Retro-Review: The Spirit (2008)

On Christmas Day in 2008, my brothers and I got together on one of those rare days that we all had off, and went and saw The Spirit.

Ah, the innocence of youth.

Before we went to see the movie, I had already caught some of the reviews, and they weren’t positive. When I met my brother Airam, I told him about the reviews, and he had seen them too but still wanted to check out the movie. I went up to the ticket window and asked if the showing was soldout (since the parking lot was packed and it was opening day for the movie), and the lady nonchalantly told me they had only sold two tickets for The Spirit.

All of the signs were there, and just kept ignoring them.

So how was the movie?

You can’t go in expecting a “serious” comic book movie. Dark Knight raised the bar on comic movies and Iron Man was fantastic fun. The Spirit, with its hodgepodge of anachronistic elements (the city looks like something out of the 1930’s, but the cars and clothing look like they’re from the 1950’s, yet cell phones and other technology is distinctly modern), is a movie in shambles.

I’m not heaping on to the Frank Miller hate. I think the cinematography on The Spirit is fantastic; the use of digital environments and effects here are nothing short of amazing, not unlike Sin City. The problem, though, is that this particular style feels wrong for The Spirit. And that’s only the seventh thing wrong with this movie.

The biggest problem is what the movie wants to be. A serious comic film? It absolutely fails, because the script does nothing to convey this. The dialog is jaw-droppingly awkward in places, bad in others, and over-the-top 99% of the time. The only person who shines in this movie is Samuel L. Jackson as the Spirit’s arch-nemesis, the Octopus. Jackson is absolutely comfortable in his role, chewing up the scenery with such glee you’d think he was coming off a hunger strike. But you even have to scratch your head when he shows up in full Nazi regalia towards the end of the movie, going on about his plan, and his assitant Silken Floss (played by Scarlett Johansson) stands before an embedded portrait of Hitler. WTF? You want to talk about random…

Miller also loads up the female quotient, but whereas in the comic the femme fatales served a more meaningful role in the stories, Miller uses them as mostly eye candy. Scarlett Johansson looks a bit uncomfortable in her role as Silk Floss, delivering her lines with a wooden grace that you almost can’t help but admire (and pity). Eva Mendes has more to do, but barely. And why does she inexplicably xerox her derriere, only for it to be used as a clue by the Spirit later? Jamie King is the representation of Death, but is based on the character Lorelei Rox (who was not, you know, Death itself). And how does the Spirit’s kind, true, and virtuous girlfriend (Sarah Paulson as Dr. Ellen Dolan) put up with his philandering ways? He keeps charming and hooking up with all these different women (sometimes in front of Ellen) and we are lead to believe that, while hurt, she keeps putting up with it? And that he just can’t help charming the ladies? As a guy, you may not mind all of the eye candy and typical male fantasy schtick, but really? To this degree of inanity? The entire concept is woefully out of date.

And what’s up with the clones? Yes, there are clones in this movie. They’re actually kind of funny, in a “what the hell are they doing in this movie?” kind of way.

And they’re clones…

The Spirit works, and by that I mean just barely, in a neo-modernist campy vein. Go into it expecting a comedy (“I’m gonna kill you deader than dead!”) or something approaching a farce, and you just might (might) semi-enjoy yourself. As a whole, and certainly as a serious movie, it doesn’t work even a little bit, because the script can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. The dialogue is just painful in spots, and while the production values are superb, the movie is just hollow. Comic book geeks will enjoy the in-jokes and references, but they do little to lift the movie out of the mire it dwells in. If you’re into picking apart movies and enjoy poking fun at them, you may like this movie. But don’t pay too much; surely there has to be a dollar bin where the Blu-ray of this movie has taken up residence.

Rating: D-

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