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The Spirit
Sin City, without a good script or good director
The Spirit
Gabriel Macht Stars in "The Spirit."
OPENING WEEKEND: $10,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $40,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

August 25th, 2008: "The Spirit" tells the visceral, action-packed story of a man who fakes his own death and fights crime from the shadows of Central City. The Octopus -- who kills anyone unfortunate enough to see his face -- has a different mission: he's going to wipe out the entire city. The Spirit tracks this cold-hearted killer from Central City's rundown warehouses, to the damp catacombs, to the windswept waterfront... all the while facing a bevy of beautiful women who either want to seduce, love or kill our masked crusader. In the vein of "Batman Begins" and "Sin City," "The Spirit" takes us on a sinister, gut-wrenching ride of a hero who is born, murdered and born again.

What to Expect: As pre-release publicity has unspooled for "The Spirit," a lot of film and comic fans alike have begun to ask one simple yet puzzling question: what the hell has happened to Frank Miller? Well, I have a theory. Frank Miller was an independent auteur operating in a fringe genre in which he was regarded as a god by a very specific group of discerning fans, but virtually unknown outside this group. Then he got a big taste of mainstream success, and now we've created a monster who doesn't know when to stop, and has even lost touch with what gave him his independent-auteur status to begin with. He's like a deep-sea diver who'd become acclimated to the water pressure and then suddenly rose to the surface, exploding in all directions and losing his cohesion in the process.

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When you're talking about the sub-genre of literary, underground graphic novels, two names are inevitably mentioned: Alan Moore and Frank Miller. Alan Moore, a reclusive, steadfastly anti-Hollywood Briton, wrote what are arguably two of the greatest graphic novels of all time: "From Hell" and "Watchmen." Frank Miller was most famous for "The Dark Knight Returns," a daring and gritty reboot of the Batman title, and later made a huge splash with his original series "Sin City" for Dark Horse comics. You may also have heard of a little graphic novel he wrote called "300." Miller also wrote the screenplays for Robocops 2 and 3, although whether that's a fortuitous addition to his resume is another question.

The point is that Frank Miller was one of the gods of the neophyte lit-comic genre, with its gritty realism, noirish visuals and independent sensibilities. He was revered by comic fanboys as well as respected by those who found artistic value in this less juvenile subcategory of graphic novels. So what happened? Well, the "Sin City" movie happened. Director Robert Rodriguez found so much value in Miller's on-set assistance to the actors and the cinematographers that he insisted Miller receive a co-director credit, even though when shooting began Rodriguez was the film's sole director. Then "300" was a tremendous smash hit, and although Miller had no direct involvement in the film (it was directed by Zack Snyder), it served to raise his stock even further.

Meanwhile, in the comic world, his "The Dark Knight Strikes Again" was very poorly received, the reviews of some of his other comics were dismal, and the fans made their displeasure known. His mentor and friend Will Eisner died in 2005, at which time Miller was approached about a film adaptation of Eisner's seminal mid-century comic series "The Spirit." At first Miller refused, but eventually agreed with the view that no one else could treat Eisner's material with the respect and faithfulness that Miller could.

Putting aside the fact that Miller's never actually directed a film, of course. And not only is he directing the film, he's writing it as well. Pair his directorial inexperience with a writing sense that, by all accounts, has been flat and hackneyed of late and one can't help but be dubious.

So let's consider the source material. Eisner's comic set the ground rules, both in a narrative and visual sense, for many comic titles that would come after it. Its hero, The Spirit, is a detective back from the dead who assumes this anonymous identity to fight crime. He wears a suit, tie and hat, his only disguise a small black domino mask. His most ruthless enemy is The Octopus, who only ever appeared as a pair of gloves, and The Spirit had frequent run-ins with various femme fatales on both sides of the law. Sounds like material ready-made for a cinematic treatment, doesn't it? You'd think so. Anticipation was high among comic fans, even those disillusioned with Miller's recent work. "Sin City" was such a big success, with such a distinctive visual style, that many fans worried that "The Spirit" would just be a clone of it. These worries were not assuaged when the first trailer was released, and the film's visuals were unquestionably reminiscent of Rodriguez's film.

