Saturday, 7 March 2009
To get the obvious out of the way first: The Spirit is nuts. It's not actually a bad movie - the story basically makes sense, the characters are consistent (if very cartoony), and the whole thing is put together with a well-judged sense of style and design - but it is a pretty nutty movie nonetheless. It doesn't really help that this tale of a trench-coated crime-fighter up against a supervillian looking to make himself immortal is trying to tap into a retro-pulp vibe of square-jawed heroes and over-the-top villainy that, whether it's the 90s version of The Shadow or the more recent Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, almost never works on the big screen. Throw in plenty of scenes that are just plain odd (Samuel L. Jackson in a nazi uniform? Eva Mendes photocopying her backside?) and you're left with a film that "quirky" doesn't really begin to cover. Most of this is down to the fact that it was written and directed by Frank Miller, the comic writer / artist behind Sin City and 300. Miller, as anyone who's read any of his comics since about 1997 knows, is a pretty out-there guy with some very firm ideas about what's funny - ideas that don't really match up with what the rest of us think is worth laughing at. Judging by The Spirit, there wasn't anyone around to tap him on the shoulder and point out that, say, having a foot with a tiny head attached hopping around a desk while Samuel L. Jackson says "that is really weird" over and over isn't something a lot of people would feel the need to watch. But despite all that, there's still a certain fascination about this film. Partly it's because it's clearly one man's unique vision, which is always more fun than yet another film-by-committee. Partly it's because it's basically a live-action cartoon that doesn't take itself too seriously. And partly it's because Miller, whatever his flaws, still knows how to keep a story moving forward. Insane this might be, but at least it's never dull.
Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #447)