After years of waiting for the Sin City sequel, fans got stuck with a different Frank Miller movie - this one solely written and directed by him. Based on the comic book series by Will Eisner, The Spirit has the same look and feel of Sin City, except that it is just so, so bad.
The Spirit is about a mysterious man who wears a small mask and a red tie who has similar powers to Wolverine; in other words, he can heal really fast. Having "died" once, he refers to himself as The Spirit, protector of the city he lives in. As he deals with a variety of love interests, some dangerous, some not-so-much, he finds himself pitted against his longtime rival The Octopus, a mad inventor of sorts who's actually responsible for his condition. Fighting and goofy antics prevail.
Frank Miller was credited as co-director with Robert Rodriguez on Sin City, and this apparently got to the comic book genius' head that he should actually be directing. I don't buy that Miller was an authentic director on the first film; whether it was a marketing ploy, a courtesy of Rodriguez out of the fact that he didn't have to do any storyboarding, or a way for Miller to make a little more money, I doubt that Miller's direct influence had that much impact on Sin City. This becomes clearer with The Spirit, as the film is so jumbled stylistically and thematically that it could only have been made by a film amateur.
While there are many elements that look similar to Sin City, Miller veers farther and farther away from such style as the film progresses. The problem is that he isn't doing this out of the principle of doing something different, but that he isn't disciplined enough to remain focused. The parts that do look like Sin City are cheap imitations, and the rest like some cheesy, B-grade, direct-to-DVD piece of crap.
Beyond style, The Spirit is just a mess. The movie appears to be set in the 1930's or ‘40's, and yet partway through our main character pulls out a cell phone. Sure, Miller is allowed to make one of those stories set in a timeless era, but he's actually just making it up as he goes along. The Spirit is also too hammy for its own good. Whether it's an army of clones of Louis Lombardi running around acting stupid or Scarlett Johansson delivering clunky lines in a deep, non-sexy voice or The Spirit having visions of some stupid ghost living underwater or The Octopus smashing toilet seats over the hero's head, The Spirit wants to be funny but isn't, wants to be serious but isn't and wants to be good but is anything but. Samuel L. Jackson, the king of being able to pull of hammy lines, comes in so far over-the-top that it's hard to watch.
There's very little good that comes out of The Spirit, and it should tell studios that Miller shouldn't be allowed to make movies on his own. Let's look forward to Sin City 2 and let The Spirit pass away into distant, repressed memories.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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