Spirit, The

It was only a matter of time before Frank Miller, the visionary creator of “Sin City” and “300,” both commercial hits, would engage in solo writing and directing.  Unfortunately, as helmer, he stumbles in giving his new work, “The Spirit,” the right tone or consistent mood, and so the tale veers from the serious and tedious to the parodic and campy from chapter to chapter.  “The Spirit” may be too calculated, mechanically constructed, and self-conscious for its own good.

 

The novelty of having half a dozen femmes in a genre that's famously male-driven, and that they are played by such appealing and sexy actresses as Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Paulson, and Paz Vega, helps compensate only up to a point for the feature's other shortcomings, and there are several of those, on both narrative and visual-technical levels.  (The film's disappointing poster and key art signaled alarm even before seeing the picture).

 

Adapted from the series by Will Eisner, “The Spirit” tries to blend engaging storytelling with eye-popping, state-of the-art CGI graphics in sweeping the audience into an overly stylized world of adventure, danger and romance. But despite the subplots, and attention to technical detail, the film can't escape being dull and uninvolving.

The PG-13 rating may be both a blessing and a problem for the film.  On the one hand, it encourages Miller to explore new ways of spinning a tale for younger viewers, but on the other, it presents a set of constraints that are not always successfully overcome, such as the level of violence and stylization.

 

Marking a change of pace, Gabriel Macht is well cast as the hero, Denny Colt, a murdered cop who is mysteriously reborn as The Spirit, the masked crime fighter.  The yarn is based on a single idea: Denny-Spirit's determination to keep Central City safe.  To that extent, the Spirit pursues the villains from the shadows, quite obsessively (this is film noir, after all), particularly the worst member of the wild bunch, the psychotic megalomaniac Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson in an outrageous performance). 

 

The mission keeps Denny active and busy, but there is always time for beautiful and alluring women, and this is the most innovative and for a while appealing element of the film. In the tradition of film noir, most of the women are sexy, mysterious, duplicitous, and motivated by more than one agenda; The Spirit never knows if they want to seduce and make love to him or simply ax him.  With growing cynicism, he has come to believe that the one femme who will never betray him, and to whom he will always be true is Central City, the old metropolis where he was born not once but twice.

 

When the tale begins, on a moonlit night in Central City, a call comes in to the Spirit about a shady deal about to take place at the mudflats near the waterfront, involving an old, sunken cargo ship and the city's most terrifying criminal, the Octopus.  In one of the film's climaxes, Octopus happily battles the Spirit until both men are way beyond punch-drunk.  Meanwhile, the Octopus's ice-cold accomplice, Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), heads back to their underground headquarters with some mysterious treasures looted from the sea. 

 

As a result of the deal, one cop is dead and another is severely wounded.  Shot, knifed and kicked, by all rights, the Spirit should be dead. But is he While his sweetheart, surgeon Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson) stitches him back together, the Spirit knows he'll heal up fast, but he doesn't know why and how.

 

As long as the Octopus is still out there, no one in Central City is safe, and it turns out that the Octopus wasn't the only person at the mudflats.  It turns out another woman was present, and the evidence points toward the alluring international jewel thief Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), his first love of years ago, when both were neighborhood kids.  We learn that a tragedy had sent them on radically different paths, and that Sand had vowed never to return to Central City.  Could the woman at the mudflats really have been her  And could the “girl next door” Denny used to know has become a murderous woman

 

When another dead body is found, the Spirit intensifies his search for his lost love.  Meanwhile, the Octopus, Silken and their band of identical henchmen (Louis Lombardi) are also on the hunt for the jewel thief, seeking an exchange of the treasures that had brought them to the mudflats.  All know that once that exchange happens, the Octopus will be able to realize his master plan to control all of Central City.  

 

In the mythic and romantic tradition of such fare, only one man, the Spirit, can Octopus.  Problem is, the Octopus knows more about the hero than he knows himself, including the cause of his immortality and the “cure” for it.

 

In bringing this comic book to the screen, Miller has recruited a dynamic cast of stars and newcomers.  As the titular hero, Gabriel Macht, a usually modest performer in secondary roles and mostly in indies, surprisingly turns in a strong performance.  The movie benefits from the fact that Macht is not as well-known to the public as other actors (Bruce Willis, Clive Owen) who have done screen adaptations of comic books. 


Director of cinematography Dick Pope is a gifted artist, but visually, the film's style begs comparison with that of  “Sin City,” a better picture on any level, which was also nearly monochromatic, so the device is familiar.

Cast

The Spirit – Gabriel Macht
Sand Saref – Eva Mendes
Ellen – Sarah Paulson
Dolan – Dan Lauria
Plaster of Paris – Paz Vega
Mahmoud – Eric Balfour
Lorelei – Jaime King
Silken Floss -Scarlett Johansson
The Octopus -Samuel L. Jackson

Credits

 

A Lionsgate release, presented with Odd Lot Entertainment, of an Odd Lot Entertainment/Lionsgate production.

Produced by Deborah Del Prete, Gigi Pritzker, Michael E. Uslan.

Executive producers: Benjamin Melniker, Steven Maier, William Lischak, Michael Paseornek, Michael Burns.

Co-producers: Linda McDonough, F.J. DeSanto.

Co-executive producer: Jeff Andrick.

Directed, written by Frank Miller, based on the comicbook series created by Will Eisner.

Camera: Bill Pope.

Editor: Gregory Nussbaum.

Music: David Newman; music supervisor, Dan Hubbert.

Art director: Rosario Provenza; set decorator, Gabrielle Petrissans.

Costume designer: Michael Dennison.

Sound: David J. Brownlow.

Senior visual effects supervisor, Stu Maschwitz.

Senior visual effects producer, Nancy St. John.

Visual effects, the Orphanage, Fuel VFX, Digital Dimension, RIOT, Entity FX, Furious FX, Look Effects, Rising Sun Pictures; additional visual effects, Ollin VFX, Cinesoup.

Stunt coordinator: John Medlen; line producer, Alton Walpole.

Associate producer: Marc Sadeghi.

Assistant director: Benita Allen.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 103 Minutes.