This needed to be Will Eisner's version of "The Spirit" and
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 07/01/2010
(2 out of 5 stars)
""The Spirit," created by Will Eisner in the 1940s, is one of the great "independent" comic book heroes, although technically he was from the funny pages rather than traditional comic books. Frank Miller is no less a towering talent in the field of comic books, and after the successful transition of his "Sin City" stories to the big screen, the idea of Miller writing and directing "The Spirit" had to seem like a good thing. Unfortunately, that turns out not to be the case, and more is the pity because the Spirit certainly deserves better. This has to qualify as one of the most disappointing comic book adaptations of all time and as soon as I say that I try to figure out what I would put at the top of that list, which is hard because it has to be one I don't own and I have to admit "The Spirit" is better than "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," "Supergirl," and "Steel." I also have to admit that I my affection for Lea Thompson and the title song she sings at the end means I am one of the few sentient beings who does not have "Howard the Duck" on their short list of horrible comic book movies and apparently everybody hates "Elektra" more than I did.
This is a movie where the characters matter more than the plot. On one side in Central City, we have the Spirit (Gabriel Macht), his cop friend, Detective Sussman (Dan Gerrity), Police Commissioner Dolan (Dan Lauria), and his daughter, Dr. Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), who also happens to be the Spirit's gal. On the other side we have the Spirit's arch-nemesis, the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), his accomplice Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), and his cloned henchmen, Ethos, Pathos and Logos (Louis Lombardi). In between is the beautiful and mysterious Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), who turns out to have her own connection to Denny Colt, the boy who grew up to become the Spirit. As for the plot, well, basically the Octopus is plotting to become a god and the Spirit tries to stop him, while dealing with a prospective love triangle.
"Sin City" had Marv, magnificently played by Mickey Rourke; "The Spirit" does not have any character like Marv, or, for that matter, like Hartigan or Dwight or Nancy or Kevin or basically anybody else you want to mention. This 2008 movie does have a pretty good cast, but the characters are closer to being one dimensional than three dimensional. Macht makes virtually no impression at all as the Spirit and the rest of the cast strive to be cartoonish, which means their talents are basically wasted. The characters that Eisner created simply have not been translated to the screen. To add insult to injury, this might be the worst movie Samuel L. Jackson has ever been in; you might have expected me to say "Deep Blue Sea," but that turkey at least had Jackson's outrageous death scene that had me burst out laughing at its sheer audacity. There is nothing in this movie to redeem it.
More importantly, Miller does "The Spirit" in the same cinematic style as "Sin City," which means that things are black and white whenever possible. Miller shot his movie on a soundstage in front of green screens with pretty much everything but actors and props generated by computers. But if Miller's "Sin City" is hard core film noir, "The Spirit" is decidedly soft core in comparison, so this approach ends up being inappropriate. This movie needed its own visual style, something more like Miller's "300" than "Sin City." At the very least, indulge in more splashes of color. The bottom line is that when this movie is over you have to think you have just seen Will Eisner's Spirit, and not a version by Frank Miller, or anybody else for that matter.