The Spirit
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The Spirit

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Back in the fifties kids could turn a quarter into two comic books and a candy bar. For one forth of a dollar we had an entire afternoon of fun. Well, those days are gone forever but our cultural love of comics will persist forever. Of course most of them are called graphic novels and they can set you back about $25 but the concept is still the same. Comics have replaced our innate need for mythology. In ancient times, long before my generation where kids, every culture had their own specific set of gods and goddesses bound together with a complex system of myths and legends. Societies and there religions were based on these myths mostly to explain the then unexplainable. In moat cases the gods were upper powered heroes and villains fighting each other as man stood by in awe. Instead of Zeus, Apollo and Athena the modern age has Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. We can explain almost everything in life through science but the need for mythology persists and is filled nicely by the comics. Like their mythological ancestors the comics tell the full gamut of stories from light hearted to dark and full of suspense and action. Many of the graphic novels tend towards darker, more psychological themes and among them one of the most popular was ‘The Spirit’. This title can from the extremely imaginative mind of Frank Miller and if you are at all into graphic novels you most likely already have several of his works in your collection.

Literatures of all types have been used as the basis of films but there is something magical about using a graphic novel like this. The film maker gets to invent his own set of natural laws. There are few limitations as to where your story can take you. These are classic tales of good versus evil played out in a dank and dark city and it just strike a chord in our humanity. It is satisfying for a story to have definable heroes and villains and this format is highly conducive in this regard. I have read the graphic novel of this title and like many fans highly anticipated the release of the movie. Unfortunately the flick is more sizzle than steak. It is an incredible piece of art and is extremely interesting visually but the narrative of the graphic novel failed to come across. I enjoyed watching the film but there was little to actually engage me as a fan of the genre. In many ways this is completely unexpected and more than a little bit of a let down. The graphic novel offered such potential that it seems implausible that this did not translate to the screen better.

Frank Miller is a genius. He made the translation from the classic comic book style to graphic novels better than most with great stories and characters and a graphic style that reinvented the medium. Miller worked for the Marvel Comic group and transformed ‘Daredevil’ from a blind guy in tights into a brooding and sullen superhero with a lot of emotional baggage. Miller’s characters are all emotionally and psychologically complex with layers not often found in the format; at least not to this extent. They tend to demonstrate the best and worse of the human condition. Miller also uses modern takes on many classic themes from mythology. Good and evil is generally well defined but there are many cases where the line is cloudy. This provides a degree of honesty with the characters that could have been better explored in the film.

Miller wrote and directed this film. As the writer the dialogue is such that it will pull you right out of the moment. It is for the large part contrived and doesn’t fit the emotional center of the story. There is a certain camp value here but not enough to carry the movie. The original graphic novels and comics came from Will Eisner and they were great. In bringing it to a screenplay Miller had to do some streamlining but in the process of the heart of the original was lost. The titular character starts out as a rookie police officer Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) working in Central City. He is killed in the line of duty but in a venue like this it is only the beginning of his career. Colt finds himself brought back to life as ‘The Spirit’ a tough vigilante out to rid the city of its numerous criminals. Miller understood the form and shape of ‘The Spirit’ but neglected the substance. The audience is taken on a ride but there is nothing to connect them to the characters. Colt is changed into ‘The Spirit’ and has the required nemesis in the dastardly ‘Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) but there is no true sense of impending doom.

The visual look is stunning but even there the novelty is beginning but after a few films in this style it can no longer sustain a movie on its own. Miller did revolutionize the film version of graphic novels by making a black and white film with the addition of little bursts of stark color. Blood stands out like never before and the ruby lips of the femme fatales here never looked sexier. Miller needs to shack things up a bit and move on from this technique. Speaking of the leading ladies this film sports three of the hottest actresses around. Octopuses’ right hand woman is Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) she is smart, crafty and stunningly beautiful. Floss is both beauty and brains. The black widow of Central City is Sand Saref (Eva Mendes). She has the nasty habit of marrying men and then dispatching them for their money. She just exudes sex in every word and motion. Finally there is Lorelei: the Angel of death ‘waiting to take Colt back to the underworld. Miller certainly knows how to photograph these young ladies to highlight their physical attributes both more could have been done to showcase their acting abilities.

The film just cannot rise up to its potential and the character and story deserves a lot better. It is eye candy that could have shown the age old battle between good and evil instead of just a lot of well tailored frames of film. Even the side stories could have been fleshed out more. Colt and Saref where childhood friends and are now on opposite sides of the law. It might have been interesting to delve into themes like the corruption of innocence but little was fleshed out in this flick. It is a shame that something with so much raw potential fell flat but this movie could have been a contender; unfortunately it trips along the way.

Posted 03/25/09

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