The Christmas cinema season ended with a disheartening whimper as Frank Miller’s cinematic tribute to Will Eisner failed to rake in the audience it deserves, and John is less than pleased with that. For those of you with reservations about The Spirit, here’s John review to set you straight… hopefully.
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Paulson, Jaime King, Louis Lombardi, Stana Katic, and Paz Vega
Writer and Director: Frank Miller
Based on the comic book series by Will Eisner
SYNOPSIS: The City screams, and The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) arrives to answer the call. The Spirit is a mysterious crimefighter and former police officer who returns from the dead for reasons unknown. Resurrected, and practically invulnerable, The Spirit has become the scourge of the underworld and, more specifically, of The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson). The Octopus is a mad genetecist with a mad thirst for immortality, a thirst which is about to be quenched. However a run-in with jewel thief Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) kicks off a race against time for The Spirit to stop the Octopus from living forever.
ANALYSIS: I know this is a late review, particularly since the Christmas season has come and gone, but there is a bit of injustice happening when people are willing to go see Marley and Me instead of The Spirit. The bloody dog dies! How do I know? In 90% of dog movies, the dog dies! So why not have some real fun?
The Spirit is a thick slice of PG-13 Frank Miller, film noir-y goodness. Though Frank Miller employs many of the tricks that he learned on the set of Sin City, the likeness ends there. Frank Miller’s writing makes it clear that the world of The Spirit is a different kind of concrete jungle. It’s more over the top, more cartoony, and more otherworldly. It’s the kind of world where guns come in shapes and sizes that would make a hillbilly blush, where the classic and the modern collide in a style reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series, and where women are never helpless waifs who need a man to save them. Quite the contrary, the women The Spirit encounters actually become his crutch. He is a man who was forced to abandon his identity when we returned from the dead. He craves human contact, so he takes solace in the affectionate arms of every woman he encounters. He even goes so far as to fall in love with many of them. The only woman whose charms repel The Spirit is that of Lorelei, the angel of death. Every time the Spirit nears death he sees her, beckoning him to come to her, to bury himself in her willing embrace.
Frank Miller’s take on Will Eisner’s character shows a dashing hero who is not afraid to show his vulnerability. He never loses his cool when he takes on enemies big and bad, but he always has a soft spot for the ladies. The ladies in turn have their particular affections for him. Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson) practically makes it her career to heal his wounds, but she seeks to heal the gaping wound in his heart, a wound left behind by The Spirit’s childhood sweetheart Sand Saref, who cast off the path of the do-gooder and resolved to pursue her own sparkly lusts… and I don’t mean Edward Cullen. Sand Saref has got a thing about the bling. It’s that very vice that reunites her with The Spirit, unfortunately on the opposite side of an investigation. Though the women of Sin City are equally as able, they don’t exude the virtue that The Spirit‘s ladies have. The only villainess of the bunch is Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), The Octopus’ able-bodied assistant who seeks to be at The Octopus’ side as he achieves God-status.
Another thing that polarizes The Spirit from Sin City is the fact that where Sin City lives up to its name
as a den of corruption and vice, The Spirit‘s city is a world where the police strive to do good, and where
The Spirit himself is a shining beacon of hope in a city of good cops and classy dames. The Spirit’s love for his city dwarfs his love for anything else. He seeks to protect it, and his example is felt by those who share his resolve. Never once in watching this film did I see a festering pit of crime and degradation like in Sin City. The only real evil in The Spirit’s city is that of The Octopus. The Spirit’s determination to defeat The Octopus comes from the desire to make The City truly safe from evil.
Gabriel Macht conveys this determination for justice with exceptional grace, and for a virtual newcomer he carries the film with the necessary authority. It also comes as a bonus that he holds his own against Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson has that pesky tendency to steal every movie he’s in. Jackson makes some pretty wicked attempts here as he unleashes Frank Miller’s brilliant one-liners with the same eloquence as when he’s calling someone a mofo in a Quentin Tarantino movie. He has the final word on “outrageous” in The Spirit. During a torture scene he appears while wearing a SS uniform with eerie comfort. Audiences in the theater were giggling uneasily in the scene. One wonders whether Frank Miller wanted to punctuate how much of a villain The Octopus is. Hardly seems necessary since we’ve got a hero like The Spirit hell bent to bring him down. Not to mention that The Octopus performs grotesque, amoral experiments on people and animals alike, all for the sake of living forever. That tends to hit the point out of the park. In any case, the curious attire never distracts us from Jackson’s always reliable style of on-screen cool.
What I find quite a disservice to the film is critics calling the plot extremely muddled. That’s a bit hypocritical since they have no problem liking other films that are wholly scatterbrained on a narrative level. For example, we can praise Pulp Fiction for many things, but for a cohesive plot? That may be a hard pill to swallow. Heck, they had no problem praising Sin City, and those three stories had practically no conjoining theme. Compared to those, The Spirit was actually a easy ride with a story that was simplistic and easy to follow. If anything, the only problem I have with the film is that the plot is TOO easy to follow, to the point where it’s not up to the Frank Miller standard. Critics also attacked the film by saying the characters were unlikeable, and I say “bollocks to that” too. It’s the succeeding mark of an action film when even the henchmen (Louis Lombardi) are lovable in their own bizarre ways. The only character I could agree that had a bit of unlikeability was Sand Saref. Mendes plays her just fine. It’s just that she seems single minded and a bit superficial in her pursuits of all things shiny. So much so that her later act of redemption kind of loses its impact and even its believability. It also leaves you wondering what it was about her that had The Spirit pining for her in their youth. That seems like a bit of shoddy character development that may have gotten away from Miller while he was caught up in the pandemonium of his solo directorial debut.
I can maybe understand why teeny boppers and parents would not be interested in seeing The Spirit, but I seriously, for the life of me, cannot understand what it was about The Spirit that kept the fanboy community away. After all, we love Frank Miller, we love comics, and we preach respect to the classics. If you saw the film and didn’t like it, that’s fine, because you still saw it. For the audience that this film was meant for, since when do you listen to critics? If the film looks like Sin City, shouldn’t that be a bonus since we may not be seeing Sin City 2 for a while? Was it because of the holiday weekend? Maybe, but that doesn’t change the fact that you haven’t gone to see it now. The holidays are over. Support Frank Miller!
ESSENTIALLY: A sexy, film noir action film, which is outstanding in its cartoony brilliance, even if it isn’t up to par with Miller’s prior work on screen or in the comics. More importantly it’s totally not deserving of the scorn it’s getting.
Final Grade B-