It’s interesting to note that The Spirit isn’t listed under “notable works” on comic book artist-turned-director Frank Miller’s Wikipedia page. After bringing his film noir vision to live action as co-director of Sin City he now plunges headlong into a story that has the same dark spirit that has influenced so much of his work, but none of the grit. The Spirit looks great, but has little else going for it leading me to believe that Miller hasn’t directed the film as much as he has simply styled it.
Based on a 1940s newspaper strip of the same name created by Will Eisner The Spirit skips the superhero’s origin story, preferring to jump right into one of his escapades. Along the way we learn that he used to be a Central City cop but after a fatal shooting was brought back to life and now leads a life of avenging crime and chasing skirts. This time out he’s battling against an old foe, The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), a violent megalomaniac who desperately wants a vase which is in the possession of Sand Saref (Eva Mendes as the “lady with a thing for the bling”). Conveniently he has something she wants and if they can arrange a trade everyone walks away happy. Everyone, that is, except The Spirit.
I don’t think The Spirit is a very good movie but I sure enjoyed its hyper stylized film noir look. Miller presents every frame as a gorgeous black and white (with only the occasional burst of color) page from a graphic novel. Many of its high contrast images look as though they were shot under a black light.
It’s great eye candy but unfortunately Miller has set the tone for the rest of the film somewhere on a scale between over-the-top and Rip Taylor. The campy hard-boiled dialogue—it’s as if Raymond Chandler was writing lines for Paul Lynde—and lame story of The Spirit make Sin City look like Shakespeare by comparison.
Only Samuel L. seems to have the right attitude towards this material, over-playing it for all he’s worth. Others, like Gabriel Macht in the lead role and Scarlett Johansson as the excellently named and interestingly attired Silken Floss, never seem to get a grip on the words. Granted they aren’t given much to work with. Macht is essentially Mr. Exposition when he isn’t fighting crime and while Johansson rocks the costumes her role is extraneous at best. A never ending succession of cloned henchmen, all played by character actor Louis Lombardi, run the gamut from annoying to really annoying or, as Octopus says over and over, “plain damn weird.”
The Spirit, despite some arresting images is as colorless as its black and white color palate.