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The Spirit
Genre Fantasy
Year: 2009

The Spirit hasn’t got enough spirit… the performances lack heart, the script is mindless and we’re cast into the body without enough of an introduction. Frank Miller directs Will Eisner’s The Spirit like it was any old Film Noir detective comic. The film lacks the same class and appeal of Sin City and 300, and feels like a cross between Max Payne and Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, without Batman. The movie embodies visual elements from Sin City, but doesn’t really want to commit to any particular style. The scenes are clunky and the transitions are like finding hurdles on the last 100m of a half-marathon. Gabriel Macht plays Denny Colt/The Spirit in a cheesy Batman meets Dick Tracey way. He’s not a Christian Bale, and fills the boots in a similar fashion to Billy Zane in The Phantom. Christopher Nolan’s reinvention of Batman is to superhero films what Lord of the Rings is to the fantasy genre. The Spirit doesn’t fall close and isn’t in the same league in terms of content and its cheesy comedy doesn’t pay off.

The Spirit didn’t inspire further investigation like Frank Miller’s 300 did. Newbies were intrigued by the mythology, history, visual style and violence of 300. However, The Spirit doesn’t really make itself distinguishable… the visuals are too Sin City and there aren’t any distinguishing factors. One can’t help but feel that The Spirit is a result of Frank Miller’s increasing popularity with graphic novels making a jump to film and superhero franchises rocketing in the wake of The Dark Knight, Iron Man and Transformers. This lack of definition is a weak foundation for The Spirit, and the script assumes its audience is already familiar with his plight. It’s like learning to swim in the deep end with The Spirit, and most people will want to get out and start drying off before they even get half-immersed. Miller has an eye for what works visually, but he doesn’t have Robert Rodriguez to jab the actors in the ribs and keep the story on-track like he did in Sin City.

The vague portrait of The Spirit makes it seem like nobody really knows what all the fuss is about. Gabriel Macht is a dark horse in this role, but plays opposite some big Hollywood stars in Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes and Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson is cast as The Octopus, a villain without any real background or superpowers. He enjoys the territory with a full range of Samuel L. Jackson attitude, although the character comes off like a facade without much background. His second-in-command, Silken Floss, is played by Johansson. She’s no Catwoman and comes off like a lousy secretary and part-time sidekick. Mendes has one of the better performances in The Spirit as the deadly femme fatale Sand Saref, and makes up for her character’s lack of substance by showing a little body. However, Mendes’s buttocks cannot save The Spirit. It’s dynamic visuals try to rescue the film, but eye candy is just eye candy, without a compelling story and the right amount of depth.

The superficial glaze doesn’t fool anybody, and even a “Roger Rabbit” showdown doesn’t make a difference. Miller doesn’t give us a reason to care what happens in Central City. The characters are too elemental and the script functions as a washed-out Film Noir wannabe. One can see the potential for a chilling mystery-turn-superhero movie, but it just flags in comparison with Sin City and The Dark Knight. The Spirit has similar problems to Max Payne, which also didn’t make a strong adaptation to screen. Miller decided to omit Ebony White, The Spirit’s sidekick… and this may have been the missing ingredient. The Spirit seems lost without a team-mate, and he just feels like a second-rate superhero on his own. The reliance on CGI lulls the audience into a false sense of reality like the environment created in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The result is alienation followed by pangs of boredom.

The bottom line: Hollow.

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