*** (out of 5)
December 25, 2008
Gabriel Macht as THE SPIRIT
Samuel L. Jackson as THE OCTOPUS
Eva Mendes as SAND SAREF
Scarlett Johansson as SILKEN FLOSS
Sarah Paulson as ELLEN DOLAN
Jaime King as LORELEI ROX
Directed by: Frank Miller
BY KEVIN CARR
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Twenty years ago, after reading Frank Miller’s groundbreaking Batman tale “The Dark Knight Returns,” I kept telling people that Hollywood has a blueprint for awesome superhero movies in the comic pages themselves. For the longest time, I never understood why filmmakers didn’t just use the comics and graphic novels as storyboards for the films.
Years later, Robert Rodriguez did just that when he made his fantastic graphic-novel-turned-film, “Sin City.” Rodriguez used Frank Miller’s original “Sin City” books as the preliminary storyboards for the movie, and it turned out to be one of the best films of the year. In fact, Rodriguez was so intent on giving readers a pure Frank Miller movie that he brought the legendary graphic novelist into the filmmaking process.
Now, Miller’s been given a chance to make his own comic book movie with an adaptation of Will Eisner’s character, “The Spirit.”
The story follows a cop who was thought to be dead but resurrects as the practically invulnerable crimefighter known as The Spirit (Gabriel Macht). His nemesis is The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), a crime lord who is dabbling with genetic experiments and immortality. When a siren (Eva Mendes) from the Spirit’s past comes into town, he searches for her connection with the Octopus.
If you follow the buzz on the Internet, it’s been very mixed for this film. Part of the tragedy of this film is that Frank Miller was somewhat hung out to dry on this project. Without an experience director like Robert Rodriguez to hold his hand, Miller floundered a bit in the filmmaking process.
This movie reeks of a first-time director. Miller imitates his own style which was perfected by Rodriguez, giving the movie its much-talked-about “Sin City 2” look. This would be okay if the original books looked like Miller’s “Sin City.” However, Miller violates the spirit of the original comics (which is exactly what Rodriguez sought to preserved in “Sin City”) by making them nothing like Eisner’s original work. This is as problematic as any other first-time Hollywood director wanting to put his own spin on an otherwise classic work.
To attempt to differentiate the film from “Sin City,” Miller pumps up the camp in the film. However, that tone is not consistent throughout. There are some pretty violent fight scenes and some pretty gritty concepts tossed about. However, this stumbles when the film starts to sound like an episode of the old “Batman” television series.
Still, I didn’t hate the movie. There are some scenes that are tremendously cool in the picture. If you can swallow the imitated style, it looks fantastic. And the ladies serve up a nice helping of eye candy, especially Eva Mendes (and her valuable assets) as well as Stana Katic as the rookie cop Morgenstern. If you can get past the film’s ultra-corny dialogue and own cleverness, which is its ultimate downfall, you might enjoy it.
In the end, there’s a part of me that really enjoyed “The Spirit,” and I actually recommend it if you want a bit of the comic book flavor this holiday season. However, it would have fit better were it not dropped into the movie houses on Christmas Day against so many other films.
All of Frank Miller’s sins are forgivable with this movie, and I do still consider him a creative genius. I just hope that he spreads his creative wings in his next effort. I look forward to what he has to offer in a sophomore effort.