Sep 21, 2009

[Movies] The Spirit (2008)

The SpiritWe all know that adaptations have widely mixed results when it comes to movies. Some come out surprisingly good while others end up really, really bad. It's not necessarily because of how popular or bankable a particular character or franchise is but it's all about the actual execution. The vision of the director becomes a lot more important than just the vision presented by the original comic book writers and artists. After all, when it comes to the film medium, the director is king.

People need to remember that we need to play to our strengths instead of crossing genres all the time. Book writers aren't necessarily good screenwriters. TV directors don't necessarily make good comic book editors. Movie directors don't necessarily make good book adaptation writers. And so on and so forth. Sure, there are those rare few who are able to successfully master more than one medium, but it doesn't mean it's advisable for all.

It's sad when studios put the wrong people in the role if only because they were successful in another media format. Sure, you want to play to the fans and all that but you should only go so far. Such lapses in judgment result in lackluster movies here and there.

The Spirit is an adaptation of the 1940's newspaper comic strip of the same name. It was directed by visionary comic book writer-artist Frank Miller, who had previously shared directorial credits with Robert Rodriguez for the adaptation of his landmark comic book Sin City. No, he didn't write The Spirit - that credit goes to Will Eisner. However he was entrusted with the series to do with as he saw fit and this resulted in many Miller-esque touches throughout the film.

The movie tells the story of Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) who came back from the dead and became the costumed vigilante The Spirit. He gets a tip about an important heist that may involve his arch-nemesis, The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson). Both of them prove to be very hard to kill and can take a significant beating, even involving a toilet and of course *gasps* the kitchen sink. The story becomes more complicated when it seems that Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), his childhood sweetheart, may be involved in the whole affair but the Spirit doesn't immediately know why.

Harvey Comics' The Spirit #1 (Oct. 1966).Image via Wikipedia

The movie flows along two paths - on the one hand it has a lot of light comic banter which is a signature of the 1940's comics and it certainly makes the movie enjoyable. There's a more than a healthy amount of banter between the heroes and the villains that would put most wordsmiths to shame, not matter how bad the puns can get. On the other hand, it has some very dark and gritty moments that are very serious and the tone seems to be closer to a suspense piece of some sort.

Ultimately this is what kills the movie - the lack of focus and a unified voice in terms of how it presents itself. You're constantly struggling try to balance the shallow humor with the heavy toned moments and thus the whole thing just feels wrong on so many levels. Either angle would have been a nice one to explore but it would have to do so in a clear and concise manner as opposed to the mixed-message manner it ended up with.

Don't get me wrong - I loved the key visuals which have become signature of Miller's comic book style of influencing movies. There are many parts of the movie that would make great posters with the action caught in freeze frame in stark black and white tones with sharp accents of crimson. Of course a movie is more than freeze frame moments and this is seem in many sloppy shots where you wonder how that made it to print.

Acting was decent - the need to talk in a deeper, huskier voice made a lot more sense given the slight 1940's homage going on as opposed to the odd way Christian Bale talk in The Dark Knight. However no real performances really stand out since things just sort of came out rather meh. What really dragged it down was the overall execution of the piece, and proud credit of that has to fall on the lap of the director. While Miller clearly knows his comic books, that didn't necessarily translate into movie directing genius or anything like that.

Special credit goes to Gabriel Macht for being especially hot in this movie both physically and in terms of how me presented himself all suave and charming and such. My partner and I tried skimming his photos from other movies and they just weren't of the same level of hotness as in this movie for some reason. Oh well, his shirtless scenes alone warrant a 0.5 star rating right there, no matter how brief they were. Maybe it's the mask that made all the difference...

Overall, the movie was just okay and nothing spectacular. I can understand why it was panned by critics and it didn't manage to generate the kind of box office numbers the studios were probably expecting. I doubt we'll see a sequel and I further doubt that this will be the last time we'll see Frank Miller in the director's chair.

The Spirit gets 3 fedoras out of a possible 5.

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