After the huge cinematic success of the adaptations of "Sin City" and "300", comic book writer Frank Miller (also wrote the graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns") was given a blank check to make ANY movie he wanted. Miller wasn't exactly given enough credit for his involvement in the directorial duties of "Sin City". This caused Robert Rodriguez to resign from the DGA when the Guild refused to give Miller credit as co-director. Miller made the layouts and breakdowns for the graphic novels from which both films were HUGELY based on and therefore made the storyboards in a sense--it would be right for him to have some recognition I would think. Well, Miller now directs and writes this adaptation of the comic strip by Will Eisner. My memory of the strip is very blurry and so with this review, I cannot judge this film as to how faithful it would be to the source material. I can still however, say just how good a film it is or how it is in the entertainment value.
A gunned down cop gets resurrected as an impeccably dressed vigilante (with a red tie) called the "Spirit" (Gabriel Macht) who protects the crime-laden streets of Central City. He shadows the underworld to stop evil-doers and haunted by the memory of his old flame, Sands Saref (Eva Mendez) who suddenly returns in search of a mythological treasure. A mad genius called the "Octopus" (Samuel L. Jackson) and his aide, Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) are also wreaking havoc in the streets of this dark city in search for the blood of Herakles that they believe is the missing key to immortality. The Spirit becomes ensnared in the web of deceit and manipulations by Saref that puts him right in the middle…
Frank Miller brought the comic book "Daredevil" to new heights. Miller also created the groundbreaking graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns". He made the "noir-ish" comic series "Sin City" and even co-wrote the script for Robocop 2. One wouldn't be hard-pressed to be curious as to how he would fare as director. Well, "The Spirit" displays that noir-like comic book feel through and through, with its use of monochromatic color hues and shadowy atmosphere. The film does look fantastic and stylish. The CGI-laden set designs does have that "mimicry" of a comic book page. Its cinematography (by Bill Pope) is quite inventive and looks very nifty, and does bring out potentially iconic sequences of comic book heroism in its screenplay. The film is an aural and visual feast for the audience, the problem with the film isn't a shortage on style, it has tremendous problems with discipline.
When making a comic-like experience, one should remember that the goal is to bring the comic book to life. Making it a fantasy made real with material we can relate to. Well, "The Spirit" tries to go a different way; it tries to make the cinematic experience a comic book; drenching the screenplay in a comic book tone. While this may not be a bad thing, there is such a thing as overdoing a good thing. The plot in "The Spirit" is pretty simple, but the execution is just too overcooked. Miller has a good eye for visuals and therefore his characters have to be different. In a way they are, but the dialogue is just so flat-full of comedic undertones and bizarre behavior driven by ludicrous performances by its cast. Think "Dick Tracy" on steroids and "Sin City" on morphine and you'll have an idea just how it plays out its directorial sensibility.
The "Octopus" proves a very heavy-handed villain with his eye-bulging, overly exaggerated quips. There is one scene where Jackson and Johansson dresses up like Nazis to reveal Octopus' evil plot--the dressing up thing proved totally unnecessary. Saref's little scene when she "xeroxes" her bottom is totally pointless except as an exercise on sensuality and large derrieres. I suppose this is all an exercise in comic book fun and style, but it didn't really work for me. However, I do welcome the scantily-clad attire as displayed with the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Paulson, Eva Mendez, Jaime King (Sin City) who plays the voluptuous Lorelei, and the awesome outrageous sensuality of Paz Vega as "Plaster of Paris" (seriously!). The voluptuous women are a great distraction amid all the messy screenplay.
The action in "The Spirit" does retain the "fist-first" comic book attitude and tone. Some are cool, while some are outrageously bizarre. It does not have any emotional stakes nor any feelings of intensity, instead it tries to mix in some comedic one-liners that it sours the pace and feel of the action sequences. It fails to connect with any kind of impact except for its visual flair.
"The Spirit" is a visual marvel and truly is a technical achievement in CGI-generated environments and style. Unfortunately, the lack of discipline in its direction and the tasteless dialogue makes the film a huge mess. Miller steadily drives his performers to the erroneous track and gives in to comedic characterization that proved annoying. Maybe he was aiming for a surreal, noir-like comedy but it all feels too superficial and ineptly executed. It is Miller's first directorial assignment, and I forgive him for his mistakes. Remember, a comic book adaptation works when its characters have even the smallest impression of reality and emotion on them.
RENT IT! [2 ½ Stars] extra half star because of "Plaster of Paris".
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