The new year is newly upon us and we already have a comic book adaptation thrust upon us in the form of The Spirit. Yes I know what you’re thinking, I have never heard of this “Spirit” character. Don’t worry I hadn’t either. However, after some painstaking research (thanks Wikipedia), I found out that the character created by Will Eisner has been around since 1940. Despite my ignorance, I was intrigued by the trailer and with Frank Miller spearheading the project it was at least guaranteed to be stylish. Unfortunately, like so many other films The Spirit fails to deliver.
The story is centered on rookie cop Denny Colt, who, after being killed returns from the dead to protect the inhabitants of Central City under the assumed identity of The Spirit. As with all heroes, he’s got enemies — his main nemesis, known as “The Octopus” (Samuel L. Jackson) is a crazed maniac, who surprisingly enough, has eight of everything (his words not mine) and wants to wipe Central City off of the map. To help reach his goal, The Octopus is in search of a chest which contains a vase filled with the mystical Blood of Heracles that will render him immortal. Not to be outdone, crime boss and femme fatale Sera Saref (Eva Mendes) is after another chest which contains the treasure of the Argonauts. At the beginning of the film both Seraf and The Octopus escape with one chest each, only to realize they have what the other wants. The ensuing action results from The Spirit trying to track them both down. Although this sounds relatively simple, it is put across in a manner which is hard to follow.
Our main character is portrayed by relative unknown actor Gabriel Macht who does a good job of playing the gravely voiced hero. He has good chemistry with both Jackson and Mendes who both seem to relish showing off their bad sides. Scarlett Johansson also turns in a suitably creepy performance as deranged scientist and accomplice to The Octopus, Silken Floss. Both leading ladies kindly provide the film’s eye candy, which is now synonymous with much of Miller’s work, too.
However, the stellar cast and visual effects, which are dazzling at times, can’t save the film from being mediocre. It just feels like The Spirit is a cheap knock off of Batman. This feeling comes about in various forms — from the similar way which the hero talks about “his” city, to the theme music which has more than a few familiar notes to it. Also, the way in which the film goes from serious tones to tongue in cheek moments is not really handled well either — from the knife wielding belly dancer to one of Samuel L. Jackson’s trademark monologue, it feels rather forced at times.
It is not all bad though. I did chuckle more than once, loudest when our hero was made to look like a complete buffoon when he was pushed out of a 6th floor window only to be saved when his cape snagged on a statue. Oh yeah, I should mention, his trousers fell down as he tried to retrieve the situation with his belt. More comedic moments like this would have been more than welcome.
As a hero, The Spirit has nothing new to offer (although his name is a bit strange). He doesn’t ooze the coolness of Batman; have the high tech armour of Iron Man or the wit of Spiderman. You don’t feel any real connection to him as an audience member. As a film, The Spirit is visually similar to both Sin City and 300 (no surprise, Frank Miller was behind them all) but it just doesn’t have the original wow factor, good story telling or pulsating action sequences of its predecessors. For your comic book fix in 2009 I’d recommend waiting for X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the highly anticipated Watchmen.