Somewhere along the way, Frank Miller lost his mind. Falling from one of the greatest comic book writers of all time to foaming mad man. You can actually pinpoint his brain rot to the start of the new millennium. It’s here he began writing stuff like not-Batman beating up Osama Bin Laden and actual-Batman calling Robin “retarded or something”. Cast off as a lunatic by most of the comic book community, Miller’s work from the 90’s began to find success in Hollywood. After lucrative adaptations of Sin City and 300, Miller was handed the keys to classic comic strip The Spirit. He would both write and direct a film for the first time, it would be a violent, stylised hit and they’d all make a lot of money. What could go wrong?
The Spirit is the story of murdered cop Denny Colt who mysteriously returns from the dead. Well it isn’t so much of a story as him reacting to the crazy shit that Sam Jackson gets up to as his arch-nemesis: The Octopus. The evil cephalopod is trying to get his tentacles on the blood of Heracles, which is stolen from him by Sand Saref. Saref is played by Eva Mendes, who also happens to be an old flame of The Spirit’s.
That’s about as simple as an explanation I can give you of a film that’s nuttier than squirrel shit. This is Miller’s only solo outing as director, being credited in both Sin City movies alongside Robert Rodriguez, but it’s not his only writing credit. He had previously written the script for bad and abysmal RoboCop 2 & 3, the second of which was rewritten extensively by other people since it was “unfilmable”. This is unsurprising as The Spirit is awful. It’s such a bloody mess it’s difficult to put describe how terrible it is, but here we go.
The film opens with an awful noir monologue as the Spirit leaps around rooftops. Imagine if Rorschach was written by… well Frank Miller. Gabriel Macht scowls and growls so unconvincingly it’s almost parody, his performance almost as lifeless as the films palette. In the vein of Sin City the city is sketched in black and white and red. Except it isn’t really, it’s mostly just the colours are washed out. Whereas in Sin City the colours built upon the tone and made the film feel like a motion comic book, this looks cheap and tacky and gives a false impression of the film you’re about to witness.
On the way to foiling one of the Octopuses schemes, Spirit runs into a cameo appearence by Frank Miller. I mention this because in their exchanges Miller comes across the superior actor to Macht. Take from that what you will. Anyway Octopus shows up, kills Frank and lobs his head at Spirit yelling “HEADS UP!”. It’s somewhere between this point and when Sam Jackson hits Macht with a toilet bowl that you realise you’re not just watching a terrible Neo-Noir. You’re also watching a terrible slapstick comedy. But it’s so endearingly bad that you laugh anyway. The film is schizophrenic, bouncing between grizzled soliloquies and Sam Jackson punting people in the dick.
In fact Jackson is the only person able to remain afloat, despite a script that does its best job to ruin the careers of everyone involved, and it’s mostly through sheer madness. The Octopus alternates from cowboy to samurai to nazi and rambles about eggs and godhood. Sam is so hammy and overtly camp he almost manages to save the film from itself. Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes don’t fare particularly well, being reduced to eye candy struggling with a terrible script. Sarah Paulson is the police commissioner’s daughter and is only in the film for The Spirit to make out with. Jaime King shows up as an Angel of Death, appearing in flashes through the movie and then in one trippy sequence that doesn’t matter at all and is never mentioned again. Rounding out this terrible harem is Plaster of Paris who appears in probably the stupidest sequence in a film drowning in it.
Speaking of stupid, the “plot” is dotted together through comical coincidence involving personal belongings and photocopies of butts left behind at crime scenes. Heracles’ Blood and the Golden Fleece are just McGuffins for the characters to fight over and it’s never explained where they came from (just assume Greek Mythology is real in this world). The film is about an hour and a half long and I have no idea how they stretched such a thin script over that length and you’ll often find yourself thinking “What the fuck was that scene”. There’s so much white noise.
Well I suppose the final thought goes to whether this film is actually worth watching? It depends on how much you like bad movies. There’s so much goofy hilarity here that you can laugh yourself hoarse at Sam Jackson chewing the scenery or the ludicrously sincere dialogue. If you just can’t stand bad quality you may want to avoid this one. If you want something almost identical but superior in every way (except lacking in Sam Jackson) go out and watch Sin City. So there you go. That’s The Spirit.