After twenty years, Spawn is returning to the big screen, this time with an adaptation helmed by Todd McFarlane, the artist who created the character twenty-five years ago. But the very thing that makes this reboot possible also makes it a risky proposition, namely the proliferation of superhero movies (particularly of the Marvel variety) over the past decade. Put simply, while Marvel’s success has sent the rest of Hollywood in search of superhero properties, this has produced a rather crowded marketplace with the Marvel, X-Men, and DC franchises releasing a combined six films in 2017 alone. So with so much competition, how does one go about setting a new contender apart? Thankfully, McFarlane has some ideas. Speaking to ComicBook.com, McFarlane spoke at some length about how he plans to do exactly that.
Some of that, of course, comes down to the subject matter. ‘Spawn’ (and McFarlane’s pre-Image Spider-Man work, for that matter) has always had more of a horror bent than is typical of more mainstream (i.e. Marvel and DC) superheroes. As such, the first point McFarlane raised was the film’s rating. Though, of course, it has yet to be finalized, McFarlane noted that the mere fact of an R-rating would establish ‘Spawn’ as an outlier:
“Even just going R-rated takes it out of the PG-13 category. Now, with it being R, we’ve now seen a couple of examples of that. ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Logan’ seem to be. ‘Venom’, I think ‘Venom’ is gonna be R-rated. So I’m hoping that our category succeeds. So that it will broaden the thought process of the studio executives to go “Oh, it doesn’t have to be something onscreen that sells a bunch of toys and t-shirts. it can just be something that’s a little more gritty.”
“For me, I know that I’m at the far end of R. Like, true drama, dark, serious R. I’m treating it as a real movie, minus the one thing that’s in there that will be fantastic with this R. So minus that, everything is gritty. There are no arch villains. There’s no headquarters. There are no big ray guns. There are none of some of the trappings that we’re used to in some of the other big movies.”
Much of the dark grittiness McFarlane speaks of is to a large extent part and parcel of what makes ‘Spawn’, well, ‘Spawn’. As I noted earlier, it’s a reflection of McFarlane’s own interests and preferences with regard to storytelling, in particular, the horror influences. And that’s where Blumhouse comes in. While the production company has made quite a name for itself in horror circles in recent years, ‘Spawn’ represents an opportunity to branch out. But it also necessitates a lower budget production. That particular stipulation is something of a double-edged sword, opening up greater potential for profit if the film is a hit while also forcing the filmmakers to make choices they might not have to with a bigger budget. But as McFarlane explains, that low budget is also what has allowed him to feel comfortable directing the film himself:
“Because if I wrote a big budget movie, then not only would they not let me direct it, I wouldn’t even ask to direct it, because I don’t think that would be a deal that I’d personally take myself… So I knew that if I was gonna try and, basically, put myself in the director’s chair, I have to make it as risk-free as possible. And, the way to do it risk-free from my perspective, is to do this type of movie that’s based on the formula of creepy movies. And, again, that’s a big departure. But, look at one that just happened a couple weeks ago, which is ‘A Quiet Place’. That’s a $17 million budget that opened it up to $50 million. That’s a giant success, right?”
But more broadly, he also acknowledges that imitating the Marvel model is, despite its obvious success, a fool’s errand, comparing the prospect to his own experiences in the toy industry:
“So I’ve got the retailer. I suddenly had smaller companies come in and they go, “Hey, that toy is like McFarlane, using some of the McFarlane factory, you got some of the McFarlane sculptors, and blah blah blah blah.” The retailers eventually go, “If everything you’re doing is looking like McFarlane, why wouldn’t I just go get a McFarlane product?” All right, so at that point, you just have to accept that they own that lane on the freeway. So, I’m not trying to go into their lane. I’m just trying to create another lane.”
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on the upcoming reboot of ‘Spawn’ as it becomes available!