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One of the drawbacks of being a comic book fan is that you hope each movie based on a book you like is going to succeed in translating to the movie screen. With the brilliance of Spider Man 2, 300, A History of Violence, and the two Christopher Nolan-directed Batman films, we comic book geeks were salivating when Frank Miller, one of the seminal comic writer/artists of all time, announced he was going to helm an adaptation of Will Eisner’s legendary The Spirit. And with a great cast attached to the movie, how could anything go wrong? Well, just about everything goes wrong in Miller’s version of The Spirit. A shame, because there is simply no excuse for The Spirit to be as bad as it is.
The source material is a classic comic book about a police officer who returns from the dead after a gangster guns him down. Now seemingly immortal, the Spirit assists the regular police in tracking down criminals. This is great pulp material that, in the right hands, should have at least made for a great popcorn flick. Sadly, it fell into the wrong hands, and Miller has given us a boring, “been there, done that” movie that looks exactly like his film Sin City, without any of the panache or excitement.
Gabriel Macht stars as the Spirit, committed to fighting crime in Central City. The local cops all call on him when needed, probably because he can take a punch or bullet and walk away afterward. The Spirit’s arch-enemy is The Octopus, pure evil and intent on wiping out Central City and anyone who stands in his way. The Octopus is played with over-the-top glee by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson is having so much fun in the role he doesn’t realize that he’s hamming it up pretty badly. Part of the comic book’s appeal has always been the number of gorgeous women who populate it. The film at least does this well, casting Sarah Paulson as Ellen Dolan, the girl next door who actually cares about the Spirit; Paz Vega as the French, murderous Plaster of Paris; Scarlet Johansson as Silken Floss, a calculating vixen who is in cahoots with the Octopus; Jaime King as the angel of Death; and Eva Mendes as Sand Saref, a dangerous jewel thief. While any one of these women could cause a car wreck, they can’t stop the car wreck that is this film.
Bill Pope’s stunning cinematography aside, nothing works in this film. From the lifeless acting, to the lack of charisma Macht has as the Spirit, from the black and white visual effects that were done (better) in Sin City, to the overall directionless feel of the entire film, Frank Miller’s The Spirit is a big disappointment because of the pedigree of the filmmakers and the great talent involved with the film. Thankfully, as a comic book fan, I’ll always have Will Eisner’s The Spirit to return to.