The Spirit (2008 Lionsgate Dir. Frank Miller)
Get out your manliest whiskey for this one kids. Not because you like it, but because that's what a Real Man® is supposed to drink. Yes, once again, my love for the silly and the stupid comes through. Here’s a controversial statement for you, The Spirit is actually pretty good. Okay, yes, the movie is bad. BUT! It’s a good kind of bad. It’s a “Saturday night with friends and a bottle” bad. In fact, it’s a lot of fun if you watch it with the right mindset. Yes, that mindset is that this is going to be a fun, campy, adolescent thrill ride, but I will point out it is based on a comic book.
Just so you know who is responsible.
I’m not a believer in the mantra that darker equals better. Yes, some stories should be told with seriousness and gravity, but not all. In fact, over the last few years I’ve come to the thinking that superhero stories shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. Batman Begins was so dark I couldn’t tell what was going on, it was so self-serious and the characters so one note it ended up being stupider than any comic book movie that had come before it. We’ll talk about how I felt about Batman Begins someday, but not today. Suffice to say I felt it was a failure and didn’t achieve what it set out to be. This however, this did. The Spirit is supposed to be like this, and it’s a lot of campy fun if you let it be. That is the chief question you have to answer for yourself though. Is it camp or just stupid?
The movie begins with a shot of a character we’re later told is Lorelei, but introduces herself as death. We’re also told that someone named Denny Colt escaped her embrace, which is helpful since we have no idea who Denny Colt is. Still, let’s give this a chance and see what it gives us. So far it’s giving us a man who lives in a cemetery with a hundred and thirty-two cats. He gets a call, and goes out to fight crime… while wearing a pair of Chucks. I will never understand Frank Miller’s obsession with Chuck Taylor sneakers. But hey, at lest while he’s wearing them we get to see The Spirit running around the city in his Chucks and talking to himself about the city. Side note, why does he have to run around? Why doesn’t he have a Spiritmobile or something? It is sort of funny that while he’s jabbering to himself with his internal monologue, he actually looks at his watch and comments he doesn’t have time for this. It’s like Frank Miller is looking at you and saying, “Yeah, I know.”
Pimpin' still ain't easy.
We’re just out of the opening credits and we’re introduced to The Spirit’s two superpowers at once. Superpower #1: Indestructibility. He get shot, stabbed, drowned, and keeps coming back for more. What interests me more is Superpower #2: Super Flirting. Seriously, the guy shows up, says a few words and girls fawn all over him. He can’t even help himself, when he meets a new girl he has to flirt with her. Another side note, several times the music comes dangerously, copyright infringingly close to mimicking Danny Elfman’s score for the first Batman movie. Particularly the main theme at the opening here. The movie’s look comes directly from Sin City, but since Miller half directed that we should make allowances. To round off the rip-off feel, the tone of the film comes directly from a fourteen-year-old boy’s hyperactive brain.
The real hero of the movie.
So The Spirit and a cop, played by Miller himself, go to see someone who is supposed to be a detective. Here we have a slight problem as said detective is calling The Spirit instead of his superiors because he’s afraid of corruption in the department. Seems there is a character called The Octopus and he may have his tentacles in everything. While we wait for The Spirit to show up, we’re treated to Eva Mendes rising up out of the water in a skintight leather cat suit, which she had unzipped to about her navel. I’m not complaining exactly, but you see what I mean about the fourteen-year-old boy. For reasons that are never really clear, the cop is standing in waste deep water while it’s snowing. Why is everyone in the water without even a shiver in the middle of winter? No idea, but Eva looks pretty sexy so I’m going to let this one go. Yup, you put a hot babe in wet leather and all my so-called ideals fly right out the window. Men! What are you gonna do, am I right girls?
A hero sets his watch after daylight savings time, and his city waits for him to get on with it.
The Cop gets shot, but not by Eva. Someone shot him in the back, no points for guessing by whom. See, Eva was in the water to get some… chests full of … stuff? Okay, it’s not supposed to be clear, but it’s also not clear why they’re in the water in the winter. Why she has no scuba gear when her partner has it. Why isn’t anyone going into shock from what has to be some very cold water. Right now, it was just convenient and it gave us an excuse to see Eva Mendes all wet and sexy looking. There was a secondary reason for everyone to be in the water though, the cop had to grab a
Just a nice city shot… that was completely obliterated by shrinking the size. Sorry.
