The Spirit is a classic comic book character that sprung from the imagination of famed comic book writer and artist Will Eisner and is revered by many a comic book fan. “The Spirit” is also a recent movie adaptation from writer/director Frank Miller (“Sin City”), and is despised by not only comic book fans, but virtually every other moviegoer that was unlucky enough to believe it looked appealing. So, aside from the obvious difference in mediums, why is one version of this character so much more beloved than the other? My guess is that the biggest faults of this movie lie with the horrible dialogue, sub-par visual effects, over-the-top acting, and an uninteresting storyline. Now I must ask, amongst all of those items what is the common denominator that links them all together? The answer is… the overrated writer and co-director of “Sin City”, and formerly brilliant comic book writer, Frank Miller.
Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) used to be one of Central City’s finest, patrolling the city to ensure that its citizens were safe from harm. After a gangster’s bullet brought the life of Officer Colt to a sudden end, he found himself mysteriously resurrected as the avenging hero known as The Spirit. Now, he must contend with seductive foes such as Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) and Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), femme fatales who are as dangerous as they are beautiful. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, this new hero must also thwart the nefarious schemes of his archenemy, the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), before all of Central City is destroyed.
The cast for “The Spirit” is led by actor Gabriel Macht (“The Recruit”), a generally solid actor who isn’t the most recognizable of talents, yet still delivers on most instances. He’s one of those guys that when you see him in a movie you recognize him, but you just can’t quite place him exactly. As the Spirit, which I believe to be Gabriel’s first true lead role, Gabriel’s performance falls prey to what virtually every other member of the cast is guilty of, repeated bouts of wooden acting during many of the monologue-esque moments in the film or overacting in a way that is far too distracting to the point that the character is laughable at best. Granted I believe the script and the direction (Frank Miller’s responsible for both) that Gabriel and the entire cast received most likely prompted them to act in those ways, but the end result is extremely detrimental to the movie and any enjoyment I could have derived from it.
Along with Gabriel Macht are several talented actresses, who without a doubt definitely look the parts of female comic book characters. With their voluptuous curves and great beauty, it’s as if each of the film’s main actresses from Scarlett Johansson (“The Island”) to Eva Mendes (“Ghost Rider”) to Paz Vega (“Spanglish”) could have jumped off the comic book pages themselves or at least served as part of the inspiration for their illustrated counterparts. As far as their performances went, as I said a moment ago, the entire cast suffered from the same problems in their roles, and these ladies are no exception. The only one I can really say stood out a little more than the others would be Eva Mendes, mostly because her character was given the most to do out of all the females, and she seemed to keep her performance as grounded as possible. Truthfully, I must admit that I was a little disappointed in Scarlett’s performance, because she seemed to be quite bored in the role during several scenes. She just never really sold her commitment to the character at any point within the film’s duration. As for Paz Vega, well she did as good as the others, which obviously isn’t saying a whole lot given my complaints about the performances, but her character just didn’t have all that much to do in the film. From what I can recall, I really didn’t see the need for her character to even be included in the story. Mostly the character felt like she had been wedged in because she probably appeared in the comics, so it was merely a gesture intended to please the fans is my guess.
And last but not least is the almost always enjoyable Samuel L. Jackson as The Spirit’s archenemy, The Octopus. Sam’s performance here easily ranks as one of his least enjoyable from my perspective, and out of the entire cast he is the worst offender in terms of overacting and cheesiness within a performance. I know Sam sometimes tends to wander towards the over-the-top side of things in his various roles, but this time he really goes overboard, and the character never benefits from the choice at all. Really it didn’t feel like he was playing a new character, merely an over-exaggerated version of his celebrity persona, imbuing The Octopus with Sam Jackson-ism’s so to speak. As a role it obviously didn’t challenge Samuel, but he didn’t seem to be trying too hard to improve upon what was given to him either. It’s a shame when even someone like Sam Jackson, who is one of my favorite actors, doesn’t even give a performance worth talking about or remembering (at least not in a good way).
What is really surprising to me is the fact that so many talented actors and actresses signed on for such a horribly written movie like this. Surely they all, or at least most of them, would have looked at the script first. Did no one catch on to how horribly written this snore-fest was? Speaking of the story not only does it feature some extremely bland moments of dialogue, but numerous times throughout the film the story barely ever makes sense. There were times where a plot point was being discussed, then out of nowhere the topic is changed to something pointless, and the plot never gets readdressed. I guess Frank Miller just assumed that we wouldn’t notice that the plot just skips around without ever fully fleshing out the different points. Perhaps he was trying to go for some kind of record in movies for the most instances of pointless conversations within a single film or just trying to get noticed for making one of the most incoherent pieces of cinema to hit the big screen in quite some time.
Another problem with the story was that believability was stretched far too thin, even for a comic book movie. It is one thing to deal with super-powered beings, aliens, or any other science fiction related item, those things can be accepted if the audience is aware that that is the kind of movie they are watching. However to have a comic book movie that doesn’t really deal in the arena of sci-fi all that much, yet have it still push the envelope in terms of believability is quite surprising. For instance, how many different guns can The Octopus pull out of his fur coat? I know from watching “The Matrix” that a person can strap a shockingly large amount of guns to their person; however, the amount and sheer size of the weapons The Octopus pulls out in some scenes is a little too extreme given that he was supposedly hiding them all under his coat. It was just so ridiculous to watch that it made me question my sanity for even sitting through the entire film. Perhaps a little more of a grounded sense of reality could have strengthened this film’s story just a little bit, it still wouldn’t have made it a great movie, but at least it would have been more bearable to watch.
Finally, I must take some time to touch upon one of the biggest eye sores within the film, the visual effects employed to create the backgrounds for virtually every single frame of the movie. I know that Frank Miller was trying to recreate a look and feel similar to what he and co-director Robert Rodriguez had captured on “Sin City”. This was a decent idea, not very original, and in the end seemed like Miller was more interested in making another “Sin City” movie rather than one based on The Spirit. Beyond all that is the fact that the budget for “The Spirit” must have been considerably less than that of “Sin City” or “300”, for that matter. I say this because almost every scene reeks of CGI created or enhanced backgrounds, and for the most part they all look extremely fake and poorly rendered. If you are going to make a film using this method of filmmaking, then perhaps you should either have the proper amount of funding or be sure your visual effects house can handle the workload to produce a quality result that can at least meet, if not exceed today’s audience expectations.
In the end, “The Spirit” is a terrible movie that is full of cheesy one-liners, an abundance of wooden and/or over-the-top performances, shoddy effects work, not to mention a generally unexciting story making it one of the weakest comic book adaptations I have ever seen. This film was so bad that it may actually give “Catwoman”, “Howard the Duck” or “Supergirl” a run for their money in being the absolute worst adaptation ever. For any directors or producers out there in Hollywood who may be wishing to make a comic book film adaptation, please take note of this movie, because this is essentially a lesson on what not to do.
“The Spirit” is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and brief nudity.