As X-men: The Last Stand and Superman Returns to cinema's this summer, we remember the remarkably good and insultingly mediocre adaptations that have graced the silver screen in recent years.
Consider the Shadow a hell of a missed opportunity; the character is much akin to The Batman, yet lacking gravitas. They’re both predators of the night foiling the nefarious schemes of their enemies as they brood away between intermissions of their luxurious playboy lifestyles. Given these facts it’s no wonder why The Shadow was released in the wake [Shadow, if you will] of the 1989 Batman film by Tim Burton.
So what makes this film a missed opportunity? A production bogged down by lackluster direction and a script that skips over the characters more intriguing aspects, evidenced by our introduction to our hero Lamont Cranston living in a cesspool of debauchery and hedonism. It’s not often your hero starts out living the life of a Bond villain complete with having a subordinate killed needlessly. It’s an intriguing set-up yet poorly executed as the film dips into camp, as Cranston is taken away and brought before a mysterious monk that promises to redeem Cranston for his past and turn him into a man who would fight evil rather than reveling in it. Cranston, played by Baldwin can’t help but be dumbfounded by the elements surrounding him until at last he excludes “Am I in hell?” It’s a thought that must be shared by certain viewers at that point.
Promises of an ideological 180 are dealt with swiftly as the film commits the sin of not exploring Cranston’s psyche and instead taking the easy way out with a vertical scroll detailing Cranston’s redemption being a success, his desire to take up the struggle against the forces of evil and his ability to cloud the minds of men, both as the Shadow. This solves the problem of shortening the running time to a sturdy 108 minutes in which Cranston must foil the scene chewary of John Lone’s Shiwan Khan as he plans to build an atom bomb in the hopes of destroying New York before moving on and conquering the rest of the world.
Looking back on the film after the likes of Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins, you can’t help but think the proper direction to go is with the training of Cranston’s mind and body and to show the why of the superhero [a route i'm sure Sam Raimi, who was passed on to direct this in favor of Russell Mulcahy would've at least strolled down]. Instead of an introspective tale we’re treated to the dumbfounded glares of glorified henchmen as they gawk in awe of a mysterious force pummeling their boss only to reveal himself as the Shadow and stand for an eternity until the camera gets close enough to reveal just how big his hat is.
From then it’s established the Shadow’s intricate network of information, Margo Lane and her mysterious connection to Cranston, Cranston’s suggested but hardly troubling struggle within himself and foremost, Baldwin’s ability to laugh uproariously at all that surrounds him. It's during the second act in which a dumbfounded Ian McKellen sleepwalks through the film [Both literally and character-wise] as Baldwin battles the profusely perspiring Tim Curry that you have to wonder just why the hell he's enjoying himself so much.