Lionsgate // 2008 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // April 20th, 2009
The Spirit: My city, I cannot deny her. My city screams. She is my mother. She is my lover, and I am her Spirit.
I can't believe this is the sequel for Sin City. It seems much less edgy and violent, and there aren't many great lines being delivered by legendary actors. Hell, we only get Samuel Jackson and a bevy of hot-looking babes who all seem to have forgotten how to act, and model instead. It comes off too camp and far less focused than the first film, and there's only one story.
Wait a minute, so this is NOT supposed to be a sequel to Sin City? Really? Then why does this look exactly the same? Blame Frank Miller for doing his own spin on Will Eisner's characters from the long-running comic series which started in 1940. Miller is directing completely solo for the first time, and his film showcases what can go wrong when you let a graphic novel artist take over the reins of a celluloid production. The pictures are stunning and the style is over-the-top amazing. Yet there is little holding it together beyond pretty pictures and tin-eared dialogue. The Spirit is a pretty mess that might be better suited for DVD than cinema. It is not without charms, but you'll have to dig to find them.
Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht, Because I Said So) wears a domino mask and fights crime in Central City. He reminds me of Batman since he is a vigilante in a sprawling metropolis, but the mythos is equal parts The Crow, as well, since the grave can't stop him. You see, in Frank Miller's vision of Will Eisner's The Spirit Denny has somehow come back from the dead and heals quickly whenever injured. The big bad "The Octopus" (Samuel Jackson, Snakes on a Plane) mysteriously seems to know why this is the case even though our hero does not understand it himself. Another superpower of The Spirit seems to be his way with all the ladies. They swoon, they lust, they mother him. He's a total stud muffin in a fedora hat, black suit, and red tie.
As the film opens, legendary jewel thief Sand Saref (Eva Mendes, Ghost Rider) has a job that goes wrong. While she is trying to escape with two mysterious trunks, The Octopus gets in her way and acquires one of the chests. Unfortunately she gets away with one, and they both soon realize the other has ended up with what they want. Octopus is after the blood of Heracles (or Hercules) which is in a flower vase, because it will grant the drinker immortality. Never mind the man already seems to have this since he heals like The Spirit; he wants more. With help from his spunky moll sidekick Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson, The Island) and an army of genetically cloned thugs, the villain sets out to get the vase and eventually rule the world. We're not sure what bling of all blings Sand Saref wants, but she'll do whatever it takes to make the exchange.
And who gets in their way? Why, of course, it's The Spirit. With help from a beautiful doctor who is in love with him (Sarah Paulson, Serenity), he goes head to head with both The Octopus and Sand Saref. What the hero doesn't know is that he has an extensive past with both, and he's about to find out about why he has become The Spirit. 'Course why he just doesn't ask the angel of death (Jaime King, My Bloody Valentine (2009)) or the cat (Arthur the cat, in his screen debut) that both follow him everywhere I have no idea.
The filmmakers here miss the Spirit of the comic, and instead offer the viewer an alternate version of him and his world filtered through Frank Miller. Will Eisner was always very protective of his comic creation, and it's hard to imagine he would endorse this harder edged translation. It's trying too hard to be shoehorned in to something it never was on the page, and the result is problematic, although quite beautiful. The actors aren't to blame, because for the most part you have great to look at people doing the best with what they are given. Gabriel Macht makes for a believable hero, all hunky muscle and smoky voice. He's cool as a cucumber, and seems to be fully committed to making everything work. Eva Mendes looks incredible and provides a perfect backside as her major asset in portraying Sand Saref. Samuel Jackson is in full on "snakes on a plane" mode as he plays The Octopus, a character who was always just a pair of gloves in the comics. He and Scarlett Johansson are just goofing around on the set, and having a great time delivering the world's corniest bad guy and sidekick schtick this side of the 1960s Batman television show. The women are Bond-level beautiful, and they come hard and fast throughout the proceedings.
