“My city screams” was the tagline for The Spirit when theaters were hyping it up to be the next Sin City or 300. It was, after all, from the creator of those two films and The Spirit shared a visual similarity to both films, so why not? Well, apparently the audience thought “mmm…not” and altogether skipped over seeing this film. No doubt hampered by the ridiculous number of poor reviews (it sits at 14% on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing), The Spirit was a very poor first outing for Miller, as the film threw itself all over the place, slipping in and out of camp and seriousness, before finally settling on an explosive finale that left the audience (what was left it) very, very underwhelmed. In the end it turns out it wasn’t the city that was screaming, but the audience.
Above shadowy, crime-infested streets a masked avenger watches. Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) was one of Central City’s finest cops until a gangster’s bullet ended his life. Now Fate has brought him back from the beyond as The Spirit, a street-hardened hero who faces off against seductive foes like the voluptuous Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) and the alluring Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson). Then, of course, there’s his evil archenemy, The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), with a mission to wipe out Spirit’s beloved city as he pursues his own version of immortality in this graphic action-thriller.
When it boils down to it, The Spirit is really just like Sin City and 300 without the excessive nudity and brutality…which makes me wonder how we might have received those films if they were toned down to the PG-13 level. Not to say that The Spirit isn’t a great deal worse in the story department than those two, but they really boil down to the same basic principal and as bad as The Spirit was, I’m struggling to decide whether or not it was truly as horrible as it’s being painted. Maybe we’re so used to the hard-core world of comic book heroes now, especially with The Dark Knight pretty much wiping away everyone’s previous conceptions about the genre, that when a piece of camp like this comes along, we don’t know what to do with it.
And I’ll admit, I didn’t know what was going on with this film when I first watched it. The trailer paints it as a semi-serious comic book film, full of pulpy goodness, which we do in a sense get but…man, there’s so much humor slammed into this that it just feels unnatural at times. I never read the comic book it was based on, but this is almost straight up 30-40’s camp in here. It’s very distracting and hammy at times, but it’s such a strange mixture of seriousness that it’s that level of uneasiness that really made the film hard to peg at first. Was I supposed to be laughing? Well I knew I was when Octopus hit Spirit with a toilet, but still…it was certainly odd at first.
But then the film started to get really goofy (you’ll know the part when you see it—it involves a purse snatcher) and at that point I just let it go and accepted it for the camp it was. It reminded me of The Phantom in a way—horribly bad, but this time it was intentionally so I think. Plus it looked freaking amazing, so it was hard to pass up for the visuals alone. Yeah, we saw it on the other Miller adaptations before, but I still really got caught up in the imagery here. Not to mention seeing it on Blu-ray…simply fantastic.
But as I settled into the film’s humor, I realized something else: the pacing was totally off and very, very uninteresting. The film slowed to a crawl at some point and I wasn’t paying attention when, because we suddenly slammed into a brick wall. Spirit was hot on the trail of Octopus and we had to stop and wait for a little story exposition (all the while Spirit was tied up and listening to a Nazi [the hell…?] garbed Silken Floss and Octopus). By the time that was over, and we were introduced to some girl named Plaster of Paris (yeah…the names are borked in this one too), Spirit started to die and…I don’t know, really. It all just had about twenty minutes too much of story (considering it’s only 108 minutes long, that’s actually kind of sad) that could’ve been lopped out or summarized in some better way. For that reason alone I can see how the reports of people getting up and walking out of it midway through were not exaggerated in the least…you really got to have some patience with this movie.
Still, it’s kind of fun to watch just to witness all of the humor and camp in it. As I recall it while I write this review, I’m reminded of just how much Samuel L. Jackson chews up the scenes; he is absolutely fantastic as Octopus and he really is the shining light of the film. His constant talks about eggs, the weird outfits and situations…it’s really the more entertaining elements of the film. Quite frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if this film is elevated to a cult status at some point, simply because of the quirks and humor that it contains. Poorly written and paced to be sure, but it isn’t without its charm. Or maybe that’s just because we see Eva Mendes naked in it (from the back…PG-13 and all) that I’m saying all of this, who knows.
Overall The Spirit is, by all counts, a terrible film but I still feel it’s worth a Rental at the very least. It’s visually stimulating, has plenty of humor and managed to entertain me, but it’s a very, very difficult film to really enjoy. Being a fan of Miller’s work probably helps and the humor style in the film really has to be something you’re accustomed to before seeing it. In an age when hardcore serious superhero films reign supreme, The Spirit just isn’t something that can really be accepted. Maybe if it shared a theater in 1997 alongside a certain other campy hero flick…
Leave it to Lionsgate to make an impressive Blu-ray release for a disappointing film. The set itself arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray two-disc case (second disc is digital copy only) and boasts probably some of the busiest art I’ve ever seen (check out that back cover—text city!). It’s definitely made to sell the women of the film, as they’re all striking various sexy poses (and Johansson is in full Nazi uniform, although the red badge isn’t visible…for obvious reasons). The menu system is also nice, but I needed to download an update before I even loaded the disc the first time, which is kind of strange. The menu also was very slow to navigate, which may also be fixed by a future update, who knows. As is it’s a neat little menu, especially with the unique time/weather stats for my city. Not sure how it detected the correct city and had the wrong time selected (thought maybe my PS3 clock was off, but it’s set correctly), but hey…not a huge deal.
Moving onto the video it is…well, it’s beautiful. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is just a big visual feast for the eyes. The film lapses into real-world style footage more often than you’d expect, especially with the very stylized art sometimes (that samurai Jackson shot was so freaking jarring when it popped up out of nowhere), but that’s all part of the films odd but endearing charm. Plenty of detail is available on the image at any given time and when it changes into the stark black/white/red contrasts, it really does look great…even if that opening shot of Spirit jumping around looked goofy as hell. The audio is another potent 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix which sadly doesn’t get as much use as one would hope. There’s plenty of gunfire and explosions in the final firefight in the film, but aside from that there’s really just the occasional sound effect, helicopter overhead, or whisper from that Lorelei Rox (Jaime King) thing that is apparently an angel of death or something (another underdeveloped plot in the film). Still, it’s a decent mix and certainly worth clearing the room for when you do decide to watch it.
Moving onto the extras we start off with a Audio Commentary with Director Frank Miller and Producer Deborah Del Prete, which is where fans of the film will probably spend any repeat time with the film at. It’s not a terribly interesting commentary, but it does allow Miller to spout off for hours about his own work, which he does seem to love to do it, and he makes it an entertaining enough experience all the same. It’s almost kind of sad the film performed as poorly as it did, since Miller obviously put a labor of love into it, which is echoed repeatedly in the films other extras. First up we have “Green World” (22:53) which takes a look at the green screen work done on the film, which is followed by Miller on Miller (15:57) which…yeah, it’s Miller talking about himself some more, but hey, it’s interesting. It’s more like a mini-biography than anything and how he came to work on this film. Next up is Alternate Storyboard Ending (2:37), which is pretty cool because it’s all illustrated by Miller himself, so it’s kind of just like a little mini-comic book, complete with voiceover by Macht and Jackson. History Repeats (15:27) is a look at The Spirit character itself and Theatrical Trailer (2:28) wraps up the extras.
There aren’t a lot of extras, but what’s there is worth checking out (again, only if you enjoyed the film and/or like Miller). They’re all presented in 1080p too which is a nice bonus, especially the green screen comparison stuff.
Overall a fine release for what I think is a decent film. It’s far and away from the top of my superhero films list, but I do think it was treated a great deal more harshly than it should have been. As with the film, worth a Rental first.
The Spirit arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on April 14th.