Screen Jeers: ‘The Spirit’

Caryn: We’ve seen, and jeered at, our fair share of superhero movies this summer. A couple weeks ago, we saw “Batman & Robin,” and this week, we watched “The Spirit.” I didn’t find too much wrong with it. It was cartoonish and darkly flamboyant, similar to “Sin City.” The dialogue was comic-bookish as well.

The movie followed a guy named “The Spirit” who was a cop who died and came back to life somehow as Spirit, to fight crime in Central City. When people in the city start dying, he finds out his nemesis Octopus is behind some of the deaths. Others have been perpetrated by Sand Saref, a childhood friend. In usual comic-book-movie fashion, everything is resolved at the end, except for a tiny cliffhanger that sets the movie up for a sequel.

Throughout the movie, I kept asking myself what in the world was going on. I had a feeling I would understand the movie better had I read some of the comics.

Dan, you seemed to really hate this movie. What was it about “The Spirit” that you didn’t like?

Dan: Let’s get one thing straight: This movie is not “Sin City.” “Sin City” was legitimately dark and twisted with characters that matched and were compelling and fascinating. It fit right in to a film noir style of storytelling all while juggling multiple storylines and doing it well, following the “Pulp Fiction” guidebook to a “T”. It was horrifying, it was strange, and it was entertaining.

“The Spirit” does exactly none of those things. It’s poorly paced, the scenes are almost impossible to follow, the dialogue is unbelievably stilted, and the characters are either completely unrelatable or they’re so bland and generic that they’re indistinguishable from any other comic book movie.

It’s only natural to try to compare this movie with “Sin City,” seeing as both heavily involved comic book icon Frank Miller and feature his signature grit. However, whereas the “Sin City” graphic novels were Miller’s own creation, giving him an obviously understanding of its world and characters, the original “Spirit” comics were not Miller’s.

One of my favorite online reviewers, Linkara from That Guy With The Glasses, likes to say that Frank Miller tends to turn a lot of his stories into Batman stories. That theory is greatly strengthened by “The Spirit.” The titular character monologues (A LOT) about his love for the city and stalks around just like Batman. Sand Serif is a key female character whose morals and loyalties are questionable at best, just like Catwoman. The commissioner had a few moments that seemed exactly like something Gary Oldman would do as Commissioner Gordon would do in the “Dark Knight” movies. It was painful to watch after a while.

I can’t believe you thought this was just all right. What were its redeeming qualities?

Caryn: I did see the similarities between Spirit and Batman, but I liked the cinematics better. The movie looked and behaved like a comic book.

A couple weeks ago, when I got the “Knightfall” comics for my husband, I tried to read a couple pages.

“I can’t read this,” I complained.

“That’s because you don’t read it like a book,” he said, “You have to look at the frames and take in the art.” It was an experience, he argued, not really a book.

The way the characters moved and spoke in “The Spirit” were exactly like the frames of a comic book. It all felt a little disjointed and choppy, but that’s because it was imitating its source material, down to the way each shot was framed.

I do agree that Spirit resembled Batman in a more emo, over-the-top, kind of pathetic way. But ultimately, for all of its stunted dialogue and strange characters, it was fun, dark and artsy. I didn’t really see it as a superhero movie in the traditional sense.

What would you recommend watching instead of “The Spirit?”

Dan: Comics might be choppy and a little disjointed, but they’re at least enjoyable. There was not one thing I enjoyed from this movie, apart from trying to count how many times the characters called Sand Saref by her full name (which would be fine if that’s her superhero name, but no, that’s actually the name she’s had from birth). I’ll agree with you that the stylized visuals were interesting and straight out of a comic book, but with what the rest of the movie was, it all just seemed like a whole lot of nonsense.

Frank Miller got it right in “Sin City.” Go see that over “The Spirit.”

The biggest reason I felt this movie was dreadful was it failed to do the one thing an adaptation should do: Get the audience interested in the source material. I mentioned this way back in our first review of “Northanger Abbey” where, even though the movie itself was hilariously atrocious, I still really wanted to go read the Jane Austen novel it was based on. No such luck from “The Spirit.” I remember seeing trailers and previews for this movie back when it first came out thinking, “Oh yeah, that looks cool!” After finally seeing it, I wish I hadn’t.

If it’s a gritty, comic-book-style movie you’re looking for, just stick with “Sin City,” “300” or “Watchmen.” All three of those movies actually have a little substance to go with the visuals (well, OK, maybe not “300,” but at least that one makes up for it with pure adrenaline and awesomeness).


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