Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Spirit

We all have a filter somewhere between our brains and mouths, hopefully catching the better part of our thoughts before they escape in words and reveal our insane and perverted sides to the outside world; to protect us from shame and embarrassment. For once-great graphic novelist Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez and Zack Snyder served this purpose in distilling his comic books to the screen with Sin City and 300. But in Frank Miller's The Spirit, written AND directed by Frank Miller, there exists no such buffer, no one to save him from his worst impulses, leaving Miller's artistic soul to sit grotesquely naked onscreen. It ain't pretty.

The plot is simple: there's a superhero named The Spirit and a supervillain named The Octopus, both have super healing ala Wolverine or Claire Bennett, and they fight a bunch in a city. That's all. It doesn't take a detective to discern from the trailer that Miller is ripping off the visual style of Rodriguez adapting his work in Sin City (albeit with no talent for staging or photographing action, resulting in some of the worst fight scenes of the decade), but it goes way beyond that; in fact, the whole movie is essentially the PG-13 CliffsNotes of Sin City, with all moral grey helpfully removed and all characters streamlined into pure and undiluted Frank Miller clichés:

The women on both sides are all cock-hungry whores ready to spread their legs for the impossibly smooth hero at his word (in one case he literally seduces a female assassin sent to kill him with one sentence spoken in French). Samuel L. Jackson's villain grandstands and gives booming "we're not so different, you and I" speeches to the captured hero while wearing a Nazi uniform and torturing a kitten (this literally happens, I'm not exaggerating). The Spirit considers his city to be a cesspool, the dregs of humanity, yet they all worship him. The police are useless. The dialogue is pure Dick Tracy 1940s pulp noir cops 'n' robbers cliché.

Essentially, it's Frank Miller lost his fucking mind at the expense of making an even remotely watchable film - whether or not 1986's The Dark Knight Returns was a fluke great graphic novel from a crazy person or Frank Miller is a fallen genius, a grotesque parody of what he once was like the obese, bloated Marlon Brando at the end of his life, is the only thing that remains up for debate.

But what isn't up for debate is that The Spirit is an awful movie. Not a cash-in, mind you, because it smells almost nothing of studio intervention; it seems to be a truly pure vision of its writer-director. A shockingly dull and bad and utterly pure work, one man vomiting forth his juvenile cops 'n' robbers soul for everyone to point and laugh at. An ill fate for an artist who was once considered to be among the geniuses of his medium.

1 Star out of 5

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