Miller said again and again that "The Spirit" would be nothing like "Sin City," yet his words were directly contradicted with what was being seen in the first trailer...and then. Oh, boy. Then came Comic-Con.

If there's a point of unofficial publicity about this film that is widely reported among fans, it is the near-legendary disaster that was the Comic-Con panel for "The Spirit." Many bloggers reported on the terrible footage, Miller's unpleasantness, the pointlessness of almost everything that was said and the fact that some con-goers actually walked out of the panel, something near-unheard of at Comic-Con. Much was made over Miller's supposed cinematic genius, which went over like a lead balloon once the audience got a load of the clip packages that were presented. The clips were met with stunned disbelief at their sheer awfulness, including an almost laughably bad underwater scene that Miller seemed very proud of, trumpeting the high-tech dry-shooting technique he'd used. The dialogue was reported to be campy and lowbrow; the long-repeated opinion that Miller has a tin ear for comedy seemed validated.

Then the second trailer hit the tubes, and all hell broke loose. Comic fans wage virtual war over this film, with the supporters in the minority against a wave of backlash from those who decry the trailer as... well, frankly, as crap. A few people still have high hopes, but they are drowned out by the cacophony of people shaking their heads with woe about the kind of epic failure that this film is in for.

So what's so bad about it? What has Miller chosen to use for this film's plot? He's taken a particular story from one run of the comics involving a woman named Sand Serif (Eva Mendes) and created a love-triangle sort of situation. The heavy focus on the women in the film has left some scratching their heads. Miller has long been dogged by accusations of misogyny, probably as a result of his seeming inability to write a convincing female character who isn't a prostitute, and he isn't helping his case here by cramming as many young Hollywood starlets into this film as possible. "The Spirit" has no less than four glamorous women jockeying for position: Mendes, Scarlett Johanson as Silken Floss, who works with The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), Jaime King as Lorelei, a sort of mystical siren character, and Sarah Paulson as The Spirit's supposed true love, Ellen Dolan. That's a lot of female characters for a film like this in which one presumably also must pay attention to the hero/villain conflict, and I have to wonder if Miller's bothered to give any of them more than a surface characterization based on stereotypes. The portrayal of The Octopus has induced jaw-dropping shock in many fans, as well...the parade of over-the-top costumes Jackson is seen in makes one wonder if it'll be possible to take the character seriously at all, if we are even meant to.

As for The Spirit himself, Miller was strongly against providing a vehicle for a known star, so he cast a wide net for an unknown leading man, and he found him in "The Good Shepherd's" Gabriel Macht. There's nothing wrong with the strategy, but I find myself wondering why he took his unknown leading man and surrounded him with well-known co-stars like Jackson and Johanson, who bring to the table a whole host of expectations. Rounding out the cast are Dan Lauria as Commisioner Dolan, Ellen Dolan's father and The Spirit's friend, and Louis Lombardi (who you may know as Edgar from "24") who plays all of The Octopus' dim-witted henchmen. Yep, all of them. They're clones.

Despite Miller's frequent exhortations that this movie won't be like "Sin City"...well, I'm sorry, but watch that trailer. It looks like "Sin City." It just does. Now, "Sin City" was a successful film, but its uniqueness and suitability to its own subject matter has to make any film suspect that copies its visuals so closely.

In Conclusion: Nothing about this film has inspired confidence. The character isn't well-known enough outside comic-fan circles to draw in new audiences. What we've seen of the advance publicity is going to be near incomprehensible, even off-putting, to mainstream filmgoers. The comic fanboys (and fangirls) are not rallying behind it, in fact many of them are actively campaigning against it. What does this film have going for it?

Wait, I'm thinking. Come back later and maybe I would have thought of something.

Similar Titles: Sin City, Kill Bill: Volume 1, 300
December 25th, 2008 (wide)
April 14th, 2009 (DVD)

Lions Gate Films

Frank Miller

Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria, Stana Katic, Johnny Simmons, Louis Lombardi, Jaime King, Paz Vega

Total: 90 vote(s).

Action & Adventure, Drama

Click here to view site

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of stylized violence and action, some sexual content and brief nudity.

103 min




The Spirit at Trailer Addict

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