Sunday, May 24, 2009
In defense of Frank Miller's Spirit
The movie had everything going for it.
The man responsible for two surprise comic book movie successes.
State-of-the-art special effects that have proven to be popular with audiences.
A near chorus line of beautiful female leads.
And the second highest grossing film star of all time.
It debuted at number 9 in the box office and sunk rapidly. It was panned by critics and the public alike. The big named actors will survive it, but the man in the title role, the jury is still out.
And yet, I liked Frank Miller's The Spirit. I never saw it in the theaters, it wasn't there long. I didn't even pay full price for the DVD, a co-worker bought it, didn't like it, and sold it to me for $8. I have since watched it twice and have enjoyed it each time.
I see why people did not like the movie. It's purposely tongue-in-cheek. The dialogue is mired in 1940's film noir, that rapid fire banter where dames had moxy and fellas wore hats. And instead of just committing to that direction, it looks to the viewer and winks (literally) saying, "Isn't this fun?" Well, for me it was, not so for many.
The Spirit came in on the heels of The Dark Knight. Well, six months after that release but the film's impact was still being felt. Every rank and file member of the "Grim and Gritty" brigade left over from the 80's, a club Miller helped form, had the movie they'd all waited for. A comic book movie that was dark, serious, violent, and accepted by the public. The Spirit was too great a shift.
Not that The Spirit didn't have its share of violence and darkness, but it never played it seriously. Miller seems to have long left behind the notion that any of this comic book stuff is actually plausible (and to his defense it isn't!). So, if you're playing in fantasy, then take it to the extreme seems to have been his decision.
Miller also kept to the "spirit" of Will Eisner's stories. Eisner, who spent the last years of his life trying to get this movie made, always insisted that The Spirit be told in a modern time setting. To date the film, like in The Shadow of The Phantom, would lessen its impact in his opinion. The Spirit is always The Spirit, hardly ever removing his mask, which we never see from the front anyway. The females are as strong as the males, and sometimes more so. Miller captured all this, little wonder too considering how close he and Eisner were before Eisner's death.
Some reviewers called the characters in The Spirit cardboard, well they were in a sense. More accurately all the characters were archetypes. The Spirit was nothing but hero. Conflicted? Yes. Prone to mistakes? Yes. But you never doubted he was a hero. The Octopus, The Spirit's foe played by Sam Jackson, was evil. Totally evil. To emphasize this he wore the garb of nearly every type of movie villain throughout the film (cowboy, nazi, street hood, mad scientist, even samurai).
The disposable henchman, who never really matter as characters anyway, were in fact all the same guy; clones. The femme-fatals, a specialty of The Spirit comic books, were dangerous and gorgeous; too deadly to love and too beautiful not to.
The movie is tight, visually stunning, and funny, often laugh out loud funny. I guess it boils down to this, if you like Big Trouble in Little China then you should like The Spirit. They're the same kind of movie, in my opinion.