So I got sent a screener of The Spirit
yesterday, since the DVD drops today. I don’t know how to tell you guys this, but…
…but I kind of liked it.
Now, hear me out — I know that as a movie of Will Eisner’s beloved Spirit comics, Frank Miller’s movie is an utter failure. I imagine that Spirit fans watching the film felt like I did when I watched Dragonball Evolution this weekend — that it was a travesty of the original, an utter desecration of everything that made the original great. I wouldn’t begin to argue that. You guys have every right to hate the film
But I haven’t read a single panel of The Spirit, so I have no feelings about the character to interfere with a straight judgment of the movie on its own, excessively Frank Miller-iffic terms. And while the movie is certainly bad, I couldn’t help but find it massively entertaining. If you’re a Spirit fan and want a brutally accurate review in that regard, please check out my buddy Zach Oat’s review over at Movies Without Pity — he says it far better than I could. But if you’re not outraged by my admission, hit the jump for more.
So I recently read Miller’s ludicrous All-Star Batman & Robin, which features Batman basically showing off the happy side of being a crime-fighting psychotic. While it was terrible as a Batman comic — the whole point of Batman is that he fights crimes because he feels he has to, not because he enjoys it so much he just runs around on rooftops cackling maniacally — it was so damn entertaining. I laughed a lot, and my jaw constantly dropped as Miller kept creating more and more ridiculous situations (such as Batman fucking Black Canary on a wharf in the rain the first night they meet, after beating the shit out of some thugs). Oh, it was terrible, but it was awesome at the same time.
For better or worse, I think Miller made The Spirit in exactly the same way he made All-Star Batman — as a personal exercise to find out how fucking insane a story he could create. The result is (again, nothing resembling Eisner’s Spirit) but like a graphically violent Looney Tunes cartoon. Or more specifically, like a movie from a weird parallel universe where the ’60s Batman never stopped being the norm for superhero entertainment, and instead progressed from there.
The Spirit and The Octopus are nigh invincible, for no other reason so they can beat the shit out of each other for several different scenes — including the infamous part where the Octopus hits the Spirit with a toilet. The Spirit falls in love with every girl he sees, and his girlfriend Ellen is only mildly irked. The Octopus melts a kitten. Eva Mendes as Sand Sarif photocopies her own ass, and the photocopy ends up being an important clue. The Spirit gets assigned a rookie cop named Morgenstern who talks like she’s an alien in disguise. The belly dancer the Octopus hires to cut off the Spirit’s limbs turns out to have been an old lover of his, so she helps free him and then immediately stabs him in the gut. The Octopus has incredibly dumb henchmen clones, so they can die horrifically, and for one memorable scene where the Octopus is staring at a foot with a little head attached to it (“Now that is just damn weird.”).
This shit is insane. Just like All-Star Batman, my jaw kept dropping as things got more and more ludicrous, but man, I was entertained. I think it’s indicative that the story dragged whenever the Spirit was doing one of his incredibly lengthy voiceovers, but when he was 1) talking to himself in the same way, but out loud, 2) talking to a cat, or 3) apparently talking directly to the audience, it worked a lot better.
There are probably almost as many plotholes and inconsistencies in The Spirit as in Dragonball Evolution, but the difference is The Spirit clearly doesn’t give a shit. It could make sense, but it’s clearly having too much fun putting Sam Jackson in increasingly ridiculous outfits and having him rant about eggs and other nonsense instead — and man, did Sam Jackson chew the scenery beautifully as the Octopus. He is utterly absurd, and is infinitely more fun to watch than the Spirit himself.
Now, there are plenty of slow scenes to break up the lunacy, and those are painful to watch. Frank Miller can create striking images on film, but should never be allowed to write a screenplay again, or direct a movie, probably. The fact that Miller said he was trying to stay true to the character — and wanted to make the film so no one else would “screw it up” — in this film is absolute proof the man has lost his mind.
But intentionally or not, Frank Miller made a movie that was utterly ridiculous and, god help me, massively entertaining. Now, this type of movie is not for everyone — and again, if you have any vested interest in the original Spirit character or comics, this will likely be one of the worst movies you ever see. You can go ahead and judge the film a failure for that reason alone. But I laughed, I was continually astounded, and I was entertained. And I’ll probably watch it again.