Frank Miller’s film of the Spirit has been beaten to death by the press, which befits a film where ultra-violent beatings are the order of the day. Watching it out of curiosity it is interesting to see how much of this beating is due to
a) Frank Miller
b) Superhero fatigue
c) Violence fatigue
d) Blue-screen movie boredom
There is no doubt that all of the above contribute to the Spirits’ awfulness, but at the same time the film has a gusto and energy missing from many movies, something which could be down to the writer directors singular vision of the titular character. Which unfortunately boils down to “What if Miller’s Batman moved into Sin City?”. So we get endless voice-overs of how “The city” is The Spirit’s wife and life – which is somewhat ironic as the choice of filming technique leaves us with little image of the city itself except as a black silhouette and a few bricks.
So to take those criticisms above:
a) Frank Miller is not a film director. That co-directing credit on Sin City was a vanity to Robert Rodriguez, which luckily – via Miller’s choice of almost identical shooting style shows who the real director was there. The other criticism of Miller is that he had taken Eisner’s distinctive character and turned him into a stock Miller caricature also holds, but then its not as if anyone outside a small circle knows the backstory of The Spirit.
b) Superhero fatigue has set in already, that was clear well before this summer. What this summer did differently was give us superior films in their genres. And good actors. Which Gabriel Macht is not, even without stupid flapping tie, no motivation and a rubbish mask.
c) The Spirit is stupendously, cartoonily violent. Some of this violence if plenty fun (my views on the use of toilets in fights has been documented elsewhere) but when it is all the film has to offer in the way of conflict resolution it really gets dull quickly. My views on fights between indestructible protagonists are also well documented.
d) Why is it that blue screen digital set building has led, on the whole, to an aesthetic which can only really be called grimy. Every hue of desaturated blacks, greys and browns are enlivened only by the flappy red tie and Tennantesque waffle pattern of the Spirit’s Converse.
What (questionably these days) works for Miller on the comic page, fails him on the big screen. Cinema, even blockbuster cinema, has no room for his unnaturalistic dialogue, and the characters find it hard to move from one set piece to another with motivation and demeanour intact. So in the end what is left is a flapping red tie and the images which luckily do burn themselves into your memory. So not terrible if just for the memory of:
a) Samuel L.Jackson dissolving a kitten whilst dressed as a Nazi
b) The Spirit escaping from a precarious situation with his trousers down
c) The hosts of sixties Batman henchmen with their punning names on their tops.
In all other ways, terrible!