You may want to take away my critic credentials, but I kind of enjoyed The Spirit in spite of myself and all I had heard. I know the box office flopped majorly during the theatrical run, it pissed off tons of the comic book fans, and seemed to ensure that Frank Miller would be known as a hack who could only replicate the visual style from Sin City without adding depth or drama. It's true that the film deviates from the source material, has only cardboard characters, flogs along with a "go nowhere" plot, and serves only as eye candy. But to me the cast acted like they were having fun, everything looked gorgeous, and I was entertained for the hour and forty-eight minutes. I was thankful I didn't see it in the theatre, but at home it was pretty to look at and fun to watch. It won't rank up near the top of my "super hero films I admire" list anytime soon, but if you like this sort of thing it's a good ride. It reminded me of Tank Girl or even (gasp!) Darkman in terms of quality. It certainly wasn't Catwoman, although considering the number of feline characters in the film Frank Miller is lucky not to have been compared more to that pile of kitty litter. There is a cat named Arthur who The Spirit talks to for a full five minutes explaining his relationship to Sand Saref. Okay, I just said I enjoyed a super hero movie where a guy in a fedora delivers a soliloquy to a kitty. Perhaps you would be right to ask for my resignation.
In the end you'd be better off sitting down and rewatching the better Robert Rodriguez collaboration. Even the packaging of the DVD seems to make this a sequel to Sin City with the same font used for the title, similar pictures of the cast, and even a mention of the far better film right below the title. But at least the transfer looks amazing. Since the source is digital there is no issue with visuals. It looks sharp and handsome without any defects or problem areas. The five channel sound mix is equally crisp and impressive. I saw no problems with any technical aspects, and this is quite near "reference quality" for a DVD.
The Spirit: 2-Disc Special Edition contains extras you will only find on this edition and on the Blu-Ray. There is a single disc version which contains the film and no supplements. This package gets a few goodies as well as a digital copy. I'm not 100% sold on the iPod version as useful in any way, but here it is on disc two if you desire to take The Spirit on the road. Featured is a very positive audio commentary by director Frank Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete who apparently recorded this before the film flopped and was torched by critics. Two featurettes explore the green screen process, and then we have a discussion from Frank Miller on his own work and comics in general. Also included is an alternate ending which is only storyboarded with the actors doing voiceover work to make it complete. The best part about this is you get to see Frank Miller's artwork in action. The Spirit's cinematic trailer is offered up, and there are several looks at other Lions Gate releases. The only thing Blu-Ray buyers will get more of is one extra featurette on the history of the comic and that Blu-Ray live community which is bound to be smallish for this release.
Critics did have a right to pound this one into the ground, and I would never defend this as a traditionally good movie. There is no subtlety here with Samuel Jackson dressed up as a Nazi at one point, or looking at a foot with a head jumping around for no good reason other than "it's weird." I happened to have a good time with the camp humor, but it does get groan-worthy quickly for most viewers. Be warned: this is a silly project with a great sense of style as its only saving grace. The actors all gnaw on the scenery even if it is just pixels and computer design. If you're allergic to overacting and plot holes skip this one. If you are a true fan of comic book dialogue and physics on crack then you'll be in hog heaven. But if you're looking for The Dark Knight's brand of realism then leave this one a wide berth.
The Spirit is good fun if you can keep your expectations in check. It is Frank Miller's take on one of his hero's best loved creations, and it feels botched and messy. Certainly Will Eisner would not recognize his hero or the style he is presented in. It's not a contender for much other than a campy cult following, but if you're game for a fantasy world where cartoonish men always run off with the the girl, it's high time for something like this. Certainly catching this one in your living room feels better than admitting you want to see it to the girl in the theatre ticket booth. Yet something tells me it will nestle in nicely in between your dog eared copy of Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy and Alec Baldwin as The Shadow. It is truly one of the best comic books up on the screen, and by being so proves why that medium fails as anything else.
Guilty, guilty, guilty of being all style and zero substance, The
Spirit makes a good looking ghost with no meat.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* Digital Copy
* Cinema Verdict Review