The Spirit (6/10)

the-spirit

Splatter-splash visuals, slapdash implementation, candy coated violence, a buffet of curvy femme fatales, and a loose balance of zippy post-hero irony and hilarity make up the backbone of The Spirit, at once at homage to and a skewering of the comic book and its often ridiculous conceits. Its audacity as its risks its way through territory that would make 300 or Sin City look like high art may be mistaken for ignorance and poor quality, but there are too many inside jokes, too many self-referential gags, for this to be easily labeled as a bottom-of-the-barrell shlock-fest that only trades in cliches without acknoweldging them.

“My city screams.” So sasy the Spirit, a masked vigilante who is not quite living but not quite dead, having suffered a fatal accident years ago and being presently stuck in limbo, bound to the city from whence he came and locked in an eternal struggle with a villain known only as the Octopus (cuz he’s got eight of everything). The Spirit babe-hops too, from a local doctor (played with earnestness by Sarah Paulson) who takes care of his abnormal physiology (though why exactly is never clear, as the Spirit’s cuts and bruises heal miraculously fast and he never ends up needing her anyway); to Lorelei (Jaime King, gorgeous, lending a delicate and exquisite longing to her voice) death herself who waits to welcome the Spirit into her embrace; to Sand Saref (a sultry and enjoyably PG-13 Eva Mendes), a foxy chick (oh wait, they’re all foxy chicks), who knew the Spirit before he died. The plot and style barely resemble Will Eisner’s original comic book at all, so let’s not even go there.

Part of what may divide audiences over the film is the dialog, which is composed almost entirely of one-liners. “I’m gonna kill you all kinds of dead,” “There probably isn’t a rule in the books you wouldn’t break,” and “Shut up and bleed” being only a sampling.  These aren’t sayings any flesh-and-blood human being would say, but Frank Miller’s writing in his graphic novels would lead us to believe he’s capable of more than stuffing catch-phrases down his characters’ throats, so why would we assume any differently here? More likely that Miller is painting in over-the-top colors a canvas of superhero, graphic novel, and comic book cliches and standbys meant to both not be taken seriously as well as looked at deeper.

Similarly, its likely the themes the film touches on, such as the world needing a hero, vigilante justice, and so on, will be misinterpreted and mocked because of the clumsy way they seem to be handled, but a silly and easygoing attitude shouldn’t be mistaken for clumsiness, and it seems a bit disingenous and fruitless to do something like point out the obvious and call the characters cardboard – they’re cartoons of cartoons, of course they’re like.  Characterization is not a strong suit of The Spirit, probably because it was never meant to be.

So based on what it was meant to be rather than a skewered interpretation, how does The Spirit fare? Certainly, it has plenty of weaknesses, even if we play by its own rules, because sometimes the very style that makes it so energetically fun is its undoing.  Miller’s visual style is disjointed, chaotic, unpredictable, ruthless on the senses, and lacks finesse. There is no specific color palette (even blood is not reliably red), and the randomness with which images splash into the screen can be exhausting, which is not to mention the consequence-less violence (neither the Spirit nor the Octopus can be killed), which continually pounds through the script recklessly, eventually numbing the audience and merely spitting out digital blood in rote.  I lost track of how many times the Spirit “died” (each time he dies there’s a protract sequence involving Lorelei’s longing for him), and such a big deal was made about it each time that it became a chore through which I had to slag.

And that’s the dichotomy that Miller struggles with in this movie – giving us gorgeous images with wild abandon, ludicrous violence, and busty women, but also struggling with how to keep it locked in a central story that the viewer can latch onto to take the visually exploding roller coaster.  It never quite balances out, but given the spectacular visual style you may find yourself not caring so much.

The performances are fun across the board, from the Batman-sounding Gabriel Macht as the Spirit, to Samuel L. Jackson having the most uninhibited fun he’s been able to have in a long while, to Eva Mendes as the Spirit’s ex-lover, and to Scarlet Johanssen as Silken Floss, the Octopus’s sassy and curvy assistant (try counting how many times I used the word curvy in this review), but these performances are secondary to the film’s overall success.  The Spirit desires to kick some serious ass into the comic book genre, by creating a story and world so out-there that it defies description. It succeeds, but at a price. Up to you if you’re willing to pay that price (and that of a movie ticket) to see it.

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One Response to “The Spirit (6/10)”

  1. yea, i didn’t think it was that good, darn! And I was sooo excited to, oh well

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