I’ve been a Frank Miller devotee since Since Sin City. Loved the arresting visuals and the noir style. And, of course, drawing a comic is a lot like directing a movie, so it’s no wonder that film worked so well, right? Well it turns out having Robert Rodriguez as your copilot counts for something, because The Spirit, Miller’s first solo effort, is lacking.
Sin City was over the top, yes. Incredibly so. But it took itself seriously, even in its funny moments. The Spirit alternates between believing in its fiction (the straight, pulpy crop drama scenes, brilliantly performed by Dan Lauria of The Wonder Years fame) and poking fun at it with winking-at-the-audience silliness (Sam Jackson gets whacked with a metal bar that retains the shape of his face). Either approach could make for a fun movie. Both approaches at once make for a schizophrenic one. Maybe it’s the result of Miller attempting to put his own stamp on another creator’s work, fellow comic legend Will Eisner. Regardless, this inconsistency prevents you from ever really getting comfortable with the film.
The visual style doesn’t disappoint. Miller knows what he’s doing there. There are some odd choices (what’s so thematically important about the soles of his shoes?), but you’ll get your fix of eye candy. Not the least of which comes in the form of the female leads, mostly chosen because they are members of the small slice of the female population that look like living Frank Miller drawings. Still, they’re competent in their roles. I even kinda dug Scarlett Johansson, a rarity for me.
Sam Jackson is a master, of course. He can do whatever the hell he likes and I’m on board. The two stand-outs, though, were the kids who play our heroes in the flashback. Much like in Ghost Rider, I found myself wishing I was watching a movie about them instead (two strikes, Eva Mendes!). The most forgettable was Gabriel Macht, the Spirit himself, but when he barked the line “Somebody find me a tie! I don’t care what kind, but by God, it had better be red!” I bought it.
Probably the one thing in The Spirit that actually feels like an innovative edition to the superhero film is the way they handle the hero’s origin. The first Spider-Man spends half the movie on his origin. Batman Begins is entirely origin. The Spirit tosses us in to the action and dolls out backstory piecemeal as the film rolls along, only revealing all the details toward the end. Nothing new for cinema in general, but a trick this genre desperately needed to pick up. Unfortunately, this can’t compensate for the film’s rocky overall pacing and few truly impressive moments. If you like Miller, it’s worth a viewing, but don’t expect the A game he brings with ink and paper.
6 out of 10