- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ver the last few years, San Diego Comic-Con has become the go-to venue for studios looking to earn a little extra buzz for their films. Both “Sin City” and “300” flourished thanks to the advanced support of thousands of fanboys, but if there’s one movie that experienced an adverse reaction to this strategy, it’s Frank Miller’s big-screen adaptation of “The Spirit,” which was so poorly received that it became the laughing stock of the convention. The comic book legend's experience with film is minimal. He acted as co-director on “Sin City” (though it’s doubtful as to how much he actually contributed beyond creating the source material) and as a consultant on “300,” so why has he been given the chance to direct a movie of his own? Who knows, but if there’s any justice in the world, “The Spirit” will mark the last time that he does.
Based on the Will Eisner comic of the same name, Gabriel Macht stars as the title character, a masked vigilante who can’t be killed, no matter how many times someone tries. A Central City beat cop who was mysteriously brought back to life after being shot on the job, The Spirit now works behind the scenes with the police force to take down the bad guys. His arch-enemy, The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), is just like The Spirit in that he too can't be killed by any ordinary means, and when The Octopus discovers an ancient artifact that would grant him god-like immortality, he sends his right-hand lady, Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), and his gang of dim-witted clones (Louis Lombardi) to track it down. When The Spirit’s childhood flame, jewel thief Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), intercepts the artifact believing it to be the mythical Golden Fleece, however, The Octopus scrambles to get it back before The Spirit can put an end to his plans.
Though I’m not as familiar with “The Spirit” as, say, something from the Marvel universe, I’m well aware that the original comic strip was just as much a comedy as it was a crime drama. Unfortunately, 1940s cornball humor doesn’t translate too well to present day – especially when someone like Miller is behind the camera. He’s just not experienced enough working with actors to know what it takes to get a good performance, and the fact that he’s also written the script makes him that much more to blame. The dialogue is just plain terrible, and along with a series of lengthy monologues that The Spirit delivers to his cat (or the audience, it’s never really clear), the film features mind-numbingly bad exchanges like the following:
The Spirit: “I’m not sure what’s going on, but The Octopus knows something.”
Ellen Dolan: “How do you know?”
The Spirit: “Because he said he knows something.”
If there’s one thing going for "The Spirit," it’s the film's muted visual style, which looks like an old film noir that has been digitally restored in color. Unfortunately, even that is ruined by Miller’s insistence on cramming as many “Sin City”-inspired green screen shots as possible throughout. Did we really need a black-and-white silhouette shot of a cat walking across the roof of a building? Yeah, didn’t think so.
If memory serves correct, there wasn't a soul on the planet that was begging for a live-action Spy vs. Spy movie, but that’s exactly what Frank Miller has delivered with “The Spirit” – only with Samuel L. Jackson dressed up in a series of increasingly embarrassing outfits, including samurai robes with giant mutton chops and a Nazi uniform with a monocle. To be fair, Jackson is clearly having the time of his life playing the supervillain equivalent of Wile E. Coyote, but shouldn’t the audience be having fun too? “The Spirit” is to comic book movies what Uwe Boll is to video games. Let’s not give Miller the chance to ruin anything else, or before you know it, he’ll be challenging film critics like myself to a couple of rounds in the boxing ring.
Two-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
It’s always interesting to listen to the audio commentary for a bad movie to see if the filmmakers remain as committed to their vision of the film as when they were making it. Credit writer/director Frank Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete, then, because they still don’t seem to think they’ve made a stinker. Thankfully, Lionsgate has packed some decent extras onto the Blu-ray release to help mask that fact including a 23-minute making-of featurette (“Green World”), an interview with Miller on the comic industry and his career (“Miller on Miller”), and a short featurette on the history of “The Spirit” comic (“History Repeats”). Also included is an alternate (and much more violent) storyboard ending that was never shot for obvious reasons.