Friday, December 26, 2008

The Spirit is Not "Something the World Needs"

The Spirit, based on a 1940s comic serial written by Will Eisner, is a smorgasbord of visuals and color coordination courtesy of writer/director Frank Miller. Miller, like Eisner, is a staple of the graphic novel, penning such classics as Sin City and Batman: Year One. Think of The Spirit, Miller's solo-directorial debut (he "co-directed" Sin City with Robert Rodriguez), as Sin City if it were 30 minutes shorter, felt an hour longer and took every ham-baked line and turned it into useless slosh.

Starring Gabriel Macht (a talented young actor who will hopefully go onto lead more substantial films than this one) as The Spirit, a superhero who was once a rookie cop named Denny Colt. Risen from the grave after being shot to death, The Spirit works with Police Commissioner Dolan to fight crime; most specifically the Octopus, over-acted to a tee by Samuel L. Jackson. After nearly two decades of performances, Jackson has proven himself as both an Oscar-caliber artist (see this year's Lakeview Terrace for proof of this) and a dimestore punchline. For proof of the latter pay 10 bucks to see him as the Octopus. In Eisner's comics, the Octopus remained faceless, only a pair of gloves to illustrate the character. Why Miller felt it necessary to put a face to the bad guy, especially a face as recognizable as Jackson's, is bewildering. Perhaps it was not his decision, but rather the producers'.

But then, if the studio had so much sway, why'd they let Miller get away with directing this thing in the first place? The screenplay is ridiculous to be certain, but that's the comic's tone more or less, and it'd worked with Rodriguez in Sin City. It's Miller's director's eye that is severely lacking, maybe even blind. This man has no idea how to frame a scene, much less pace a feature-length film. There are some cool shots here, but they feel like flukes because they emerge out of nowhere and dissapear as quickly into the background, forgetten moments of cinematic flare overshadowerd by blind ambition and a peculiar determination to revolutionize something - what exactly is unknown.

Miller still needs another, better director at his side to properly adapt these classic graphic narratives. Macht does his best, it most be said. The young man finds a sufficent growl in his voice to establish his noir superhero and has no problem wearing the black fedora and silly black eye mask. Even Eva Mendes uses her best attritbutes (her body) and thankfully avoids the rest to play Sand Saref, the childhood love of Denny Colt and a woman with a blodd-lust for diamonds. A noir-romance between these two may have been a very good film - think Batman and Catwoman if they were in Double Indemnity. Unfortuantely, Miller gives us this one, exercising his blatant inabilities as a filmmaker. Maybe the ambitious should channel said ambition into another graphic novel, co-write the screenplay and allow a real director to adapt it.

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