Monday, December 29, 2008
Author: Bill Ramey

RELEASE DATE: December 25, 2008
STUDIO: Lionsgate
DIRECTOR: Frank Miller
SCREENPLAY: Frank Miller
CAST: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, et al.

A pet peeve of mine with reviews of comic book films is that many times, the author simply doesn’t have any clue about the main character -- the superhero if you will -- of the film they are reviewing. The movie might flat-out nail the comic book it’s based on, but the assessment will be negative because the reviewer is clueless. Now this is a rare occasion, but it does indeed happen.

Much to my embarrassment, I’m think I’m about to do the same thing that I rail others for doing: Criticize a comic book film when I know almost nothing about the source material.

So let me give full disclosure here: I’ve never read a single comic book featuring The Spirit other than the BATMAN/THE SPIRIT crossover (written by Jeph Loeb with art by Darwin Cooke) from a couple years back.

That’s it…but does that really matter?

One thing I do believe in is that a good film is a good film -- and vice versa. And with that in mind, I find myself in sort of a conundrum here trying to review the Frank Miller-directed WILL EISNER’S THE SPIRIT.

Did I come away with this “Meh” opinion because I know nothing about The Spirit? Or did I come to that conclusion because the film is, well, “Meh?”

THE SPIRIT of course, is based on the comic series created by Will Eisner. The Spirit (Gabriel Macht), is a superhero of sorts who was once a cop named Denny Colt. Officer Colt was shot and killed -- and then came back from the dead. The Spirit then vows to devote his life to protecting his hometown of Central City. The film’s main villain is a bizarre character known as The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) who dresses up in all sorts of weird getups -- including a Nazi uniform. Naturally, the battle between our hero and his arch nemesis serves as the crux of this film.

To be honest, the storyline was not particularly engaging and I never found myself caring about any of the main characters. Yeah, I sorta liked The Spirt and all -- dug the “Lady’s Man” angle -- but it would not have bothered me if The Octopus won in the end. And while The Octopus was “The Bad Guy,” I never caught myself wanting The Spirit to pound him into the ground.

Speaking of the two main characters, I felt the connection between The Spirit and The Octopus a little too “Batman/Joker-ish” ala BATMAN ‘89.

Another negative for me was that this film was shot ala SIN CITY and 300. Of course, Mr. Miller was involved -- albeit in different ways -- with both those films, so that was no shocker. But I do wonder if this method was really necessary? If Miller wanted to go noir with THE SPIRIT, why do it with the green screens and CGI? I don’t know, how about shooting it in black and white and setting it in the 1940s or 50s?

I believe Frank Miller said that he chose this look of the film because he wanted to give it a “timeless” feel. This sort of reminded me of what Tim Burton was going for with BATMAN ‘89. I suggest that Burton did it better -- although the technology of THE SPIRIT didn’t exist twenty years ago. (I will say from a “Batman on Film” POV, I don’t think I’d want a Batman film done in this style. ) Anyway…

Now here’s where my lack of knowledge about The Spirit may make me look ignorant. For someone who despised BATMAN AND ROBIN for it’s camp, silliness, and cheese, that’s one thing about this film that I liked. If that was the intent, then they succeeded in that regard. You know, when something is so ridiculous and eye-rolling that it’s actually good? I believe from doing a little research, that The Spirit character had several different versions -- from straight-up crime drama to comedy. I’m assuming here that they chose that latter incarnation for this film.

Any more positives? You bet! The chicks in the film were smoking hot! But anyway…

Well done with the campy/comedic tone there Mr. Miller. That was what you were going for, right?

(And if you weren’t...“Oi veh.”)

The bottom line here for me with THE SPIRIT was that there was just too many issues with the look, storyline, and dialogue to wow me over as a comic book movie fan. If it sounds like I totally disliked this film, that’s not true at all. It just didn’t make me want to say “Hell yeah!” which is a criteria of mine now when it come to the films of this genre.

Maybe it’s because IRON MAN and especially THE DARK KNIGHT this past Summer has spoiled me. On the other hand, THE SPIRIT is FAR from being PUNISHER: WAR ZONE or even a…well…BATMAN AND ROBIN.

I’d love to ask fans of The Spirit what they thought about this film. Maybe this is the definitive film of this character. Perhaps I’m just like one of those comic book character-clueless reviewers that I mentioned beforehand…

But I don’t think so.


"Jett" is the founder of BATMAN-ON-FILM.COM.

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