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What to expect when one of the worldís premiere comic book artists tries his hand at directing a comic book movie?  Frank Miller has been hailed as single-handedly reviving not only the Batman franchise, but the entire comic book industry with his 1986 epic, The Dark Knight Returns.  His brutal, gritty look at the DC legend gave both the Caped Crusader and his mien a new legitimacy, attracting a fresh batch of comic book virgins and the attention of Hollywood.  It was Millerís darker edge that gave both Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan their rougher, more realistic take on the figure a generation had only known for chasing Caesar Romero in between Pop-Art Whams and Pows and doing the Batusi with Julie Newmar.  Miller also created the graphic novel masterpiece, 300, which in 2006 was made into a small low-budget flick that few people saw Ö We kid.

Having flirted with moviemaking previously - Miller wrote 1990ís Robocop 2, executive produced 300 and both wrote and co-directed 2005ís comic book movie landmark, Sin City.  Itís the last of these achievements that seems to have affected much of Millerís latest filmmaking effort, The Spirit.  Clearly, Miller has enough movie studio cred to have made a film based one of his favourites,  a 1940 Will Eisner comic where the hero is basically a guy in a suit, red necktie, long coat and fedora hiding his identity behind a tiny black mask.  No capes! 

No structure, no interest, no discipline and no hope of a good movie, either.  Rarely has there been a larger pile of expensive self-indulgence hurled into the lap of the moviegoer than The Spirit.  Truly, a film only a die-hard comic book fan (- or a very bored masochist) could love.  The Spiritís only attractions are giving audiences a chance to watch Samuel L. Jackson as The Octopus chew scenery like never before (!) and the gorgeous female cast, including Eva Mendes, vamping it up in a stunning 1940ís-inspired wardrobe that would have had Joan Crawford scratching her eyes out (- first, The Women, now this. What is Mendesí Crawford connection?) and Scarlett Johansson playing dress-up in a succession of campy, over-the-top costumes.  Jackson and Johansson sport a different wacky outfit for every single scene:  Hereís Sam and his Scarlett, playing Samurai and Geisha, now Sam is a pimp in chinchilla and eye shadow, while Scarlett looks like the secretary for the Symbionese Liberation Army.  Hey, look, theyíre torturing a kitten while dressed as Nazi officers.  Yeah, you get it.  Itís the first time Iíve ever seen a film that substituted costume changes for an plot; were it not The Spiritís original intention, it ends up to be the most interesting thing in the film.

The idea of the regular Joe being a superhero kind of goes out the window when we realise that The Spirit does actually have some standard superhero powers, including nigh-invulnerability.  Denny Colt was once a respected, responsible cop on the beat in crime ridden Central City.  Killed in the line of duty, Colt becomes the guinea pig of The Octopus, a mad scientist, with a hankering to take over the world Ė or at Least Central Cityís costume shops Ė and is resurrected, becoming The Spirit.  The Octopus and The Spirit are locked in a battle for soul of the city.  On the sidelines is Coltís former paramour-turned-jewelry thief, Sand Serif {Mendes}, who may or may not be on The Spiritís side, as well as the Sweet Polly Purebread of the operation, Dr. Ellen Dolan  {Sarah Paulson}, who patches up The Spiritís many boo-booís.  Thereís some jibberish about a jar full of the blood of Herakles (- thatís Hercules when heís at home) that will give The Octopus immortality, but it hardly matters.

From the first viewing of The Spiritís trailer at last Aprilís New York Comic Con, I was unmoved.  It seemed clearly a Sin City ripoff with a not very interesting hero.  I could not have been more correct.  Like Sin City, The Spirit is a parade of green-screen effects filmed on the same black backgrounds as its inspiration.  There is plenty of comic book cool stuff to look at; the aforementioned costumes, rich, textural film noir production values and zippy pulp fiction atmosphere, but unlike Sin City, The Spirit has neither a compelling story (- or collection of stories) at its spine, nor a strong enough director to whip all the pretty scenery and effects into a cohesive narrative.

Besides Sam Jackson making all-you-can-eat of every scene heís in, the rest of the cast seems to be having a lot of fun camping it up.  Gorgeous lead Gabriel Macht valiantly gives his heroic all as The Spirit and tries hard to breathe life into some patently corny lines.  I did enjoy seeing a comic book hero with a libido; the former Mr. Colt seem to have no trouble taking amorous rewards for his good deeds when willingly offered.  Eva Mendesí and Scarlett Johanssonís molls revel in being eye-candy as long as they get what they want by fair means or foul.  Those small victories cannot compensate for the rest of the filmís gaping inadequacies.  In the end, The Spirit is an aesthetically lovely, self-indulgent, disjointed mess of a film about a superhero, who, like this movie, isnít all that super - but the costumes are really nice.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva  

December 24th, 2008

 

 

PS: Click here to read LMD's chat with director Frank Miller and stars Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson & Sarah Paulson.

 

 

 

 

© 2006-2008 The Diva Review.com

 

Photos

(Courtesy of 

Lionsgate Films)

 

 

 

 

 

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