Oh boy. This week’s entry tackles Frank Miller’s hastily released and quickly forgotten take on Will Eisner’s pulp comic book “The Spirit.” Even in the fog of a late night, sleep-deprived viewing, it’s hard to see the litany of problems and the movie’s fast and loose style as interesting or likable.
Hot off of the success of “300” and “Sin City,” Miller finally got the chance to write and direct a film and he didn’t disappoint. He demonstrates every bad habit he nurtured while writing sub-par noir, over-simplified characters, and misogynistic garbage during the ‘90s. The same tripe that got turned into over-simplified misogyny by the likes of Robert Rodriguez and Zack Snyder a decade later on the big screen.
“The Spirit” follows the titular hero as he battles his mortal enemy The Octopus, played by a completely unrestrained Samuel L. Jackson. Both The Spirit and his adversary are virtually immortal, so their battles are essentially consequence-free, as they stab, impale and bludgeon each other to undeath in a gag that quickly gets old. There’s a larger plot about the blood of Hercules and immortality and so on, but it’s less than coherent.
In fact, there are quite a few gags that ring hallow throughout the movie. The Octopus has clone henchmen, each with names ending in “-os” written on their shirts. These goons, played by Louis Lombardi, aren’t funny the first time and especially aren’t funny after you’ve seen five pairs of them. Likewise, the women in the movie have names like Silken Floss and Sand Saref, which characters have to say without any sense of irony.
Miller borrows the visual style stock and barrel from “Sin City.” The stark colors –– black, white and red –– dominate each scene and when the movie does go full color, it’s that weird, washed out image that occurs when a film is digitally treated like this one. But while the effect was original and captivating in 2005, here it’s just a gimmick, as it doesn’t enhance the noir elements of the story, it just serves to mask the movie’s low budget.
Some people give “The Spirit” a pass for not taking itself too seriously, but the movie reeks of all the problems that are inherent in Miller’s work from the last 15 years. It depends far too heavily on internal monologue to move the plot along. The women are either hyper-dependent waifs or fetish dolls –– especially Scarlett Johansson’s character. And the humor and tone are all but wasted on lame, repeat gags.
I hope that Miller had fun casting Eva Mendes, Johansson, Jamie King and Sarah Paulson as well as casting himself in the movie. He won’t likely get to do it again anytime soon.