The best ‘superhero’ movie
The Guardian has been listing top 10 movies by genre. Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Ironman all make at least one appearance, as do the Avengers and X-Men, and so does pleasingly surprisingly, Blade, in the superhero list, which is predictably topped by The Dark Knight.
Now, the Dark Knight Trilogy is right up there in terms of Hollywood epic grandeur. And I am partial to the political philosophy themes in that series. I should sometime write a piece on that.
But I think the best ‘superhero’ movie — by which, I of course mean a trilogy — is yet to be made.
The aficionado would know by now that I am talking about The Phantom — the ghost who walks. And those who came in late — here is wiki.
First things first. Why is superhero within ‘ ‘? Because, strictly speaking, The Phantom is not a superhero. He possesses no superpower. No genetic mutation, no bits by radioactive creepy crawlies or vampires, no alien origin. Like Batman, he is a flesh-and-blood man. Of course, there is a backstory — something more grim than Batman’s, and lasting over centuries.
Okay, the convention is to do the origin story in the first movie, do a kick arse second movie, and end with a nice wrap up. Let’s eschew that convention. A good yarn doesn’t need to start with ‘in the beginning’.
Don’t believe me? Perhaps this will change your mind:
Or, how about this?
It’s the latter that would provide the most fitting inspiration for a Phantom first episode. Following the canon, it would be somewhere between Africa and India where we would set our scene. The Indian Ocean island, or archipelago, of Bangalla is a poorly run French (or Belgian or Portuguese or Dutch) colony — a den of pirates, slaverunners, smugglers, and all sorts of other nefarious types.
In this lawless land, and waters around, scums of all kinds are fearful of the the keeper of the eastern dark — a mysterious, masked man, or apparition, that haunts the criminals and evildoers. Also known as the ghost who walks, this specter had been absent for years, but now has been seen again. Soon the word spreads across the ports affected by the monsoon.
It is the 1930s. With the war approaching, the archipelago has obvious strategic interest, and we see strangers on imperial missions, from London and Tokyo. We also see Indian-Arab-Chinese nationalists and revolutionaries. And we see a megalomaniac villain named Gabbar Singh (oh-why-not!) who wants to revive the dreaded Singh Brotherhood of pirates.
Soon we learn that the villains are not just after strategic locations, but rather ancients Arabic scrolls containing details of the ancient weapon of Brahmastra and a reclusive Indian scholar who can decipher it. Possession of this knowledge would mean certain victory in the coming war
It turns out that the scroll is hidden among many other treasures in the masked hero’s layer — the skull cave. He sets off to find the scientist before the bad guys do. And we go on a chase from Suez to Shanghai via Singapore.
Guided by the most successful sequel in history, we would tackle the origin in the second story — except it would be two origin stories, that of the Phantom legend, and of the current Phantom.
The first story would take us to the 16th century, when Christopher Walker’s ship is attacked by the pirates of the Singh brotherhood somewhere between Africa and India. Captain Walker dies, but his son survives. Younger Walker is rescued by the indigenous folks, who takes him to the Skull Cave. He swears upon his father’s skull to fight piracy and criminals.
Thus rises the first Phantom. His first enemies are the Arab slave runners and Portuguese pirates.
You can see the similarities with batman in the origin story —avenging dead parents, no super power, cape/mask to hide one’s real identity, you get the drift. Bruce Wayne uses his family fortune to build all the cool gadgets, Chris Walker uses the wealth in the ship, and superior (relative to the natives) technology to do his.
We see the Phantom marrying an Indian princess in the course of the story. A son is born, who is trained to replace his father as Phantom. He too has a son, who also would become a Phantom in time, and so it would go until the 20th century.
The father-son continuity is known to only a few of the elders of the tribe that had rescued the original Chris Walker Jr. To everyone else, it had seemed as if Phantom was immortal. And the legend of the ghost-who-walks, the scourge of the pirate scum, would become very well known from Alexandria to Zanzibar to Malaya.
Note, while the original Chris Walker was an Englishman, his descendants married African, Indian, Arab, Chinese and other European girls. So by the time we come to the 1930s, Chris Walker aka Phantom can easily be played by this guy.
Meanwhile, we will also see how the backstory of the latest Phantom. He would be raised by his American grandparents — his mother having been a bit of a daredevil (who ran away to circus and met his father). Here is where we add the emotional depth to the character, you know, growing up a brown kid in early 20th century America, decades before Mr Obama.
While the youngest Walker resolves his identity issues, and flirts with his neighbour Diana Palmer, his father is in East Africa battling a ruthless bunch of diamond prospectors and ivory hunters. He is assisted by Gabbar Singh, who betrays him and uses the diamonds to revive his ancestral piracy business.
That would be the second movie, showing the origin story. How does this series end?
We would set the third part in the post-war, post-colonial era. By now, Bangalla is an independent republic governed by President Luaga. It’s beset by the usual problems of poverty and underdevelopment. Bangalla is, however, mineral rich, attracting the ugly gaze of a ruthless British tycoon named Sir James Manson, who pays hires General Bababu to plot against President Luaga. Meanwhile, the Soviets have their own designs, and fuel ethnic tensions.
Luaga is assisted by Diana Palmer, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy for the region. UN is determined that Bangalla must not become another Congo. Palmer’s husband, an anthropologist named Chris Standish, turns out to be Chris Walker, who dons his masks again to save Bangalla.
That, dear reader, would be the greatest superhero trilogy ever made.