Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Movie Review: The Spirit
A few days ago I headed out to the multiplex to catch Frank Miller's theatrical adaptation of The Spirit, originally created by comic book legend Will Eisner in the 1940's. Frank Miller is another comic book icon, having written such seminal books like The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Daredevil: Born Again, and creating the successful Sin City line of books.
The Spirit stars Gabriel Macht as Deny Colt, the Spirit. A police officer killed in the line of duty and escapes the embrace of death (personified by the beautiful Jamie Bell) thanks to a chemical injection by the criminal genius The Octopus (played by Samuel L. Jackson. The Octopus was testing a solution to provide extraordinary healing powers and longevity and Colt happened to be the perfect specimen. With Colt back to life, The Octopus injects himself and begins a quest to complete his godhood, by finding the blood of Hercules. Colt, realizing that this is his chance to make a difference, has adopted the guise of The Spirit and becomes a vigilante working with the police commissioner.
Most of the Spirit's origin is told in flashbacks, as well as his link to a wanted thief, Sand Serif (played by Eva Mendes), who was the Spirit's childhood sweetheart before becoming a thief after the death of her father. In the beginning of the film, Sand Serif and the Octopus both are trying to steal an ancient vase, but there are two of them, one contains the blood of Hercules, the other the Golden Fleece of Jason (of the Argonauts fame). Sad Serif grabs the blood unknowingly thinking it the Fleece while the Octopus is battling the Spirit. The Octopus winds up with the Fleece in the end. The film culminates in a proposed trade of vases, one that the Spirit tries to stop.
I am going to be completely honest in how i feel about this movie. It was terrible. Just terrible. The Spirit is not a well known quantity even in the comic book community and Frank Miller tried to do to much. Telling his origin in a flashback almost a third of the way through the film is not how you establish a hero with an audience who doesn't know your character. The true fault lies mostly with director Miller himself, who also wrote the screenplay. This was his first solo effort as a director, though he did have several film writing credits to his name, like Robocop 3.
You can see Miller trying to pass his film off as a homage to his own work and the work he did when he co-directed Sin City with experienced director Robert Rodriguez. In Sin City the two used Miller's own books as storyboards and created a world no one had seen before, with an unprecedented visual approach to film making. What was important was that they used strong actors and that they stayed true to the source material. I think that Miller let his hubris get the better of him and ultimately tried to tell his version of a Spirit tale instead of Will Eisner's. What results is a poor shade of a Sin City film. With an experienced hand and strong casting, you can take something over the top and make it believable in the situation, like what happened in Sin City. It was wild and crazy, but you were involved with the story and the characters. In this movie you never catch that believability, it just seems cornball and fake. Jackson is chewing scenery with his over the top take on his character while Macht is stiff and lifeless, I never believed that he was the ladies man he is made out to be.
If I had to find a positive in the film it would be the female casting. Eva Mendes is clearly enjoying her role as a sex pot jewel thief and I enjoyed Scarlett Johanson's take on her character Silken Floss, the Octopus's right hand man so to speak. She was enjoying playing something fun and different as a bad guy who was in it for the fun and the money and who knew her looks made the thing work. Even Sarah Paulson brings some credibility as the only "real" woman in Deny's life. She plays Dr. Ellen Dolan, daughter of the police commissioner and former love of Colt, before his death and rebirth as The Spirit. There is even another beautiful villainess in the film, Plaster of Paris played by Laz Vega, who while being totally unnecessary to the plot, would definitely count as eye candy.
The bottom line is to watch this movie when it hits cable. It is not well made and suffers from many obvious directorial flaws. It is my hope that this will not effect the possibility of a Sin City 2 with Rodriguez and Miller attached though, as I believe in what Rodriguez is capable of. I really wanted to like this movie, but it is my opinion that the resulting effort is not worth your $10.00.
End of Line.