The masked crimefighter of Central City known as The Spirit becomes embroiled in a plot by his archnemesis, The Octopus, to unlock mythological secrets that will garner for him the power to rule the world- all the while, also pursuing a mysterious woman from his past, the criminal Sand Saref.
The Spirit written and directed by Frank Miller and based on the comic strip series by legendary comics creator Will Eisner is a mixed bag. Miller is somewhat faithful to what Eisner has done, but decidedly, like Darwyn Cooke’s version of The Spirit for DC Comics, this isn’t an impression of Eisner’s work, it’s Frank Miller’s vision of the character, and what Miller has decided to do is go really big and over-the-top with The Spirit, not necessarily unlike what has been done in the past in movies with characters like Flash Gordon or Warren Beatty’s version of Dick Tracy. He’s embracing the sheer “comic book-iness” of it all rather than try to make it at all “real.”
The stuff that he does well, at least in my estimation, is the earnestness of the title hero, with The Spirit willing to show the extremes in his face between utter grimness and just wide-eyed silliness (stuff that Eisner did as well), and The Spirit himself is well portrayed by actor Gabriel Macht who really does a great job here and holds his own quite well. Scenes with him on screen are for the most part pretty cool. Another thing that he does well is embracing the sheer sexual quality of the many females in The Spirit’s life, and here those women are represented by such characters as the abovementioned Sand Saref, Silken Floss, Plaster of Paris and in a much more innocent way by Ellen Dolan (played by respectively Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Paz Vega and Sarah Paulson and they’re all terrific here, and just look fantastic).
Where the movie is hurt is in some pacing issues, scenes with The Octopus, Silken Floss and their toadies (all played by Louis Lombardi and it looks like he’s having a lot of fun with this), tend to go on to long and decide to show the characters in other lights that just fall flat. And personally, I think this was hurt also by the choice of using Samuel L. Jackson as The Octopus. Now in the comics, The Octopus’ face is never shown, and here, because it is Jackson, then Jackson does his “thing” as part of it and doesn’t really exude as much menace as he could. I think a better choice might’ve been to have done what was done in a movie like V For Vendetta where Hugo Weaving was cast as V and didn’t show his face through the entire movie. Weaving was still able to carry the day and preserve the mystery aspect of the character, and I think The Spirit would’ve benefitted from the same choice.
Other than that though, I had a pretty good time with the movie- it’s loaded with some great visuals (and the end credits show a lot of art from Miller’s storyboards for scenes) and has a great atmosphere about it, that is as long as your able to take the over-the-top manner in which it’s all presented, and Gabriel Macht as a leading man, is a talent to watch. This is a movie, much like Speed Racer that will no doubt be derided endlessly now (by most) but down the road could get a lot more appreciation.