Dir. by Frank Miller - 1 hr. 43 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
There are people who will try to convince you that "The Spirit" is one of the worst comic book movies ever made. Those people are not your friends, they have no insight into the material at hand, and speak in hyperbole because they're unable to grasp the concept of relativity. They also have poor manners, smell like garbage, frequently don't wash their hands after going to the bathroom because "I didn't pee on my hands," like Journey unironically, and probably have something in their house with the word "artisinal" on the label. This is only the first couple sentences of these people's psychological profile, but the truth of the matter is that people who don't like "The Spirit" also don't like themselves. To put it in perspective, there's been an awful lot of haterade being sipped upon in regards to Frank Miller over the last decade, and this film got gobbled up along with it. My argument is that this is actually a fine film sunk by the fact that a lot of people didn't get the tone of it, and that people were still mad about "Dark Knight 2," and that a lot of people will name-drop Will Eisner without have ever read anything by him in the first place.
A dead cop named Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) comes back from the dead, puts a Lone Ranger mask on, and becomes The Spirit, an extra-legal vigilante that works in tandem with Central City's police force, Commissioner Dolan (Dan Lauria) in particular. The Spirit's main foe is The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), who is locked in a mortal battle with The Spirit, but there's more to that than there initially seems. There are also a number of women circling The Spirit, some good, some bad.
There are a number of problems in adapting "The Spirit" into a movie. First, it was a comic strip that started roughly during World War II and ran through the early 1950's (albeit with a changing creative team), and at least one of the main characters was drawn in a racially insensitive way (Eisner swore that it wasn't done with malice, it was just the convention of the time, and apologized for it). Secondly, the strip itself was episodic (each story was eight pages long, and there weren't really many stories that extended beyond that), so trying to cobble together a feature-length story out of bits and fragments is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle made out of a bunch of jigsaw puzzles. Thirdly, the lasting historical importance of Eisner's "The Spirit" stories had much less to do with the stories themselves than with Eisner's creative design, page layouts, and storytelling innovations. Fourth, Eisner passed away a couple of years before this film began production, and it was reported that Frank Miller agreed to take on the project partially out of fear for how badly the film might turn out in lesser hands (Miller and Eisner were good friends, and there's even a book published of their discussions on the artform of comic books). Fifth, this is probably the single most famous image from "The Spirit" comics:
So, the upshot is that the character in question is pretty much only famous because it's creator went on to become a pioneer of graphic novels (later, of course), and the stories that were created are more famous for their execution than their content, and there was fear that the movie would get made by people who didn't "get it." And instead, the audience didn't get it. Part of the misunderstanding is that Frank Miller's work can come off as taking itself too seriously (with things like gruff voices and overtly focused characters), but that in itself is the satire. And, instead of viewing this version of "The Spirit" as being a fun send up of a very-dated character and concept, people assumed that Miller was the one that missed the mark. Which is probably because no one had ever bothered to read "The Spirit" in the first place.
I'm baffled as to how people could have missed that this was a comedy. At which point do you not get that these are jokes; when The Spirit goes around trying to identify Sand Seref (Eva Mendes) with a photocopy of her ass? And successfully does so?!? When The Octopus' clones run around, identical and identified by single words on their shirt like "huevos" and "rancheros?" Perhaps The Octopus giving a giant speech in nazi regalia to a bound Spirit could have been a clue? Or when Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) raves about how much she loves her lifestyle because she gets to run around looking awesome all the time? Maybe the problem is that people assumed the source material was more somber, to which I'd refer you to the image two paragraphs prior.
But if you're determined to hate anything that Frank Miller does, if you're determined to be clueless about what you're watching, if you're the sort of person who thinks it's the height of taste to dismiss the Batman movies because of Christian Bale's voice, just stay away from "The Spirit." Not just because you're wasting your time being hard-headed, not just because you're willing yourself to have a bad time, but also because I just don't want to hear it. Complaining about everything under the sun isn't a sign that you've developed great taste, it's just exhausting. And it must be exhausting to live that way. I prefer to enjoy fun movies that are jammed full of craziness and beautiful women (and c'mon, this is a murderer's row of beauty), and I'm going to keep doing that. You can keep frowning at everything, and I hope your frowns give you painful, itchy hemorrhoids, so that you can truly have something to complain about.
3 / 5 - Streaming