zane in the title role, which gave The Phantom a reasonably faithful cinematic airing but fared poorly at the box-office.
This tv mini-series was an attempt to revive The Phantom for 00s audience in a Syfy Channel mini-series produced by Muse Entertainment, where you can clearly see that Muse were attempting to spin it off as a tv series. Alas, nothing else has so far emerged. It may be that the producers were working with a property that failed to easily adapt to the modern-day the original comic-book is founded in old-fashioned jingoistic notions of African tribes and their secretive rites, The Phantom riding on a horse and wielding handguns from a hip holster like a cowboy, a 1930s vision of villains that include crime syndicates and pirates, and a world that seems to exist before mass technology and communications. The 1996 film, for instance, had to backdate the setting to the 1930s to make it work. The writers have bravely tried to imagine The Phantom for the modern world and the results prove bizarrely awkward.
As the mini-series opens with Ryan Carnes hero engaged in internet broadcast parkour stunts, it feels that we have something that exists a long way away from Lee Falks comic-book. The Phantoms nemesis of The Singh Brotherhood has gone from an organisation of pirates to a generic evil corporation. Partway through the first half, Ryan Carnes learns he is a Kit Walker and is introduced to the legacy of The Phantom, which parallels what was introduced in the comic-book. We get to visit Bengalla Island at the end of the first half and venture inside a very wimpy looking Skull Cave. There we briefly get to see The Phantoms traditional costume, although this is quickly abandoned for a heavily armoured and visored bodysuit that makes him look more like a cross between a ninja and a SWAT officer. He is given his skull ring and two sidearms but the writers have to conduct some complicated explanation about them being modified in order to make these work alongside modern semi-automatic weapons. There is an equivalent of The Phantoms companion Guran, although this is played by a woman (Sandrine Holt) rather than a man as is traditional.
Perhaps the most contentious change is the introduction of the organisation Bpaa-Thap who serve as the equivalent of the comic-books Jungle Patrol. It seems here that the mini-series is attempting to be the equivalent of tvs 24 (2001-10) having the hero go into action supported by an industry of technical people feeding him information from behind the scenes. Somehow, though based on an unknown jungle island, the Bpaa-Thap group have unlimited funding, access to private planes and technology far in advance of most regular law enforcement agencies. I was prepared to buy this, even though it strained plausibility. However, what the mini-series then absurdly asks us to believe is that all of this organisation is at the service of a single man moreover, someone who has not even been aware of his identity for twenty years. Rather than train an army to fight crime, as you might expect the logical thing to be, they seem fixated on the idea of grooming a young guy to inherit a hereditary role only for him to reject the idea at first and then decide to do things his own way.
I wanted to hope that the writers Charles and Daniel Knauf, who also created the fine genre tv series Carnivale (2003-5), might pull something worthwhile out of this. What the producers have mandated seems to be a version of The Phantom that has been reworked for audiences who come fresh from the success of the dark, grim reality-based world of the previous years The Dark Knight (2008). In fact, this seems more like the animated tv series Batman Beyond/Batman of the Future (1999-2001), which dealt with a futuristic successor to the traditional Batman, a youth who inherited the cowl and adapted it with modern technical gadgetry to continue fighting crime in the same manner this is less a mini-series about The Phantom than it is the heir to role of The Phantom who adapts the traditional costume with hi-tech methods. Unfortunately, in rewriting the essentials of the comic-book, the mini-series fails to incarnate a beloved comic-book character and has only created a work of instant flash-in-the-pan forgettability.
The Phantom hums along adequately on its own terms, despite its never particularly believable scenario. It ultimately amounts to no more than Syfy Channel filler material. The action scenes are adequately handled, although the climactic scenes fighting in and around a speeding ambulance are dull, the type of thing that is routinely shoved into pad out action on a tv series. The villainous brainwashing scheme is an old hat and unexciting one one kept being reminded of Spider-Man (1977), the pilot film for the cheesy tv series, which served up almost the same thing.
Ryan Carnes fares not too badly in the central role and one could at least believe him credibly holding together the main series. Isabella Rossellini turns up, breathily playing on her accent as the mad scientist of the show. It is sad to see someone like Isabella Rossellini doing a one-dimensional throwaway role like this where about the only distinction is seeing that she has gotten a whole lot older than the last time one saw her in anything. As the lead villain and head of the Singh Brotherhood, Cas Anvar gives a broadly villainous performance that frequently falls into the campy. More promisingly, the end coda sets up the much more worthwhile Jean Marchand as villain for the presumed ensuing tv series (which never ended up happening).