A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"Spawn'' is best seen as an experimental art film. It walks and talks like a big budget horror film, heavy on special effects and pitched at the teenage audience, and maybe that's how it will be received. But it's more impressive if you ignore the genre and just look at what's on the screen. What we have here are creators in several different areas doing their best to push the envelope. The subject is simply an excuse for their art--just as it always is with serious artists.
Still, we can begin with the story. A man named Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is happily married and at peace with himself, when he's recruited on a mission to destroy a biological warfare factory in North Korea. The mission is a setup. He is horribly burned and disfigured, and made captive of the forces of darkness. They offer him a deal: Lead the army of evil, and he can see his wife again. He loves her, and he agrees.
That's what comic book writers call the "origination story,'' and "Spawn,'' of course, is based on a famous series of comic books by Todd McFarlane, who made "Spiderman'' the top-selling comic in history before jumping ship at Marvel to start his own company.
After the setup, five years pass before the evil ones make good on their promise. Simmons by now is Spawn, seen either grotesquely scarred or in an elaborate costume. He goes to his old home, sees his wife (Theresa Randle) now happily remarried and is mistaken as a homeless man by everyone except his faithful little dog, Spaz.