One of the worst superhero movies ever made, SPAWN killed a promising comic-book character's big-screen ambitions stone dead. There's been talk of a reboot for over a decade from creator Todd McFarlane, but there doesn't seem to be much appetite for the Spawn character from audiences now. Maybe he was strictly a 1990s cult item.

I like the concept of SPAWN (essentially a mix of THE CROW, GHOST RIDER and ROBOCOP), about a government hitman who's murdered by his corrupt boss and returns to earth as a 'Hellspawn'--having made a deal with the devil to lead Hell's army, which he was worryingly quick to agree to if it meant seeing his fiancée Wanda again. (Seriously, he makes the Faustian Pact literally seconds after arriving in Hell. Snap decision.)

SPAWN was the directorial debut of Mark A.Z. Dippé, a special effects artist for Industrial Light & Magic who worked on THE ABYSS, TERMINATOR 2 and JURASSIC PARK. That set alarm bells ringing, as studios tend to assign F/X whizzes to such projects in order to be sure a deficient budget gets used creatively. SPAWN cost around $40m (in context, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK cost $73m that same year), so it probably was a good investment from that perspective.

Unfortunately, the effects are generally terrible when Dippé attempts anything too grand in scale. There are sequences set in Hell that are truly horrendous, featuring what can only be described as a 'slack-jawed CGI muppet' as the demonic Malebolgia (with the voice of Dr Claw from INSPECTOR GADGET). I know CGI was in its adolescence back in 1997, but it was still post-JURASSIC PARK, INDEPENDENCE DAY and only a few years away from THE MATRIX.

It's barely worth talking about SPAWN beyond its effects-work, which is all Dippé seems interested in half the time. The entire film is embroidered with pointless CGI, including screen transitions. The story's pretty straightforward and terribly clichéd, too: from the pet dog who recognises its burned master, to a homeless kid who befriends the antagonist. It's all very dispiriting, and even John Leguizamo's committed turn as The Clown can't rescue matters. Did I mention Martin Sheen plays a villain who resembles the Yorkshire Ripper? A reminder of how far he'd fallen before THE WEST WING rejuvenated his career on television.

What else to add. Michael Jai White at least has the honour of being the first African-American superhero at the cinema, but if you ask me Wesley Snipes deserved that accolade more for the following year's BLADE. And if you wondered what Dippé's up to now, he's directing straight-to-video Garfield movies. Now that is Hell.