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Why The Spawn Reboot Will Blow You Away

Superhero movies might be big business at the box office today, but it wasn't that long ago that the genre was considered niche. In a pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe world, comic book fans didn't always have the best relationship with Hollywood, and it's not hard to understand why. Richard Donner and Tim Burton did justice to Superman and Batman respectively, but by and large, the big studios handled superhero properties poorly, and 1997's Spawn remains a prime example of that.

Created by former Marvel man Todd McFarlane, Spawn is the story of Albert "Al" Simmons, a U.S. Marine turned CIA agent who finds himself in hell after being double crossed and killed. In a desperate bid to see his wife again, Simmons makes a deal with a demon and is sent back to the world of the living, but he fails to read the fine print. The former assassin gets his wish, but is returned to Earth as a "Hellspawn" some five years after his death.

While Spawn is often ranked among the greatest comic book characters ever, his legacy has been somewhat tainted by Mark Dippé's frankly terrible movie — its meager score on Rotten Tomatoes hardly does its unpleasantness justice. McFarlane knows that the first adaptation was a missed opportunity and an insult to Spawn fans, which is exactly why he's going to make certain the reboot blows you away.

It's basically the R-rated Venom

McFarlane was something of a superhero himself in the late '80s and early '90s, at least in comic book circles. He rose to prominence with his hugely successful run on The Amazing Spider-Man, coming up with beloved anti-hero Venom along the way. After leaving Marvel to co-found Image Comics, McFarlane created Spawn, an undeniably similar character both in terms of appearance and abilities.

McFarlane wasn't consulted by Sony during the production of Tom Hardy's Venom, but he suspects the studio wouldn't have had "the stomach" for his advice anyway. "It would go like this, 'If you're going to do an R-rated movie, scare the s*** out of them,'" he told CBR. "I don't know that they are going to go there." Of course, Sony didn't go there, opting for a PG-13 rating despite the buzz surrounding a potential R-rated Venom movie.

When he spoke to AZ Central during his appearance at ACE Comic Con 2018, McFarlane promised that Spawn would go even further than the R-rated superhero movies already out there, calling the studios out for not pushing the boundaries far enough. "We don't want to muddy the waters, it's R-rated," he told those in attendance. "Not like Deadpool, where there was just a couple F-bombs and a naked butt. Not like Logan either... We're talking trauma, true trauma, as serious as possible."

Jamie Foxx is playing Spawn

The last time Jamie Foxx got involved with the superhero genre, it didn't go too well for him. The Oscar-winning actor played Electro in 2014's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, one of the many villains shoehorned into an unfocused and overstuffed sequel. Interestingly, it was around this time that Foxx first approached Spawn creator Todd McFarlane about playing Al Simmons in a big screen reboot.

"Jamie came to my office five years ago, and he had an idea about Spawn and we talked about it," McFarlane told Deadline in 2018. "I never forgot him, and when I was writing this script, you sort of plug people in, and he was my visual guy and I never let go of him. When I got done and my agents and everybody was talking about what actor, I said, 'I'm going to Jamie first and until he says no I don't want to think about anyone else because I've never had anyone else in my head.'"

Foxx has name recognition, but that doesn't mean McFarlane is going to rely on his star power. In fact, the comic book creator revealed that Spawn isn't the main character and won't even speak during the movie. "The scariest movies, from Jaws to John Carpenter's The Thing, or The Grudge and The Ring, the boogeyman doesn't talk," McFarlane said.

Jeremy Renner is the real star

So if Spawn isn't the lead character in the movie named after him, just who the hell is? The film will actually follow NYPD detective Twitch Williams, though the movie version of Twitch is going to differ from the one known to fans of the comics. Comics Twitch is a scrawny brainbox, but according to Jamie Foxx, the Twitch we're going to see in the reboot will be a "badass" cop played by Avengers star Jeremy Renner.

"Doing Spawn is like doing a three-man trio; there isn't a lot of instrumentation, but everybody that's playing has to be a badass," Foxx told Yahoo! "Todd McFarlane is already a badass, but then you see Jeremy Renner, and you go, 'Wow.' Because the script revolves around the character Twitch, and you can look at Jeremy Renner's face for an hour and a half and be moved. That's a wonderful partner, and it makes you feel good about the project."

In November 2018, SuperBroMovies revealed some exclusive Spawn plot details. Sources claim that the reboot will begin with Renner's Twitch reeling at the loss of his daughter to gang violence. Foxx will be like the devil on Renner's shoulder as he embarks on his quest for revenge, exposing a plot hatched by New York's two biggest criminal factions along the way.

McFarlane is writing and directing it himself

After what happened the first time he allowed somebody else to adapt his prized property, McFarlane understandably wanted a higher degree of control this time out. In fact, what the Spawn creator has is essentially full control — he's writing and directing the movie himself. McFarlane simply doesn't trust anyone in Hollywood to get it right, which has made rebooting Spawn a trying experience for him.

