Mr. Zeddemore blazes a trail into the new year with his review of "The Spirit".
The Spirit Review by Mr. Zeddemore
This film is bad.
While that may be seen as a catchy opening and
a neat ‘hook’ to draw people into the review, it’s also true. This is
one of the craziest things I have ever had the ‘pleasure’ of sitting
through at the cinema. Usually you start a review with some generic
form of ‘can this film be as bad/good/whatever as people are saying’
and then go from there. I start a lot of reviews that way, and will
probably be starting most of the comic-book movie reviews I do that way.
But I can’t start this review that way.
film is one of the oddest things I’ve seen put into the mainstream
since Oceans Twelve, where everything was given a French New Wave tint
and it seemed equal parts experiment and jolly boys outing rather than
a coherent and stylistic follow-up to an acknowledged crowd pleaser.
This film is just insane.
I should warn you that I deal in
spoilers from this point forward. Nothing gigantic, even though the
film isn’t really complex and gives up any cards it may have had early
on. That being said, I do believe some respect must be shown for those
of you who’ve been reading since ‘this is bad’, but still harbour
thoughts of going to see this batshit insane film at the cinema knowing
as little as possible.
If that is you, stop reading now.
film reaches its nadir when The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) and Silken
Floss (Scarlett Johansson), the two of them clad in Nazi uniforms, are
tormenting The Spirit (Gabriel Macht), who has been tied to a chair. In
the background, near Silken Floss, is a picture of Hitler. That’s crazy
enough, and bizarre enough, but when you add in that the scene also
contains a French woman named Plaster Of Paris (played by Spanish
actress Paz Vega), you’ve circled into nonsensical land.
END SPOILER ALERT
of the main problems with the film is that it seems to be throwing as
many weird things towards you at the same time (Japanese, Nazi and
Russian imagery are all used for The Octopus) that you can’t really
latch onto anything. It’s a bombardment of stylistic moments that
Miller creates without tying them together with anything particularly
memorable or a well-crafted structure.
Normally, you’d expect
that from the lead character. The sad part is that Gabriel Macht is
trying to ground the crazy, but his character is paper-thin and
certainly not strong enough for a two hour and eight minute film. I
think the best way to go into that is to say that he’d be able to
support a forty minute self-contained story within a larger film
without a problem; and probably even a ninety minute film. Asking the
character to be enough for this film seems to be more than he can
handle, a fact Miller unintentionally notes by continually having the
character monologue, run over buildings and suffer through embarrassing
attempts at comic-relief that do nothing but force the story to drag on
The problem of time and structure extends to the fact
that The Octopus gets as much screen time as The Spirit. Samuel L.
Jackson is actually pretty good in this piece, bringing a good level of
ham to the performance that rises above the dreadful character he’s got
to deal with and the rather poor choices of props, costumes and
haircuts he’s forced to endure. They seem to be going down the mad
scientist route, but even a small amount of Wikipedia filled research
on the original character reveals that isn’t the character at all – in
fact, they seem to have merged his character with another character
from the original piece. It’s not a crime to do that, but it does serve
to make the adaptation slightly odd in that the original piece isn’t a
complex labyrinth of story that needs to be condensed, and then
extended (a regular contradiction if there ever was one, how this
simple story was condensed to be made even simpler and then extended
past a natural length is beyond me.)
Another problem is the
tone, both the colour palette and how events are played. The
cinematography by Bill Pope is excellent, yet you do feel like he’s
been asked to do several different things that don’t mesh. We veer from
ripping off Sin City in black and white to full colour and several
shades in-between. The reason Sin City worked (at the time, anyway) was
because they kept it consistent for the most part. Here, it’s whatever
Miller felt like on any given day, which is a disappointment because if
he stuck to one style chances are it wouldn’t feel so needlessly
This segues us into the tone of the piece in
terms of the events and how they are portrayed. It’s a problematic area
for the film because we hop from comedy to drama and OTT action so
often that you don’t get a chance to breathe. We get Sarah Paulson
bringing her own brand of humanity to the role of Ellen that no-one
else does, which contrasts sharply with Macht playing The Spirit
deadpan and Samuel L. Jackson hamming it up. None of the characters
feel like they belong in the same world, a shared tone and style of
performance not existing. There can be a case argued that this is done
in other films such as Die Hard, but if you’ll watch that film you’ll
notice Rickman and Willis may have different styles yet they’re
believable in the same world. Here, when Macht and Paulson share a
scene it doesn’t mesh with anything else. That’s a shame, because
Paulson is terrific and deserved a better film.
Interestingly, if I were to rate the most fitting performance for the world
go with Scarlett Johansson. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of her work
to date, but I think here she’s perfect for the material. She plays it
aloof, not with a knowing smirk like Jackson but like she’s a fully
breathing character. There’s complexity there, but she’s not out to
steal the show or go for an Oscar. It’s similar to how Gwyneth Paltrow
played Pepper Potts, as a real person in a crazy world. They won’t get
lots of raves for their acting, but the two of them serve to ground the
piece without feeling outside the material.
I think the biggest
flaw I can find with this movie is that Miller clearly doesn’t get The
Spirit – but what he does get is something like a Batman or a
Daredevil. You get the sense that he wants to go make movies for them.
Instead, he’s making this. Rumour has it he turned this down, only to
take it up again. I wish he’d stuck with that option, and I wish he’d
be in the running for a Daredevil film.
While he’s not a
terrific director of actors or consistency (yet), you do get the sense
that he could be better with the right material. This film is him
throwing everything but the kitchen sink (which, at one point, he does
have someone throw) at the screen and creating moments rather than a
solid piece. It’s just bad, a collection of random things that make
little sense and a bunch of performances that don’t really add up to
anything of value.
Oh, and a shot of a bare assed Eva Mendes.
Which you’d think would save the film, but no. She was pretty good in
the film come to think of it. In the end I don’t think this is a good
film, or a ‘so bad it’s good’ film. It’s just a mess.
I give it two batshits out of a possible five