Review #354 - The Spirit (2008)

Director:  Frank Miller
Cast:  Jaime KingGabriel MachtSamuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes
Plot:  Rookie cop Denny Colt returns from the beyond as The Spirit, a hero whose mission is to fight against the bad forces in Central City.

  Action / Crime / Fantasy
Awards:  -

Runtime:  103min
Rating:  NC16 
for intense sequences of stylized violence and action, some sexual content and brief nudity. 

I seemed like the only one who enjoyed The Spirit.  Critically-lambasted and condemned by purists, Frank Miller’s directorial debut is in my opinion a strong testament to, pardon the pun, the spirit of graphic novels. 

A virtuoso in his field, Miller’s graphic novels have been adapted for the big screen by Zack Snyder for 300 (2007), and Robert Rodriguez for Sin City (2005).  In fact for the latter, Miller served as a co-director along with hotshot Quentin Tarantino. The Spirit is adapted from the comic book of the same name by the late Will Eisner, and written for the screen by Miller himself. 

Miller shows a deft hand in crafting a highly-stylized environment using an intoxicating blend of colors, shades, and varying the dimensional aspects of the images.  Action sequences are often filmed with few colors and mostly in a style reminiscent of a reel of stop-motion 2D drawings. 

Scenes of dialogue are very much vibrant; and despite the use of CGI to enhance the cosmetics of the characters, they remain believable in a world that is far from that.  In addition, I was taken aback by the amazing performance by Samuel L. Jackson who plays the antagonist, the Octopus, with a potent touch of badass attitude and childish antics. 

The Spirit plays effectively as a comedy as well, especially in scenes with the bunch of clowns that the Octopus has cloned to protect himself.  The exchange of words amongst the clones in response to dialogue from other characters gets the most laughs.  Another hilarious sequence involves the Octopus partaking in Nazi-talk in a lengthy interrogation scene. 

The reasons I find The Spirit such a joy to watch are exactly the same reasons others think it sucks.  First, critics complain of the tepid use of humor and the witlessness of the dialogue.  Second, purists argue that Miller’s film lack action which is not the way 'The Spirit' was originally realized by Eisner.

Yes, the humor is bad.  But it is so intentionally awful and impeccably-timed that it becomes a godsend in a way.  For the purists, I am sorry but I have to defend Miller.  I know actions speak louder than words.  However, what is more important is the establishment of contexts for the development of the characters so that they can mean more than paper-thin portrayals.  Thus, lengthy dialogue sequences and character interplay which form the pillars of this film are crucial. 

I concede that The Spirit is a far cry from the lofty standards set by Sin City, but it remains a film of impressive vision and creative realization.  Do not worry Frank Miller, you have done right in my eyes.


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