Chalk me up as a Frank Miller fanboy. Along with fellow visionary Alan Moore, he changed the world of comic books forever with his bleak, noir-heavy storytelling and striking art style into something that wasn't just for kids anymore. God bless him for that. Along with Robert Rodriguez, he brought his pulp masterpiece Sin City to the big screen and kicked the a$z of every person who saw it. But could he duplicate the same artistic success with somebody else's creation and without the help of a directing dynamo like Rodriguez? Not so much. But in spite of all the bile that has been spewed upon Miller's solo directorial debut "The Spirit", I had myself a good ol' time. And with the right attitude, you might as well. Just be prepared for a whole lotta cheese.
Now I have not read any of Will Eisner's comics so I simply cannot comment on how this fares as an adaptation. I suspect not so well. A lot of people who saw this went in seeing the amazing visual style of "Sin City" coupled with Miller's name and expected more of the same. Visually, "The Spirit" may be even better, but the tone.....well I can honestly say I haven't seen anything else quite like it. Between this and some of his recent comic work (oh yeah, "All-Star Batman and Robin", I'm looking at you!) I believe that Miller has gone little bit bonkers after so many years of writing mean and nasty comic books. This movie is practically a comedy. At times absurdly so. I'm talking Adam West as Batman comedic. For all the stark black-and-white imagery, classic crime story dialogue, and sultry vamps it's hard to take a film or character seriously when he's thrown out of a building by his girl, gets his coat caught on a statue and dangles with his pants around his ankles while a crowd mocks him (one kid simply states "He looks stupid!", while another bystander chimes "You will believe a man CAN'T fly!"). In the end, "The Spirit" is about camp as much as anything else. I laughed out loud several times. This movie is definitely being filed in the "so bad it's good" file. I just think that Miller's faux-serious tone here coupled with the darkness of his previous work just did not gel with the fans on this one.
Lots of good, though. Again, the visuals are stunning. This is one aspect that has always been a can't miss for Frank Miller. The silhouette image of white blood on black concrete, the partially-real/partially-animated hero jumping from rooftop to rooftop, the classical sexiness of the ladies, the reds, the greys; this one is head-to-toe eye candy. Speaking of which, I was shocked to find a PG-13 flick from a man who is loathe to ever draw a fully-clothed woman. Maybe Miller's a chauvinist or just a slave to his adolescent fantasies (the smart money's on door #2) but aside from a few genuine a$zkicking characters like Elektra and deadly little Miho, it seems like every woman he draws is A) as close to naked as he can get her if he's drawing a mainstream comic, B) naked if at all possible, C) in the story primarily for titillation, and D) ridiculously horny. The gallery here is sexy as all hell, but amount to a bunch of caricatures. But to be fair, every character in this film is a caricature, not just the "broads". This brings me to the best casting choice this side of Paz Vega as the blade-wielding looney-tune Plaster of Paris (yes, that is her name): Samuel L. Jackson as the cosplay-happy supervillain The Octopus. When it comes to playing comically over-the-top, this is the man to call first. In one scene he and his henchmistress are dressed as samurai. If I was in the theater, I would have shouted "SHO NUFF!" at the screen. Then maybe one dude would have laughed because he actually saw The Last Dragon. God, I'm a freakin' nerd.
The story....who cares. Some complete nonsense about Greek mythology, immortality, and The Spirit's long-lost girlfriend. The point is this: this movie is 100% bat$hi+, ridiculous, visually stimulating, and good for some WTF-style laughs. I'm talking tiny head attached to a foot hopping around WTF-style laughs. I mean a villain who works eggs into every conversation he has over the course of an hour and a half WTF-style laughs. If you take a second of this film seriously , you'll have wasted your time. This is just a guilty pleasure homage filled with sly references to comics and cinema past. Arguably better then the film is the special feature "Miller on Miller" where the master gives us a 15-minute lesson on comic history and the medium's significance along with a metric ton of insight into his life and career.
Truth be told, I don't know what the hell Frank Miller was thinking when he unleashed "The Spirit" on an unsuspecting world. This film is just bizarre and nonsensical to the hilt. There's a lot of fun to be had with it, but I am hardly surprised by the chilly reception it received. Only a certain kind of genre fanatic will get anything out of it, but if you're up for some cinematic weirdness that pays tribute to the days of pulp long past, then give this DVD a spin.