Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Spirit

Year: 2008
Director: Frank Miller
Cast: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Paulson, Eva Mendes, Dan Lauria, Louis Lombardi

Have you guys read all the horrible reviews this film has been getting? I have, and despite that I still went to see this, for two reasons. One, I had a free ticket to spare. Two, I was curious. I wanted to know how this film could go wrong.

But first, the story. The Spirit is based on a comic book written by Will Eisner, who is a pioneer in the comic book industry. It's set in the fictitious Central City, about a rookie cop named Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht), who after being killed in the line of duty, comes back from the dead as The Spirit, a midnight masked hero who can't be mortally wounded.

For every hero, there is a villain, and it is in the form of The Octopus (Samuel L Jackson), a self obsessed super villain who wants to live forever. The Octopus wants something that is in the possession of a jewel thief named Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), who also happens to be The Spirit's old flame. So The Spirit has to stop The Octopus while wooing all the gorgeous women that he meets along the way, especially Dr Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), whom Denny was once close to.

Director Frank Miller, who wrote 300 and Sin City, happens to be a big fan of Eisner's work, which explains why he took this project. So the trademark green screen type filming used in the film adaptations of Miller's two books is also used here, to great effect. The entire film is in three colours: black, white and red. And it's quite gorgeous to look at, kinda like watching a comic book spring to life.

Unfortunately, Miller fails at everything else, especially in direction. This is a noir type film, so plenty of those noir type dialogue is present here, and it's way too corny to listen to. Do you remember watching Whose Line Is It Anyway, where there's a segment called Film Noir, and in this segment Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie do funny narrations in between noir dialogue? THAT was funny. THIS is not. I mean, listening to The Spirit talk on and on about his city, and his lovers, and The Octopus to himself is not cool. It's not even funny. In the first few minutes it actually worked, but then it slowly got excruciating to put up with.

And then there's Samuel L Jackson, a talented actor who's a personal favourite of mine, doing an oh so over the top performance here. What's with the costume changes throughout the film? One second he's a samurai, the next he's a Nazi. That added to the silly lines he had to say, made me wonder what the heck Miller is trying to pull off here. And poor Scarlett Johansson, playing The Octopus' sidekick, has to follow suit with the OTT acting as well. And there's also the annoying hench clones played by Louis Lombardi, and Paz Vega ......I wish I could express my disgust over her moronic appearance in so many words.

The problem is Miller, who is trying waaaaayyyyyy too hard to make this exactly like a comic book. It's not good enough for him that it looks like one through the CGI, now he wants to make it feel like one too. You know how comic books always have dramatic dialogue and narration inserted into the frames? Miller tries to do that here too, and saying that it's excessive is an understatement. Miller needs to know his limits, and inject some realism into his work.

But it's not all bad. I know most critics were put off by all the bad stuff so much that they had nothing good to say about it. But for me, I'll give credit to the visual effects that gave the comic book look to it, to some good characters like Commissioner Dolan played by Dan Lauria, and to certain scenes that were genuinely funny in a good way. So it wasn't a total waste of time, it's just hard to stomach if you were expecting something more.

My suggestion? Don't watch this unless you have a free ticket and some spare time, like me. But you don't have to avoid it totally. (3/5)

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