12 May 2009

Movie Review: The Spirit


The Spirit
2008, 103mins, PG-13
Director: Frank Miller
Writer (s): Frank Miller, Will Eisner (novel)
Cast includes: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Jaime King, Dan Gerrity
Release Date: 25th December 2008

Once thought an untouchable icon of popular culture, graphic artist and now filmmaker Frank Miller has had a change of fortunes since last December. Miller the creator of several pieces of celebrated geekdom, decided to put his directorial skills to the test in a filmed version of Will Eisner’s “The Spirit”, and boy did it go down badly. Like cheap vodka regurgitated by the body, fanboys ripped the work to shreds and ultimately rejected it at the box-office, leaving Miller’s career with at least one immovable stain. It’s easy to see why a lot of people disliked the product, and whilst it’s far from a great picture, Miller’s interpretation warrants a little celebration thanks to its visual audacity and truly bizarre genetic make-up.

The film is narrated by superhero The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) a man with mysterious abilities and who along with the good cops in town tries to keep the bad guys down. The city they inhabit is much like a Gotham or Metropolis, purely fictional, and in keeping with the former it’s always in a cold dark grip, dirty and consistently pervading a metallic hue. The City’s biggest rogue is the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) and underground drug pusher of sorts, who like the spirit is seemingly invincible, thus when they clash carnage ensues but nobody ultimately gets hurt. However that’s set to change as the Octopus with the help of eye candy sidekick Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) has found a way to empower him above his nemesis, and allow Octopus to take control of the city and maybe the world. If that sounds like a primitive narrative, well, that’s because it is. The thing which makes “The Spirit” such a brazen cinematic oddity is its judicious use of computer aided visuals and stark raving bonkers imagery.

The script (also by Miller) is more of an excuse to let loose his imaginative need to render everything as noirish and comic book styled, “The Spirit” playing out like an old time strip, combining cheesy humor and light footed action. For a film as heavily marketed as “The Spirit” was, I found the film suffered a surprising dearth of big exciting moments, instead compensating with insane performances and touches of pure, unfiltered, weirdness. Macht is ok in the central role, though nothing special, and given the movies venomous reaction it’s hard to expect this will launch him to bigger things. Of those involved he’s probably the most refined, though with Samuel L. Jackson in hyper overdrive beside you, that’s not actually a good thing. In every sequence he features Macht is upstaged by one of his co-stars, either clad in a revealing outfit are treading the route of delirious camp. Jackson’s over the top bad guy could only work in this sort of furiously silly effort, whilst Scarlett Johansson treats the film like another lengthy advertisement for her chest. Hardly what nerds hold in short supply. Eva Mendes pops up as an equally under dressed anti-hero, with a ridiculously unnecessary story arc, but at least she packs a little added vigor into her performance.

One sequence in particular sums up the mentality of “The Spirit” perfectly, in which our hero is tied to a chair, attacked by a sword wielding belly dancer whilst Samuel L. Jackson and Johansson in Nazi garb, melt a cat. I can admire and take enjoyment in this sort of sheer craziness in moderation and whilst “The Spirit” probably overdoes it, you have to at least give the movie kudos for trying. Anybody expecting a remotely linear or reality based adventure had really better take themselves elsewhere, because the movie packs a bizarrely counterbalanced comedy/dark action dynamic and throws gloriously odd sequences at the audience like bargain basket hamster feed.

I certainly was amused by proceedings and would give it a mild recommendation for those with a thirst for the weird and wonderful, or for men who prefer style to substance, but everyone else looking for more regular multiplex thrills will be perplexed and angered in equal measure. It’s certainly got some stuff going for it, but overall to justifiably call “The Spirit” a good movie you would need to be substantially zanier than me.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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