We begin to see what kind of movie this is going to be in the following scene, which starts with The Octopus throwing the severed head of Frank Miller at The Spirit and starting to attack him with it. Yeah, this movie is beating The Spirit to death with the head of Frank Miller. While that goes on, Silken Floss shows up and proves to be the best thing in this movie. She’s sarcastically dismissive of her boss, disinclined to be a sex object or a regular hench-chick, she helps run the show and looks like she could be the boss if she wasn’t so prepared to let The Octopus do the legwork. Anyway, the fight between the hero and the baddie commences and is one of the most hilarious things I’d seen all year when I first watched this. Two basically unstoppable wrecking machines just bashing at each other to no good purpose. At one point The Spirit holds the Octopus down and punches him 18 times in quick succession, before stopping to breath a moment and punch him another 10 times. The Octopus then gets right back up and smacks The Spirit with a commode before demanding “Toilets are always funny!” That was the point where I realized this is probably not a serious movie. That was when I knew they were doing this deliberately. The fight ends when The Spirit literally throws a kitchen sink at The Octopus. They then decide that they’re too tired to carry on and talk about how they’re both indestructible. The Octopus alludes to knowing why the two of them are like this, before wandering off.
Then we get another scene with Lorelei talking to The Spirit, and looking like someone took a Bedazzler to her forehead. She keeps talking about how she wants to take his pain away and wants him to join her and I’m sort of sitting there thinking ‘Just offer to blow him’ because that’s what normally works with me. The awesome of the movie starts to drop off at this point though because we have to have some plot and character development. There is a great exchange though. “The Octopus knows something.” “How do you know that?” “Because he just told me he knows something.” How you gonna not love a movie with wonderfully crap lines like that? Anyway, he finds the locket, has a conversation with the chief of police and then has a flashback through the medium of talking to a cat. Not kidding! He tells the cat about how when he and Sand were kids they hung out together and had a little romance. The cat is clearly only listening because The Spirit has an open can of Fancy Feast in his pocket. You can see the cat’s mouth constantly move like it wants to eat something or it just swallowed something. It’s pretty good, but why have the hero telling his life story to a cat? What kind of idiot has that kind of report with his cat? Oh, right.
Angry and Sexy!
Well, it turns out the box that The Octopus stole is the wrong box. This scene is wonderful, but for reasons that are hard to write about or put in screen caps. It’s all the thoroughly wonderful performances. I love the fact that Silken Floss actually gives The Octopus a lot of crap for screwing things up. It’s a great scene, followed by a less cool scene with Sand. That is the famous scene where she sits on a photocopier and looks at the result saying “A perfect ass” for no good purpose. The result of that scene, besides exposition, is that Sand gets a guy to shoot himself. This causes the cops to think she killed him for all of two minutes before he says she didn’t and they believe him. Or maybe they don’t, either way it never really goes anywhere. It doesn’t matter though because we get a new scene with The Octopus and Silken Floss talking about a foot with a little head. Just a foot with a head on it that bounces around while everyone agrees it’s just plain damn weird. Again, it’s all in the performances of Johansson and Jackson. These two should have their own movie, just give us another movie with these two as the heroes and I’ll be happy.
There is another scene with Sand that doesn’t really do anything for me, and then The Spirit gets shoved out of a window and has to dangle around while women whose hips refuse to unsway watch him from a window. He saves himself, even while taking a call from the plucky rookie girl, and keeps talking to himself about how he’s going to get the Octopus and how he loves the City which is his mother, his lover, his sister, his aunt and his lunch lady. Seriously, I get the whole personification thing and that to him all women pale in comparison to the city, but damn! Boy needs to get some therapy or something. He then gets caught by Silken Floss, and we are distracted for a moment by the chief and the doctor girl having a scene where they say all the obvious things to each other. Oh daughter, don’t waster your time. Oh daddy, I’m a big girl and I need to bump and grind. Yada, yada and if you will, yada. We need a scene like this though, it gives us a moment to think about the insanity that’s about to come. And oh what awesome insanity are we about to see…
Would any discussion of Frank Miller be complete without a shot like this?
People said Frank had lost it before this movie came along. They said that we’d seen him at his nuttiest. Frank went and decided we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. When your hero wakes up in a dentist chair surrounded by Nazi memorabilia and his only reaction is to say “Dental and Nazi… great” before talking directly to the audience about the situation he finds himself in, you are in for some fun. He talks, worries, and then The Octopus comes out dressed like an SS officer while Deutschlandlied plays in the background. This is wrong in so many ways it goes all the way around and becomes awesome. A quick phone call, complete with a needle scratch to stop the music, interrupts for a moment. The whole time The Octopus is speechifying, The Spirit is sitting there being unimpressed and even interrupts by complaining that he’s getting old just listening. So, instead of playing it out any further, The Octopus explains everything in one scene. He made The Spirit with a serum he developed. The Spirit became a hero, in a flashback, and we come back to the explanation. See, Sand swiped a vase with the blood of Heracles in it, and that’s what The Octopus wants. If he mixes the blood with the serum, he’ll become a god. The problem is that the serum is hard to make because if it goes a little wrong the entire thing goes to hell. He demonstrates by having a little kitten, named Muffin, drink some of the bad serum. In a few moments the kitten melts into a puddle and The Spirit explains for the cat alone he’s going to kill The Octopus.
