Director: Frank Miller (2008)
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Jaime King
Find it: IMDB
Following the All-Star Batman & Robin debacle, Frank Miller hammers a few more nails into his own coffin with The Spirit, a movie adaptation of the strips as created by comic god Will Eisner. Whereas the comic was a highly influential hardboiled noir thing, Miller’s Spirit is a crazy mishmash of Sin City and Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. But at least Samuel L Jackson is having a good time… and so will you, forewarned with the knowledge that The Spirit makes no sense whatsoever.
Gabriel Macht stars as the titular Spirit; and is one of the few things that first-time director Frank Miller gets wholly right. Samuel L Jackson is also reliably entertaining as the Spirit’s nemesis, Octopus (“I have eight of everything!”), despite the fact that his motives are pretty stupid. The plot, as it were, concerns Octopus trying to steal Hercules’ blood. Really. But unfortunately, he ends up getting Jason’s Golden Fleece by accident, and must trade with the Spirit’s ex-squeeze (Sand Seraph, as played by Eva Mendes) to get his hands on the blood. Because that will make him immortal, apparently.
Thankfully, The Spirit is nowhere near as unwatchable as its reputation might suggest. Devotees of the character might balk at Miller’s cack-handedness, but everyone else will probably have fun here.
Technically, The Spirit is probably one of the worst movies ever made. It looks fine enough (although I’m not a great fan of the Sin City/Max Payne school of cinematography) but pretty much everything else is terrible. Leading duo aside, the acting ranges from passable (Eva Mendes) to substandard (Scarlett Johansson) right down to fucking awful (Stana Katic). Frank Miller’s screenplay is probably the worst thing about the movie; the last half hour, particularly, has Octopus delivering a speech even a Bond villain would be ashamed of (not only does he give away his motive, but he also goes to great lengths to tell the Spirit how immortal he too could be if he were to drink Hercules’ blood). There’s also a horrible amount of scenes in which Octopus tells the Spirit just how similar they are (Spirit: “no… I’m nothing like you”) – a cliché which should have died years ago (sadly, still alive in the likes of this and X-Men: Origins). But the very best line is where Octopus tells the Spirit: “You were as dead as Star Trek.” Oops.
It’s a surprisingly puerile movie from the man who brought us The Dark Knight Returns; with toilet humour and stupid violence running amok throughout (that’s not a criticism). One bit, for instance, has the Spirit dangling from a building with his trousers around his ankles, whilst a gaggle of girls stand, staring and giggling in an elevator. Another bit sees Eva Mendes make photocopies of her arse. It’s like Crank set in Sin City.
Technical idiocy aside, Jackson’s villain deserves a whole paragraph – hell, a whole review – to itself. It’s a performance even more over-the-top than Colin Farrell in Daredevil. From the moment he appears onscreen, it’s entirely obvious how much fun Jackson is having with the role. Mind you, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself when a script asks you to dress up in a Nazi uniform/kimono, be obsessed with eggs and melt kittens. Gabriel Macht does an admirable job as the Spirit, but is sadly no match for Jackson, who devours the scenery like Kerry Katona at an Iceland buffet. And yes, he says “motherfucker.”
The Spirit, then, is a movie in a similar vein to the Punisher films and Crank 2; bloody entertaining, but ultimately, critically unsuccessful. Still, it’s hard to be critical about a movie in which the villain beats up the hero with a toilet. “Toilets are always funny!”