STARRING Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Stana Katic, Louis Lombardi, Eric Balfour, Jaime King, Samuel L. Jackson
WRITTEN FOR THE SCREEN BY Frank Miller
BASED ON THE COMIC SERIES BY Will Eisner
DIRECTED BY Frank Miller
Lionsgate, PG-13, 103 mins.
** (out of ****)
A unfortunate side-effect of reading reviews of a movie before you’re able to view it is that sometimes those reviews impact your opinion of the film as you watch it. I think that happened with The Spirit. However, despite the negative buzz that might have altered my open-mindedness, there is plenty of bad in the movie to validate the reviews. But there also are a few positives things that can be said, just nothing involving writer/director Frank Miller.
Deceased cop Denny Colt rises from his grave as the seemingly indestructible “Spirit” (Macht), a well-suited masked individual who stalks the buildings of Central City to fight and punish crime. Of particular notoriety is the tyrant Octopus (Jackson), who is equally invulnerable, and seeks to rid himself of the Spirit, his eternal nuisance. Also arriving onto the seen is the mischevious San Saref (Mendes), who not only has a history with the Spirit's former life, but is entering in a deal with the Octopus. Additionally, the Octopus seeks the blood of a God to make him immortal. With stakes raised, the Spirit must finally finish his arch nemesis for the sake of mankind, and that may mean sacrificing those he cares about.
So, let’s begin with Mr. Miller. Obviously taken with the visual style of Sin City (co-directed by Robert Rodriguez, El Mariachi), Miller decided to incorporate it here. Ultimately, its application is not successful. Although I can say that the style does lend itself to a noir-ish atmosphere, it doesn’t feel particularly right for this project. I haven’t read a single page of Will Eisner’s 1940s Spirit comic strips, but I don’t believe this is the style he would have wanted for a film adaptation. I would think a story like this would be perfect for a dark, moody film, instead of this comic-book-come-to-life treatment. Actually, for those who saw Speed Racer (2008), Spirit echoes its use of cartoonish backdrops: such as a sequence in which The Octopus and his maiden are revealing their master plan; the background is white with a red sun. Also, by using this style once again, Miller has officially lost any interest I have about Sin City 2, since this film pretty much is that movie. The monologues, the black & white (and occasional vibrant colors), and the long coats – this movie is, essentially, the second installment of the Sin City franchise - which is unfortunate.
As ‘The Spirit’, Gabriel Macht is great in the role. Macht always conveys what the Spirit is thinking or feeling, has good comic timing, and, when necessary, can be broody and/or heroic. Maybe it’s the wardrobe that inspired him, but Macht completely owns the role. The film has plenty of problems, but he isn’t one of them. Surprisingly, the actors who perform the worst are the ones I thought who would be terrific. The biggest offender is Scarlett Johansson (Vicky Christina Barcelona), who seems to be trying to channel a little Adam West Batman speak for her character to horrible effect. Her Ms. Floss isn’t remotely interesting, performance-wise or as a character. Eva Mendes (We Own the Night) is, essentially, all beauty and nothing else. Actually, Seychelle Gabriel performs better than Mendes as the younger version of her character! And finally, the magnificent Samuel L. Jackson (Deep Blue Sea) plays the Octopus as manic and over-the-top as possible.
The best performance here, surprisingly, is actually Stana Katic (TV: 24) as rooke-cop Morgenstern, who is alive with energy and hilarious, tongue-in-cheek dialogue that made her, for me, my favorite character in the entire movie. Aside from being stunningly beautiful, Katic is also a lot of fun; as opposed to the other actors who appear to be trying too hard to create the illusion of a comic book world, she seems to effortlessly fall into line, obviously enjoying herself while she does it. And her final scenes involving one hell of an awesome fire arm makes me more interested in seeing a spin-off of her character than a sequel of this.
And poor Eric Balfour (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre); the guy can never seem to get a break: his TV stints usually become canceled or his character dies (24), and this case is no different. His character is onscreen for a good two minutes (that’s being generous) and then dies. Oh well, at least we got to hear a convincing accent. Lous Lombardi (also from 24) is the comic relief as the apparent down sydrome-cloned goon of the Octopuses'. The hilarious part of the character is watching all the different ways he/he's are dispatched.
The movie gets diced for its dialogue and, more specifically, its monologues. I can’t say I completely disagree with their grievances – that they aren’t all that well written – but I enjoyed them. I admit, the constant inner monologuing of the Spirit can get a tad irritating after a half hour, and seem rather redundant (and again, echoes Sin City too much), but I dug that it was part of the film’s style and who the Spirit is. The script also sports some pretty funny one-liners and jokes, and that automatically makes me defend it a little more. It truly is a personification of the Adam West Batman days, really. Although the screenplay is far from perfect, it's not entirely dreadful, either. If there is a second, though, I recommend giving the Nolan brothers a shot at the script - just to be safe.
Concerning the film's storyline, it's not what I expected. Greek mythology and the Gods of Mt. Olympus are introduced and surprisingly are integral to the Spirit and the situation he must face. Although not the direction I would have went, it is, nonetheless, an interesting idea that's rendered nicely, though not entirely successfully. The tale of Jason and the Argonauts is also brought up as part of the history between the Spirit and Saref, which is actually pretty nifty.
As far as any score goes, I can honestly say I can't recall a single note (if there even was a score). So that's a little sad. Editing wise, the film went by smoothly, and nothing seemed to drag, at least for me; I know its length has been unkind to some. In fact, the ending kind of snuck up on me. The foundations for the climax were being laid, and I thought to myself, "Holy potatoes, we're already at the end?" (and it's a pretty damn fun ending with plenty of bullets and Sam Jackson mayhem).
The Spirit isn't the horrible, plague-ridden movie everyone seems to make it out to be. It's essentially really mindless fun, and a nice way to kill almost two hours. However, their complaints are warranted, and among some: the over-use of the Sin City black & white/occassional color technique, the lack of any sort of originality in script or direction, and a lackluster but not entirely horrible screenplay. I do wish a different director was chosen for this project, but for what we have, it's a decent movie that could use some improvement.