"Here's what's frustrating about this process: Hollywood doesn't get what I'm trying to do," he said at New York Comic Con 2018 (via CBR). "I can tell by the notes they gave they just don't understand it." Fans were expecting McFarlane to provide an update on the progress of the reboot at NYCC, but what they got instead was a rant about the studio system and the restrictions that come with it.

"I don't care about selling t-shirts and hats," the former Marvel employee said. "When Spawn comes, it's nice and calm, and then you're gone. He will mess you up and he will do it in a harsh way. He doesn't care if he's selling any toys or t-shirts." McFarlane's stubborn approach may delay proceedings somewhat, but he believes his version will be worth the wait and it's hard to argue with that. After all, the last thing we want is another PG-13 Spawn movie.

It will be more horror than hero

While at New York Comic Con, McFarlane also discussed his desire to make Spawn less of a superhero movie and more like an out-and-out horror. Speaking to IGN, the Image Comics founder outlined his vision for "a dead serious, scary movie that happens to be [about] a superhero." You could argue that Warner Bros. is trying something vaguely similar with Joaquin Phoenix's Joker, but McFarlane wouldn't agree.

As he did when speaking of Deadpool and Logan, the Spawn creator promised that his debut movie will make the new Joker origin story look tame. "If you're going to do dark R, make the children cry who are under ten," he said. "Would I make them cry? Sure I would, because I'd be doing a movie for adults." The hard part, as far as Spawn goes, is finding studio execs who are okay with excluding younger viewers entirely.

McFarlane discussed these challenges at length when he spoke to Deadline a few months before NYCC, recounting the times he's tried and failed to get Hollywood on board with his horror-heavy approach. "They all default into their Captain America mindset and I keep saying, 'No, get into John Carpenter's mindset or Hitchcock,'" he said. "This is not a man in a rubber suit, it's not a hero that's going to come and save the damsel, it's none of that."

It isn't going to be an origin story

It's been over 20 years since Spawn last appeared on the big screen, so you'd expect any new movie featuring the character to be an origin story, a long-standing tradition in the superhero genre. McFarlane isn't interested in Hollywood tradition. He's stated on more than one occasion that he won't waste his time explaining exactly how Al Simmons becomes Spawn in the new movie.

"I'm not interested in the origin story," McFarlane told ComicBook.com. "I've seen too many movies that spend way too much time for the set up." He explained how he'd become "exhausted" by origin stories and highlighted Wolverine as an example of how it can negatively impact a character, arguing that the Marvel mutant was more interesting before we knew how he came to be. "It's like he became a little bit less cool [...] once you actually gave the origin away, right? So, I sort of liked him when he was like a mystery."

McFarlane gave 2018's A Quiet Place as an example of a movie that doesn't give a damn about the set up. The critically-acclaimed creature feature begins with a title card informing viewers that it's day 89. "It didn't go in any depth what happened in those first 88 days," he said. "I love it. So either you just go for the ride, or you don't."

It's going to be a more contained Spawn movie

The new Spawn movie will be made on a shoestring budget of just $10 million, a quarter of what was spent on the 1997 adaptation. That amount doesn't go very far in Hollywood nowadays, but with some smart moves and a bit of sacrifice, it isn't impossible to make a top quality flick for under $10 million. One man who knows that better than anyone is Jason Blum.

The Blumhouse founder and CEO has a string of low-budget hits to his name and he proved that he's more than capable of making a superhero-themed horror movie with 2017's Split, which cost just $9 millon but pulled in a staggering $278 million worldwide. When he spoke to ComingSoon, the savvy producer revealed some of the tactics he'll employ on Spawn. "We're keeping the scope of the script relatively contained," Blum said. "[McFarlane] and I aren't paying ourselves any money out of the budget, nor will any of the actors."

The two-time Best Picture nominee has a "good feeling" about the reboot and believes McFarlane will do a "great job" as director. The Spawn creator has a few tricks of his own that should help keep costs down without compromising on quality, like replicating New York elsewhere. "You're basically just moving the financial pieces around to get the most bang for your buck," he told Den of Geek.

It's going to utilize practical effects

A good chunk of the $40 million spent on Spawn (1997) went to visual effects. When Den of Geek revisited the movie for a second evaluation in 2015, they found that, unsurprisingly, the CGI hadn't aged well. "Spawn is an effects movie, but a good number of the effects aren't good. Some are flat out awful... In one scene [Violator] has cartoon eyes that pop out of his head, an effect that would be more at home in Jim Carrey's The Mask."

