There are movies based on comics and then there are comic book movies – The Spirit is definitely the latter, bringing each frame from the page to the big screen.
Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) is a murdered cop mysteriously reborn as the masked crime fighter called the Spirit. Central City is his mistress and to keep his beloved city safe, the Spirit hunts villains from the shadows. His nemesis, the psychotic megalomaniac Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), is the worst and most difficult to capture as he and the Spirit are unusually evenly matched. But despite his ongoing mission, the dashing crusader always manages to make time for beautiful women regardless of their intentions. However, the only one that can make the Spirit’s heart skip a beat is the alluring international jewel thief Sand Saref (Eva Mendes).
Respected comic book innovator Frank Miller makes his solo directorial debut with comic originator Will Eisner’s The Spirit, which was first introduced in 1940. Having befriended Eisner early in his career, Miller could not allow anyone else to handle the adaptation after his death in 2005. In creating the film version, Miller maintained the tone of the comics, presenting an adventure and romance with an undercurrent of humour. But Miller also brought to the script his own specific point of view.
The Spirit has always implicitly been a cad; his only true loyalty lies with his soul mate, Central City. But to that effect, he is surrounded by exquisite women. His seductresses and sweethearts include the aforementioned Saref, the police commissioner’s daughter Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), exotic chanteuse Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega), the underwater angel of death Lorelei (Jaime King) and the icy genius Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson). Johansson, by far, plays the most intriguing female character as she indulges in the Octopus’ whims to ward off boredom. And the gorgeous and varied costumes only further the comic fantasy.
The grittiness and violence is updated to match today’s standards versus the source era’s. On the other hand, the clash between Octopus and the Spirit is entertainingly cartoonish, accompanied by overstated sounds and non-fatal impact. Additionally, the dialogue mirrors that of the gumshoe detective and gets its wit from various decades. The previously unknown Macht has just the right look and his deep rumbling voice provides for a perfect delivery in the film noir tradition. At the other end of the spectrum, Jackson takes the theatricality of the larger-than-life villain to a whole new level.
Using the same techniques employed to create Sin City, the similarities are undeniable. However, The Spirit’s look is also unique. Rather than simply black and white with vibrant splashes of colour, several of the scenes are washed in colour, allowing skin tones to be visible. Alternatively, others are presented in the bare minimum, displayed as silhouettes as the Spirit moves through the city. The landscape also puts a twist on contemporary, with the men dressed in suits and cars from the ‘50s mixed with cell phones, flak jackets and cloning.
In The Spirit, Miller’s approach to the comic book movie achieves new excellence.