You MUST be joking
So a woman named Plaster of Paris comes along they tell The Spirit how they’re going to kill him. They intend to cut him up into little tiny pieces. The problem is, that The Spirit uses his flirt powers to convince Plaster to his side. Plaster cuts The Spirit free and he punches the Octopus declaring “This is for Sand.” He hits him again and explains “This is for me.” Before giving a spin kick and shouting “And this one’s for Muffin!” How you gonna hate a movie like this? How you gonna go hatin’ on a movie that actually has the hero declare that he’s avenging a kitten? I had to stop the movie, giggle myself into an altered state of consciousness, and have an adventure with a flying marshmallow around the kingdom of the peppermint people before I could come back to watching. “This one’s for Muffin” has got to be one of The Classic lines. The two of them get away from the baddies and then Plaster sticks him in the gut with a machete for reasons that aren’t really clear beyond the idea that Plaster is a nut. He falls in the lake, and death tries to take him again but he cries out “I’ll deny you missy!” before escaping.
Hero stands up… and talks to himself… for about an hour.
And he says “I’m gonna kill you all kinds of dead.”
Real line, from the movie.
After this, there’s just a big action scene. Silken and Sand get to have a scene were they discuss things before the action breaks out. The problem is, once the violence gets started it all become very ho-hum. There is a certain point you get to where more is just more. It’s so goofy and over the top at this point, that it doesn’t even register as interesting anymore. You just have Samuel L. Jackson shooting what looks like three machine guns strapped together while everyone shoots at him. Then The Spirit puts a grenade on him and blows him up to the point there he can’t recharge himself. We were doing so well until the end, which just doesn’t touch the level of cool this movie was tenuously holding on to. There is one thing worth mentioning though. The plucky rookie I talked about gets a truly awesome line in this scene. When eh pulls out a massive canon, the chief asked if every woman in the city is out of their minds to which the plucky girls says “No sir, we’re just equipped!” I like that sentiment. For all the flack Frank Miller gets about how he has women look, I’d like for you to take a moment and think how they’re portrayed. Every woman in this movie is beautiful, yes. However, they are also intelligent and highly capable. Look over Frank’s body of work, his women are very rarely anything but strong and independent. The first two scenes with the plucky recruit include bits where one of the men tell her that with a brain like hers she’ll make detective in no time. None of the women are stupid or silly, none of the plot points involve them doing something dumb. Take that in contrast to The Man With The Golden Gun, where everything in the movie that goes wrong is essentially the fault of woman screwing something up.
Pimpin’ just got easier. WITH SCIENCE!
Still, the movie is fun and interesting. It’s nowhere near as bad as people who never even saw it told you it was. I have to suppose they didn’t see it, because no one saw it. That’s been one of the problem with the internet lately. We heard Frank Miller was making something and it was labeled as dumb before anyone saw a frame. The story of it being dumb kept up and no one even gave it a chance. That’s a shame, you should always give something at least a chance to thrill you. The Anti-Frank Miller Narrative is currently as strong as the Anti-George Lucas Narrative and frankly, it’s just as annoying. Yeah, both of them are past their prime and neither of them are going to deliver like they did in the 80’s, but that doesn’t mean everything they do must suck. Look at this, it doesn’t suck. It’s campy as hell, yes, but it doesn’t suck. Is it stupid? No, not stupid exactly. Dumb, deliberately silly? Yeah, I’ll go with that. It’s okay, not great but okay. If nothing else, it deserves a viewing from a sympathetic audience that’s in the right mindset.
Dino says RAR!
So how does this match up? Where does it fit in the grand scheme of things? I’m glad you asked. I actually rate this movie pretty high, because it’s fun. Remember fun? Before everything had to be dark and gritty? I used to enjoy fun, and Bonkers Candy. Why don’t they make that anymore? It’s not important, or mature, or even good, but it is greatly entertaining and for that, I’m willing to forgive a lot of the dumb and the bits that just don’t work.
Official Score: 19 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.