Presumably Paramount wanted some Indy style 30's action when the highly lucrative Raiders franchise had, seemingly, closed down. Rather than invent a new character like Rick O'Connell in The Mummy, the studio went back to Indy's origins and plucked out Lee Falk's immensely popular comic strip, The Phantom.
The legend of the Phantom began 400 years ago when a small boy named Kit Walker witnessed the murder of his father at the hands of a gang of pirates known as the Sengh brotherhood. Marooned on an island Kit swore an oath of vengeance that he and his descendents (all called Kit) will forever fight pirates and evil.
The movie adaptation has a rather familiar plot written by Jeffrey Boam, (which is not surprising really considering he wrote the screenplay for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), about mysterious skulls being sought which together give the owner "ultimate power" ya-da-ya-da-ya-da. Simon Wincer's direction whilst not showy, frames the action admirably. The stunts are suitably thrilling and the period detail is fun without being over the top. Alas the film falls apart in the last act with a rather disappointing confrontation with the Sengh brotherhood, that predates Pirates of the Caribbean but the film ultimately delivers - it won't change your life but it still leaves you with a good feeling at the end.
The charismatic Billy Zane fills out the purple jumpsuit with great aplomb and enthusiasm. He is ably supported by Patrick McGoohan as Kit's ghostly father; Kirsty Swanson plays Diana Palmer, Kit/The Phantom's feisty squeeze. Catherine Zeta Jones, in what must have been an early US movie role plays the naughty but nice Sala, with a bit of a 'Welcome in the Hillsides' accent. The real villainy is provided by Treat Williams, looking like Howard Hughes, as the debonair, charming but ruthless Xander Drax. Scenery chewer, James Remar plays Quill, whose costume looks remarkably like Indy's ..but let's not go there.
David Newman's orchestral soundtrack accompanies the action on screen efficiently, though it is not the normally reliable Newman's best. Unlike the Indy theme or the Mummy themes, The Phantom lacks a memorable tune, despite the use of tribal voices and percussion to inject some excitement. He also overuses a rather abrasive "circular saw" sound in many of the cues. Despite my criticisms it's a solid score that faily gallops along and is actually worth a listen. And if I didn't mention it enough before...the film's a lot of fun too!