There seems to be an awful lot of vitriol being herded in the direction of recent comic-book adaptation ‘The Spirit’, and though the film is – by no means – particularly good, I’ve continually found myself leaping to its defense because it’s not ‘wurst film eva’ and other such remarks, it’s just a bit of a mis-marketed mess with inconsistencies in tone that – when it works – is a Looney Tunes 40s-detective-fiction homaging delight with goofball charm, and – when it doesn’t work – an interesting assortment of ideas in need of a good editing and a couple of prods in the performances.
Even if the look of the film had been akin to Alec Baldwin’s curio ‘The Shadow’ or Billy Zane’s camp romp ‘The Phantom’ the film would have benefited, as audiences wouldn’t have been expecting the guts, girls and gristle of ‘Sin City’ and walked out baffled and disappointed by the quite frankly bonkers and post-modern spin on old cops and crooks comics.
Miller makes a number of other choices in the film that seem slightly at odds and unsure, and a more confident hand (or perhaps another co-director?) may have steered him right. There is an inconsistency of time that can work when handled correctly, but when a character whips out a mobile phone at one point it just seems jarring. Also the film can slow to a snail’s crawl at certain points, most notably in a sporadically entertaining expositional scene with Samuel L. Jackson’s villain The Octopus in full Nazi regalia; it is a scene of moments bridged by huge canyons of boring, though it is punctuated by one of my favourite lines from the film; “And this is for Muffin!”
Indeed, for me, it is moments like that, where the film is post-modern, goofy, ridiculous and manic in its energy – whilst retaining that square-jawed comic book hero swagger, that the movie works best. There is an increasingly over-the-top scrap between The Spirit and The Octopus at the film’s opening that brings to mind Sam Raimi, and, indeed, Gabriel Macht seems to have attended a few-seminars at the Bruce Campbell school of hero acting. Unfortunately the film lacks the momentum of ‘Evil Dead 2’ or even ‘Darkman’, and the post-modernism isn’t quite as to-the-fore as – one of my favourite cult classics – ‘Hudson Hawk’, so, to some extent the audience is left behind a sheet of glass, trying to work out if the film is taking itself seriously or not.
If you can figure it out and go with it then ‘The Spirit’ is one of the more imaginative efforts of recent comic book fare, Miller knows how to put together funny, snappy detective patter, but his directorial skills are still a bit wobbly. I can’t go so far as to actually recommend ‘The Spirit’ to anyway, I just feel sorry for it and the amount of fan-hate that seems to be thrown its way. I do think the film is destined for some sort of cult success for fans of campy, offbeat flicks that are content to rattle along at their own creaky pace trying any idea they fancy and seeing which ones stick.
© BRWC 2010.
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