Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L Jackson, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johannson, Sarah Paulson
Running Time: 103 minutes
Score: 1 /10
This review is by Skon and may contain spoilers.
The Spirit is a film with few virtues. There's a fingerful but that's it.
Gabriel Macht delivers a certain charisma in the titular role as Will Eisner's classic middle-class superhero. This is his first time carrying a movie and had the focus been shifted more on him, his antics and his conflicts it would have been a better film. We witness some lovely moments when The Spirit talks about the love he has for his city, echoing something at the very heart of the superhero mythos. One scene has him even using the city as a shield, a weapon and a guide in his role as its guardian. These are poignant moments that evoke that somewhere underneath all the terribleness there might have been a spark of a good film here.
That's where all the virtues end.
People will probably gravitate to the cinematography of Bill Pope which does its best to marry Frank Miller's Sin City with the pulp comics of The Spirit's origins. But as pretty as the cinematography does look here and there, most of it is too busy, too dark and too careless. As a film that tries to show the protagonist's relationship with his city the cinematography should have created a sense of being in a vast metropolis. Instead the visuals feel completely green-screened and the effect is that the film ends up looking like it was shot on a stage instead of in a wide open city. There is also something that feels unfinished about the green-screening process as though some more work needed to be done and as such the film has the look of the cut scenes out of late 90's full motion video games with the characters standing out from rendered CGI effects like sore thumbs.
This is Frank Miller's first time out as a solo director. He is credited with co-directing Sin City and after seeing this film one realizes that Miller had very little to do with the physical directing on that film. It's sad to see one of the greatest comic book creators of all time helpless in trying to do justice to Will Eisner's creations. Miller even casts himself as a police officer whose head gets ripped off and used as a blunt weapon in the film's opening. One wonders if that was CGI or if the lack of any thinking going into this film can be blamed on Miller's headlessness. Either way it's an apt metaphor for a project that steams forward without any direction.
The film is a mess of tones and genres. Scenes tend to go on forever without anywhere to go in the first place. There's an overuse of flashbacks. And most of the dialogue is delivered in soliloquy (including a scene where The Spirit talks to a cat for 5 minutes). There are no subtleties in delivery, pacing or acting. Everything is blunt, harsh and cold. The audience knows everything in the first 15 minutes and it takes the rest of the characters an hour to catch up. It's frustrating, busy and excruciating to watch. Even attempts at humor fall flat. A running joke with 24's Louis Lombardi is amateur in its rendition.
The acting is where Miller's lack of film-making chops shows most prominently. Sam Jackson plays the Octopus, a villain whose face was never shown in Eisner's comics and rightfully so. Jackson is fresh off of a plane full of snakes and still acting like it. He plays the same tough character he always plays - shooting off big guns while shooting off his even bigger mouth. It's beginning to get boring and he needs to seek out more parts that explore his range. In order to make up for having no character depth or any credibility as a villain, Jackson and his henchwoman, played by the vastly overrated Scarlett Johansson, go through more costume changes than a Vegas strip show. Jackson goes from dressing like a pimp to a mutton-chopped samurai and even (I can't make this up) a monocled goose-stepping heil-hitlering Nazi in an offensive scene that seems like a bad pun on the classic Patton.
Further to the acting, there is a bevy of female characters that clutter this film in an attempt to create some element of pulp sex drama. Johansson's Silken Floss is just money thrown down the drain as she brings nothing to the movie. I've never understood her appeal and this film is perhaps best proof of her need to hire an acting coach. The Morgenstern character is a time-waster and eats up screen time lecturing the audience on the Electra principle (Miller you created a character named Elektra, you have a fascination with it, we get it, but it has no place in this film). To believe her character we'd have to believe that a rookie cop would be the only one to notice a gigantic clue two days after a crime scene has been cleared. Sarah Paulson and Eva Mendes, both in terribly written roles, try the hardest and as an audience member I appreciated that.
The free screening I attended last night had a number of rows oddly empty from the get go. And within 10 minutes about twenty people had already gotten up and left. The rest of us stayed because it was cold outside and perhaps hoping that things would only get better. They didn't. After the film we had a unique experience where audience members cultivated together, like strangers at a traffic accident, to criticize the film. People were upset over a film that failed in every possible way a film can fail and yet the advertising campaign paints it as a brilliant, exciting holiday adventure. I assure you it's not.
Lionsgate this is a train wreck. If this is your idea of giving your audience a holiday present honestly shame on you.