I just got back from seeing The Spirit, and it wasn’t what I was hoping for.
The movie was visually stunning. Director Frank Miller did a spectacular job of mingling his own visual style with that of Will Eisner’s. Miller’s use of silhouettes, shadows, and especially snow looked beautiful and also paid homage to Eisner’s illustration innovations. I was worried that Miller’s limited use of color and ubiquitous use of green screen effects would make it look and feel like another Sin City clone, but it actually worked well on a visual level.
However, the story and dialog were a real let down. The movie was overacted for the most part, except for Sarah Paulson’s portrayal of Ellen Dolan. She rocked.
The characters were pretty thin albeit very good looking. Samuel L. Jackson looked like he was having a blast playing lead villain, the Octopus. I wish I had half as much fun watching him, as he seemed to have playing the part.
The story took a turn for the supernatural in the opening scenes and never looked back. This was a huge disappointment because the Spirit should be a bit more grounded. I felt like Marv from Sin City was going to show up and help our hero on his skull-bashing quest. The violence and story just never felt like it was tethered to reality, and that’s coming from a geek who has no problem suspending his disbelief. I also don’t have any issues with Miller’s hyper violent comics. I just don’t think it was completely appropriate in this particular movie.
Another problem were the massive changes to the characters themselves. Big changes from the source material to core characters like Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), Ellen Dolan, and the Octopus were made in what seemed like an effort to shoehorn as many characters as possible (also known as Batman & Robin Syndrome).
Miller did get the spirit of The Spirit correct: The detective work, the alluring fem fatales who always seem to get the better of our hero, the villain banter, and the imagery all felt right. They just lacked a strong plot and compelling acting to draw them together.
There were a few subtle details that were hidden in the movie for comic geeks:
Early in the movie, the camera pans over a street sign for “Iger Street.” Jerry Iger was Will Eisner’s business partner.
Another subtle reference was the delivery truck in the climatic battle was for “Ditko Delivery.” Steve Ditko was a comic creator who was heavily inspirited by Eisner.
To sum up, the movie is very pretty, but isn’t particularly enthralling. If you like great visuals, you should check it out. I hope Miller gets another chance to direct, and learns from some of The Spirits shortcoming.