I believe that in order to have a pure experience with a movie, you have to go in completely unbiased. You should have absolutely no expectations whatsoever. No preconceived notions of what the movie should (or shouldn’t) be. Of course this is tough to do in today’s information saturated age, especially if you’re a fan of movies and other form of entertainment. There are websites devoted to reporting all the latest news on upcoming productions, websites with nothing but movie trailers, websites with rumors and speculation, concept drawings, and scripts. You can find out almost anything you want about any movie before it even comes out.
Of course, studios sometimes differ in their approach to how they control their information. Some studios play their cards close to the chest (J.J.Abrams), and some studios go as far as to create production blogs to give updates on the progress of a movie, step by step (Michael Bay). But no matter which approach a studio takes to controlling information about their movie, it’s done with the intent of controlling expectations. You never want to let expectations to get too high when there’s a chance your product can’t deliver (Spider-man 3).
Which leads us to Frank Miller’s version of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. The Spirit wasn’t the first comic, but it’s the first one in the way that we know comics today. Will Eisner pretty much invented the way that today’s comics are structured, everything from story layout to panel structure. Even his artwork was revolutionary. And so when it was announced that Frank Miller would be at the helm of a movie version of Eisner’s landmark work, fanboys everywhere couldn’t help but giggle with glee. After all, not only was Miller mentored by Eisner himself, but he was responsible for some of the modern milestones in comics (not to mention practically ushering in the graphic novel and its era of “adult” storytelling). After reinventing Marvel’s Daredevil, Miller went on to write and draw DC’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Dark Horse’s Sin City and 300 which would make him a legend to an all new generation of fanboys. Much like he idolized Eisner, Miller was also now held in great esteem.
But his movie version of The Spirit might change that. It might stain a legacy that, up until this point, was legendary.
When Robert Rodriguez made a movie out of Miller’s Sin City, he insisted on giving Miller a co-directing credit on the movie. This was a little strange since Miller didn’t actually work on the movie. Rodriguez used Miller’s artwork as “storyboards” for his movie. This move, while giving Rodriguez’s movie tons of fanboy cred, cost Rodriguez his membership to the Director’s Guild of America. And, if his production of The Spirit is any indication, Miller actually believed this made him a director.
You see, The Spirit is a disappointment. I use the term disappointment because it means “when someone’s expectations aren’t met”. Only it wasn’t just one person whose expectations were let down, it was many. Fans of Eisner’s work, Miller’s work, and movies in general were all let down with Miller’s movie.
The Spirit is the story of Central City’s titular guardian. Wearing a black suit, red tie, fedora, and domino mask, he defends his city against crime. But in the movie, he’s handed a little more than just simple purse snatchers. The movie finds him doing battle against a new thief, the beautiful Sand Serif as well as his arch enemy, The Octopus.
To say that the movie is a mess would be an understatement. It’s too over the top to be considered pure action. It’s to obvious and poorly written to be a comedy. And it’s too crowded and underdeveloped to be considered anything near a character story. But it does look good…
In fact, other than the visuals, there isn’t much to say about the film. Gabriel Macht, who plays the Spirit, does ok. But everyone is overshadowed by Samuel L. Jackson, who overacts so much you would think they simply let him off the leash completely. Standing at the exact opposite end of that spectrum is Scarlett Johansson, who is so wooden you could mistake her for a statue. Rounding out the terrible performance category is Paz Vega (who I kind of love) as an assassin, Louis Lombardi as cloned thugs, and Stana Katic as a rookie cop. Perhaps the best (or only) two good performances come from Sarah Paulson as the Spirit’s love interest, and Eva Mendes as a sexy thief. And saying that Eve Mendes is the best performance should tell you something about this film.
Overall, I’ve never dismissed a movie just for being bad. After all, sometimes bad movies can be more fun than good ones. I could never picture myself watching Saving Private Ryan over and over again. But you’d better believe I pop in Joe Dirt every few months for a good laugh. But The Spirit is beyond redemption.
If you’re a Frank Miller fan or if you’re just curious, better catch the matinee or rental of this one. Otherwise, there were about 5 other movies that were all better than this one that came out over Christmas.
Josh Treece- not Josh Pease- is home in South Carolina right now. He’s pretty much doing nothing but eating. When he’s not eating home cooked Southern food, he’s a Junior High volunteer at an amazing church.