Film Review: The Spirit (2008)

Also known as: Will Eisner’s The Spirit (poster title)
Release Date: December 25th, 2018
Directed by: Frank Miller
Written by: Frank Miller
Based on: The Spirit by Will Eisner
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson

OddLot Entertainment, Lionsgate, 103 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna kill you all kinds of dead.” – The Spirit

I really wanted to like this. I really did. But alas, it was as bad as everyone has said. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad but even the positives couldn’t save it. I’ll explain.

To start, I really liked the visuals for the most part. It’s very similar in style to Sin City. In fact, it feels like a spinoff of it, even though it has no real connection to it, other than the visual style and the director, Frank Miller, who directed some of the scenes in Sin City. However, in the previous film, Miller also played third fiddle behind all-stars Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

The opening to this movie was really strong. The scenes of The Spirit running from rooftop to rooftop during the credits was fantastic. Initially, I also liked the score. It did, however, sound like it was trying really hard to channel the feel of Danny Elfman’s work on the 1989 Batman score.

That being said, the score did end up being a problem for me, though.

While it started off cloning Elfman, it was inconsistent throughout the picture. It would get jazzy at times, like it was trying to accent the noir look of the picture and then it seemed like it was mimicking Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, primarily those used in the Sergio Leone films of the ’60s. The score just had multiple personality disorder and none of it seemed wholly originally, it just seemed like homages to other things that don’t necessarily fit well together.

Then there is the plot itself. I do like the origin story of The Spirit and how it ties to the villain, The Octopus. But apart from that, everything else seemed overly stylized, ridiculously hokey and nothing was fluid. The film felt like a bunch of scenes sewn together without any regard for pacing or a consistent tone.

Humor was used a lot in this movie and most of it just doesn’t work. Everyone feels like a caricature and therefore, is lacking any real depth. Without depth, you don’t care about them, can’t relate to them and don’t even find them to be all that interesting. Sure, The Octopus changes his look in nearly every scene and he usually looks cool but when doesn’t Samuel Jackson look cool? Also, when doesn’t Scarlett Johansson look stunning? Here, she always looks great but she delivers her lines like she’s dead. I don’t blame her for that, I blame Miller’s script and his direction.

The only actor I actually liked in this was Dan Lauria. His role here felt tailor made for his personality. But I’ve always loved Lauria since The Wonder Years and I thought it was cool seeing him essentially play the Commissioner Gordon of this movie, even if he felt more like Harvey Bullock.

The Spirit lures you in with its credit sequence and its overall look but after about twenty minutes, you grow tired and bored of it. The humor is bizarre, the tone is confusing, the music is distracting and the actors deliver their lines like they’re in a film that should be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

It’s no wonder why there was never a sequel to this, even if the ending leaves things open for one.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: the Sin City and 300 films.

Film Review: Sin City (2005)

Also known as: Frank Miller’s Sin City
Release Date: March 28th, 2005 (Mann National Theater premiere)
Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Based on: Sin City by Frank Miller
Music by: John Debney, Graeme Revell, Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, Alexis Bledel, Powers Boothe, Rosario Dawson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Rutger Hauer, Jaime King, Michael Madsen, Nick Offerman, Marley Shelton, Nick Stahl, Tommy Flanagan, Devon Aoki, Rick Gomez, Frank Miller (cameo), Robert Rodriguez (cameo)

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, Miramax, 124 Minutes, 147 Minutes (unrated recut)

Review:

“Most people think Marv is crazy. He just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century. He’d be right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody’s face. Or in a Roman arena, taking his sword to other gladiators like him. They woulda tossed him girls like Nancy back then.” – Dwight

When Sin City came out, it was a bit of a phenomenon. Well, at least with fans of comic books and especially those who love the work of Frank Miller.

I haven’t watched this in a really long time and I wanted to revisit it after spending a lot of time delving into classic film-noir, which this picture takes some major visual cues from. Well, the original comic this was based on used a lot of noir visual flair, so it was only natural that this film adaptation followed suit.

As an overall cohesive story, the film doesn’t work that well. I get that it is a linked anthology with overlapping characters but it feels like it is just running all over the place. Frankly, this would work better as a television show where all of these characters could be better developed and jumping around with the narrative would just seem more organic.

This is still a cool movie with cool characters but sometimes they feel more like caricatures of pulp comic and noir archetypes. There isn’t really any time to get to know anyone beyond what’s on the immediate surface. Nancy and Hartigan are the only characters with any sort of meaningful backstory and even then, it is pretty skeletal and doesn’t have the meat it needs to really connect in an emotional way.

The film is highly stylized and while it looks cool, it almost works against it, as the grit and violence almost becomes too comic book-y. But this is supposed to be the comic stories coming to life and it represents that with its visual style. And I like the visual style but this is still a live action motion picture and it sort of forgets that.

I’m not saying it can’t have immense and incredible style but it needs to have a better balance between what would exist on a black and white comic book page and what works best for the medium of film. Being that this is the first film to sort of use this visual technique, I think people looked past its faults. I also think that once it was done here, the initial surprise and awe was gone, which is why no one cared much when the sequel came out and why the visual flare didn’t work to hide the faults of Frank Miller’s very similar film, The Spirit.

Additionally, sometimes the comic book elements seem very heavy handed and forced. The scene where Marv escapes the SWAT team may work in the comics but it felt bizarre and goofy in the movie. It would have been more effective if it was toned down and reworked, as opposed to Miller and Rodriguez trying to copy the comic panel by panel. This never works well, which was also why 2009’s The Watchmen had a lot of problems. Personally, I’d rather just stick to the comics if the filmmakers want to just recreate everything panel to shot.

Another problem with directly adapting comics is that the dialogue that works in one medium sometimes sounds terrible in another. Some lines when delivered on screen were cringe worthy moments. Still, I mostly liked everyone’s performance in this despite the sometimes questionable direction and script.

Sin City didn’t blow my mind like it did when I first saw it thirteen years ago. That’s fine. It is still pretty damn good and enjoyable but at first glance, way back in the day, I probably would have given this a nine out of ten rating. But at its core, it just isn’t that good of a film, even if it caused me to fanboy out in 2005.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and The Spirit.