Gloriously, oh-so-wonderfully awful in every respect, Frank Miller’s The Spirit is a must-see for bad movie lovers everywhere.
It is, consistently: ineptly filmed and edited, filled with bizarre jump cuts and continuity errors that ignore basic filmmaking guidelines like the 180-degree rule; boring, and I mean really hellish to sit through – all style and no substance is what they were going for, and they overshot that; offensive – it’s tough to get offended at stuff like this, but just wait till the scene where Samuel L. Jackson, in full Nazi garb, with swastikas and a Hitler lithograph in the background, melts a kitten, leaving two eyeballs rolling in a sink.
I could keep going, I really could. The acting and the music are beyond words. The film is such an insult to Will Eisner’s original comic series it’s unimaginable.
I’d like to tell myself that Miller – an extremely talented comic book auteur, no question – has created this abomination in response to all the awful comic book adaptations over the years. Just like Van Sant made Psycho to ward off bad remakes. Let’s see how Watchmen pans out.
So. Anyway. A plot description is useless so let me run down the characters. There’s The Spirit, played by a stoned-face Gabriel Macht (with some Joker-like facial surgery), who protects his city – unnamed in the movie, but New York in the comic – because, you know, she is his mother, and she is his lover, and he is her spirit. Makes sense.
Then there’s arch villain The Octopus, played by Sam Jackson, who goes predictably over-the-top; I don’t know why he’s called The Octopus (“I have eight of everything!” he screams at the end, though that doesn’t seem to make sense), but he does have quite an egg fetish (“No egg on my face! Not a glob!”).
There are some femme fatales, played by Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, and Paz Vega. And regenerating lunkheads, all played by Louis Lombardi, the only actor here who seems to know what kind of film he’s in, playing it broad and dumb. The rest of the cast is awful, most notably Johansson, who has never been more wooden: we expect to see the cue cards when they cut, ’cause she sure isn’t looking at the other actors.
The plot: oh, it’s an origin story, we find out after an hour or so. I was wondering what the point of this was. The Spirit is invincible – more so than Superman, as there’s no kryptonite – and we’re treated to a number of scenes of him being pummeled, shot, thrown out of windows; of course there’s no suspense when all of this is going on, as he always gets back up. The Octopus is invincible too. The main storyline has him searching for something that will make him even more invincible. Yeah, that’s right.
The style: Sin City in the 1940’s, although you can tell it’s present day by all the Nokia product placement. It’s a mess, whatever they were going for, and an insult to Eisner, whose original comic was an influence on the film noir of the period. Music goes from Ennio Morricone harmonica stuff, to a standard comic book pulsating score, to orchestra crescendos – no consistency from scene to scene.
Now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the film. I enjoyed it immensely. It’s a gleefully bad, well-financed production that revels in its awfulness, and a comparison cannot be easily made. Even Ed Wood’s films didn’t have the fiery bad-movie passion on display here.
How to rate this junk, I really don’t know; it’s either a masterpiece or complete garbage, and I’m gonna play it safe and say complete garbage.
I do know this: Pauline Kael’s famous quote goes “movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.” Well, sometimes some of us can appreciate the awful trash too. You know who you are. Go see The Spirit.