With a fraction of the budget of the original at his disposal, it makes sense that McFarlane would favor practical effects over computer-generated ones wherever possible, and that's exactly what he's going to do. He doesn't want any old make-up artist, however. During his appearance at New York Comic Con 2018, the Spawn creator excitedly discussed the hiring of Greg Nicotero, best-known for his work on AMC's The Walking Dead.

"Greg Nicotero, for all you guys who don't know, he's directed more Walking Dead shows than anybody else, and he does award-winning costumes," McFarlane said (via Fandom). "We've already designed them, and the great thing about Greg is, because he's a director, when I was trying to explain what I was going to do onscreen visually he could understand what that meant."

Will Spawn's costume be comic book accurate?

Spawn's disappointing costume was hardly the biggest issue with Mark Dippé's movie, but it certainly didn't help matters. The suit worn by Michael Jai White in 1997's Spawn was too muscular for our liking, and his cape (such an integral part of Spawn's identity in the comics) was rendered in terrible CGI, some of the worst on display throughout the movie. You could see what the creative team were going for, but the execution just wasn't there. Will Spawn's costume be comic book accurate this time around? Yes and no.

When he spoke with ComicBook.com, McFarlane revealed that "hardcore" fans of the character might be a little let down by Spawn's new look, but by and large, it will resemble what he wears in the comics. "Does Spawn have a dark mask and his body dark and then does he have a cape in the comic books? Yes, yes, yes," he said. "Will he have all of that in the movie? Yes, yes, yes."

McFarlane knows that he has to keep longtime fans of the franchise happy, but his focus is on pulling in new ones. "It won't be exactly what a hardcore fan is used to," he said. "I have to design for film goers not for comic book fans because the film goers are going to be bigger than the pool of the comic book fans."

It could end up on Netflix

Netflix has had its ups and downs when it comes to original movies. A large number of them have been torn to shreds by the critics, but the streaming giant has had some successes, too. Their movie version of cult manga series Death Note didn't do much to bolster faith in their ability to produce adaptations, but that hasn't put McFarlane off the idea of striking a deal with them.

When ComicBook.com asked the Spawn mastermind if he would consider selling the reboot to Netflix or any of the other streaming services, he gave an encouraging answer. "Yes to all of the above. I think the world's changing in front of our very eyes in how we're going to consume not only entertainment, but even movies. There might be a day when you hit a button and Star Wars is on your computer and you won't have to go to the theater."

That day will be here sooner rather than later (Jon Favreau's Star Wars series The Mandalorian will be just a click away for those who subscribe to Disney's streaming service), but will Spawn end up going the same way? "I want human beings to see it," McFarlane said. "I'm not going to get married to a distribution model that may not be as relevant or as efficient because that's how you used to do it. I'll talk to all of them."

McFarlane has a trilogy planned

It's taken him decades to get Spawn back into the limelight, and now that he's managed to achieve that, you better believe McFarlane isn't going to put the character back on the shelf after just one movie. The veteran comic book creator let slip that he had a Spawn trilogy in mind when he spoke to Deadline in May 2018, but he went into far more detail about his plans for a franchise when he appeared at New York Comic Con.

"I'm selling it as a trilogy, and each movie will look different than the last one," McFarlane said (via Fandom). "Here's the thing about the trilogy — a lot of trilogies go back and repeat the last thing. I want each movie to be visually different." This wasn't the only big news that McFarlane brought to NYCC 2018. The first-time director told those in attendance that he has a title in mind for the first installment in his planned trilogy.

"If I had to give a title to the first movie, it would be Spawn... Do You Believe?" McFarlane said. "Because everyone in this movie is going to be going 'I don't even know if this even exists, or if it's in my head, or if it's a boogeyman, or if it's physical.' [...] Once you get past that, the second movie becomes completely different."

McFarlane also wants a Venom crossover

It might seem like a crazy idea on paper, but McFarlane has a vision of his two most famous creations meeting on the big screen. A Spawn-Venom crossover is the stuff of dreams for fans of McFarlane's work, but is it even possible? It would take some serious negotiating, though the man himself believes it can be done, and he plans on actively pursuing it as soon as he's ready to roll on Spawn.

"Here's a big 'What if,'" McFarlane said when he sat down with CBR. "What if Sony distributes Spawn? Then is it possible that in the future Sony could have a crossover with Venom and Spawn? It's possible. So, I will be presenting that possibility to the Sony executives when we get ready." With Jason Blum on board, this isn't beyond the realm of possibility (in fact, Blum's 2014 smash hit Whiplash was distributed by Sony Classic Pictures), but as far as McFarlane is concerned, the arrangement would be a mutually beneficial one.

"No matter who distributes Spawn, the first thing you will see in every trailer will be, 'From the co-creator of Venom,'" McFarlane rightly pointed out. "So then my question to Sony is, why would you let one of your competitors use that line, given that it was your effort that made Venom work? [...] I think it's worth asking, then, what happens if they both work?"