As creator of such classic graphic novels as 300, Sin City and The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller is a true legend in his field – and he should stay there! Under no circumstances should he be allowed anywhere near the making of a movie, let alone directing it.
In 2005, Miller co-helmed the first feature film version of his own Sin City series alongside a man who knows his stuff, Robert Rodriguez, but after enduring his first solo effort, The Spirit, I wonder just how much ’direction’ he actually had into that earlier piece of landmark film-making.
What Miller, the ‘director’, has served up with this first ever live-action adaptation of The Spirit is ironically void of any real life. The Spirit is more like a lost soul. Or, just plain soulless.
Instead of bringing another one of his own works to the screen Miller has turned to his hero Will Eisner, who created The Spirit in the 1940s as a kind of cross between Batman and Dick Tracy.
Eisner would be turning in his grave at the result. Instead of paying homage to the man and leaving him resting in peace, Miller may as well have dug up his grave, picked up his long dead corpse and slapped him in the face with this shambles of a motion picture.
Admittedly, I, and many others I would assume, don’t know a whole hell of a lot about The Spirit from the comics, and this film will do nothing to rouse interest in the masked crime-fighter.
I hated it … with a passion. It is so bad, it is one of the worst movies I have seen in recent times. Certainly one of the worst in its particular genre.
It’s over-the-top campy nature which just creates an overwhelming sense of cringiness and embarrassment for all involved, puts it right down there in the territory of Batman and Robin (1997) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) – maybe even further down.
They are the absolute bottom of the barrel, but they were made over 10 years ago. The Spirit has had a decade or two to learn from the mistakes of those two and others.
I watched the entire film, but there were many times when I felt the urge to push the ‘Stop’ button on the DVD remote, get up off the couch, eject the disc … and throw it into the fire.
I was aware The Spirit was panned by critics and general movie-goers when it was released at the cinema late last year. I now know why. If I had paid money to go and watch it at the cinema I would’ve walked out halfway through and demanded a refund.
The trailer looked impressive enough with its obvious Sin City/comic book style – and that great theme music borrowed from The Untouchables – so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I was expecting something a bit dark – in every aspect – but a bit fun.
Oh well, you live and learn.
While the visuals, the cinematography and design, can actually be quite stunning at times, they can’t hide everything else that is wrong with this picture.
Neither can the seemingly decent cast, headed by Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johannson, Jaime King and relative newcomer Gabriel Macht as the title character. Sure, they all look good (particularly the vast array of femme fatales) … at least for the first few seconds until they start doing something … like acting.
Under Miller’s direction, they are all horrible. Thanks to Miller’s script-writing, they all deliver horrible lines.
None take the production seriously. They all try to have fun with it. Hamming it up like the local theatre group during an end-of-year performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And fair enough. It is based on a comic book after all.
But, there is just nothing fun about The Spirit. It’s so boring, and yet so far over-the-top at the same time, it’s not funny.
The comedy. Lame. The action. Lame. The drama. Lame. The romance. Lame. The characters. Lame. The story. Lame. The direction. Lame. Lame. Lame.
The Spirit (Macht) was a top young cop, Denny Colt, killed in the line of duty but resurrected by a twisted coroner, Zitzbath Zark, for his own experimental purposes.
While Colt, who now can’t be killed, becomes The Spirit, and forms a union with the Central City police force to help fight crime, Zark transforms himself into a criminal mastermind The Octopus (Jackson), who forms a union with bespeckled and devious Silken Floss (Johannson).
In a very-hard-to-follow and very-hard-to-really-give-a-shit storyline, the two villains, with their ridiculously stupid cloned footmen, plan to steal the blood of Heracles. Who knows why? Who cares why?
It may have had something to do with free-range chickens. I’m not entirely sure. I may not have been paying attention … And you can’t blame me.
“Free-range chickens with their big brown ugly-ass eggs,” so says Jackson’s Octopus “They piss me off. Every time I think about those big brown eggs they piss. Me. Off.”
Then there’s a sub-plot involving The Spirit and his former love Sand Saref (Mendes), who took off overseas years earlier after her police officer father is killed to become a jewel thief, but has returned for business reasons and gets caught up in a battle for possessions with The Octopus.
There are some serious moments – but they are seriously bad, such as when The Spirit drones on and on about ‘his city’, while leaping from building top to building top … or talking to stray cats in alleyways.
With the old cringe-metre well and truly on high, The Spirit, doing his best impersonation of Christian Bale’s gruff new Batman, says …
“My city, I can not deny her. My city screams. She is my mother. She is my lover, and I am her Spirit … She provides for me, my city does. She gives me everything I need … All the enemy has is gun to knives. I have the entire city as my weapon.”
… But the city rarely screams. Only the viewer.
Other than saving a damsel in distress at the start – after the first of many of these moments he spends talking to himself about ‘his city’ – The Spirit really doesn’t do a hell of a lot, other than getting beaten up, set up and shot up.
He gets smacked by The Octopus not far into the film during a drawn-out slapstick farce of a fight in the swamp, and rarely sees any action thereafter. During what is supposed to be the big climax, he gets shot a few hundred times by The Octopus, and only after somebody else blows off one of the mad scientist’s hands, The Spirit gets to his feet and presents the knock-out blow. Yeah, what a hero!
He’s supposed to be a crack detective but easily falls into a trap as soon as he starts sleuthing around looking for answers to The Octopus’ whereabouts.
“What a fine detective. You followed the breadcrumbs right to us,” so says Silken Floss.
Oh, and he’s supposed to have a real way with the ladies. And while he does – reeling in the naive-beyond-belief good doctor and his supposed lover Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), the painfully annoying rookie cop Morgenstern (Stana Katic), bellydancing assassin Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega) and Sand Saref - again – he just comes off looking like a total sleazebag.
His slimey antics and the forgivingness of current flame Ellen, especially during that ‘memorable’ finale when he pashes old flame Sand in front of everyone including Ellen, sends women’s lib back 60 years.
“You’re in love with every women you meet, Mr. Spirit. You say lovely things to all of us and you mean every word you say,” she says.
Actor Macht’s only saving grace is the fact he spends the entire movie with that dicky mask on.
The Spirit character may not have been able to be killed. But certainly his career on the big screen has been. And with any luck Miller’s as well.
In a few words:The Spirit needs to be exorcised. Where’s Father Merrin when you need him
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