The Spirit is...um, well, it's complicated.
So I finally saw The Spirit, a movie I’ve been incredibly curious about for a long time (though, apparently, not curious enough for me to have seen it in theatres; it flopped and was only in cinemas for a couple of weeks, lost in the Christmas glut). It’s based on a comic strip started in 1940 by the late Will Eisner, who was kind of like the Orson Welles of comics, and written and directed by Frank Miller, the cartoonist behind Sin City and 300, as well as 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns, considered by many to be the best Batman story of all time, almost always mentioned in the same breath as Watchmen. I’ve loved Miller’s work since I was in high school, so the prospect of him making a movie on his own (he co-directed Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Sin City) was, to say the least, very intriguing to me.
Speaking objectively, as a guy who reviews movies, The Spirit is not a “good” movie. It's bad, even. Miller’s writing is incredibly stylized even by comic book standards, so for the medium of film it’s pretty out-there, often coming across as painfully hokey. And as much as I appreciate Miller’s eye for casting beautiful actresses like Eva Mendes and Scarlett Jonahsson, they’re really not up to the task of delivering his dialogue in a way that doesn’t induce cringes in the viewer (see also: Rosario Dawson in Sin City). And the over-the-top visual style – take Sin City and multiply it by 10 – worked for me (I can forgive a lot if a movie looks cool), but it may be too much for some viewers.
All of that said, I sort of loved The Spirit. As much as the film has a truckload of flaws, it just felt like a Frank Miller movie, and the mere fact that I’m sitting here typing that phrase (“a Frank Miller movie”! Awesome) earned it major points with me. While there are individual writers I prefer and artists whose work I like more, Miller mostly writes and draws his own stuff, giving his work a very singular vision that even an amazing collaboration between writer and artist can’t quite match (though such collaborations obviously have their merits, like Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in Watchmen). The Spirit has a similarly unique aesthetic, which is particularly impressive given how much more collaborative filmmaking is as a process – Miller is, after all, working with a cast of actors and is filtering his ideas through a cinematographer and a film editor, etc. The scene where the Spirit runs across power lines above the city streets is kind of silly, but it’s also so Frank Miller I couldn’t get over it, and as a guy who’s followed his career for over 15 years, I got a huge charge out of seeing stuff like that on the screen.
Also, the two-disc Spirit DVD is pretty sweet. I can’t wait to watch the movie with Miller’s commentary, and there’s a great featurette in which Miller discusses his career, and comics in general. I could listen to him talk about this stuff for hours, but 15 minutes was all I got.
Overall, I can’t say I really recommend The Spirit to a broad audience, but I‘ve been thinking about it almost non-stop since I watched it last night, and I can’t wait to watch it again. That’s not normally something I say about a movie I don’t like. It’s a fascinating bit of cinema, and, unfortunately, given its weak showing at the box office, it may be Frank Miller’s first and last chance at directing a movie on his own. I’m just happy it exists.
Labels: comics, DVD
A blog about movies, by a guy who probably watches too many.