I wonder what Will Eisner will think of Frank Miller's interpretation of his classic character The Spirit. While I have not read the comic books of old, I am feeling curious enough to want to know whether Miller's version sticks to Eisner's vision, or came off as his own creation, like what he did to The Batman with The All Star Batman and Robin. Miller probably got his interest in filmmaking piqued when he witnessed two of his graphic novels Sin City and 300 rake in big bucks at the box office with Robert Rodriguez (and Miller) and Zack Snyder at the helm, and thought that his stint with the former, and employing similar CG techniques, would allow for a rookie to have a go at it.
So in came The Spirit, with Miller writing the screenplay, and providing the direction. Truth be told, it felt a lot like a fanboy given a palette and having the freedom to go at the canvas. This is basically self-indulgence, no two way about it. You know how comic book movies feel like comic book movies because certain elements from the books get translated verbatim into the movie, and one of the guilty elements was like the reading of text with every monologue that found its way into the movie. Gramted the style here was to adopt from detective noir, but it felt pretty artificial.
And what was more artificial, was the dialogue, which was farcical at times too. Fan boy elements reared their ugly heads again when Miller felt that he had to just have characters spew lines referencing comicdom, and there were so many lines which self-parodied the film, that it just raised your goosebumps. And when combined with lengthy monologues that made it seem like it's a one-man stand up comedy. For instance, when The Octopus (Samuel L Jackson) has The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) tied up and ready for the kill, he lapses into yet another blah-blah egoistical speech, so much so that The Spirit had to break the fourth barrier and remind him to get on with the show.
Macht is a relative unknown, and I guess the decision was quite right given that the material probably couldn't entice any big names to want to don a fedora, trenchcoat and red tie, jumping around rooftops and proclaiming that they are the city's spirit. Samuel L Jackson seems to sleepwalk through this role which he hammed up with plenty of tongue in cheek, and the costumes handed to him in the film was nothing less than zany, from Samurai garb to Nazi uniform, it provided plenty of platform for him to reprise his villanous role, which did seem like an over the top version of the many baddie roles that he had already played in the past. Action-wise, between these two characters, their immortality becomes the crutch of this film, where everything including the toilet bowl (yes, complete with filth) can be thrown at each other, with nary a scratch, as if to say they're shit-proof, not!
There are but a few redeeming factors of course. This film doesn't feel a need to have its narrative follow a chronological order, and it worked wonders, especially when it's used to break the monotony of dead dialogue that borders on going nowhere. Backstories are told in flashbacks, and for a first movie, it worked its origin other than to follow the usual formula in telling the audience how policeman Denny Colt become this supernatural being who can't die. Sort of how The Crow meets Batman/Daredevil, which Miller had opportunities to work on. At times though I do feel that the references to “my city” do seem a little Bat-heavy.
And I guess when it comes to casting the femme fatales that The Spirit flirts with given his Casanova erm, spirit, this film had its cake and eaten it as well with the likes of buxomy actresses in skimpy outfits, such as Paz Vega in a minor role as Plaster of Paris, Scarlett Johansson as The Octopus' partner in crime Silken Floss, and Eva Mendes in a meatier role as an old flame with a thing for bling, Sand Saref, and this in addition to Jaime King's head-scratch inducing Lorelei Rox, Sarah Paulson as The Spirit's current squeeze Ellen Dolan, daughter of the commissioner, and a whole host of beauties as well.
The Spirit is probably hit and miss for most audiences given that the negative factors outweighing the positives, but I suppose if one approaches this with low expectations, you might just get some kicks out from the load of sticky cheese this movie gets to fester with. If the littlest moments count, then perhaps you would likely enjoy the end credits roll a lot more, especially when you get to see Miller showcasing his artwork, to the sounds of Christina Aguilera belting out the song “Falling in Love Again". I know I did, and was left pondering how this would probably be a better film should it be animated right from the start, because The Spirit firmly roots itself with B-genre pals like Darkman and The Shadow.