Frank Miller’s directorial debut, The Spirit, has been attracting a lot of fanboy rage and geek disdain. Adapted from the weekly newspaper comic by industry innovator Will Eisner, it is set to be the most divisive comic book movie of the year, putting a cap on what has been a superlative 12 months for heroes (super or otherwise) on the silver screen.
I just had the opportunity to see a preview clip-reel of the film, which consisted of short, less-than-5-minute segments, punctuated by introductory and explanatory sections from Deborah DelPrete, one of the producers. I’ll save my overflowing emotions for later, let me give you the long and short of what we were allowed to see, in stylish prose. Clip 1. Opening scene, plus credits. The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) gets a call (on his cell phone!) from Detective Sussman, telling him to get down to the docks. As the opening credits flash across the screen, The Spirit embarks: first through the cemetery, then atop apartment blocks – a black silhouette, with a red tie standing out in the night-time dark. A lone harmonica plays, building up to a full-blown rousing strings theme straight out of the Danny Elfman superhero theme text book. As he jumps from roof to roof, The Spirit speaks to his city through a voice-over – ‘my city… she’s there for me… my sweetheart… my play-thing’. He detours, after hearing a scream, and makes short work of the two goons holding up a dame in an alleyway. As he bids the girl farewell, she gasps at the sight of a knife in his back, and at the dismissive way he tugs it out and discards it. ‘What are you?’ she whispers; The Spirit looks confused, contemplative, and leaves without an answer. A cop sidles up to her, ‘that’s The Spirit’. Clip 2. The first glimpse of girl-gone-bad Sand Saref (Eva Mendes). Down at the docks, Sand and her comrades are shifting two wooden boxes. However, they are ambushed by the Octopus (Samuel L Jackson), who opens fire on them. Saref dives into the water, dragging the boxes with her, as bullets dart either side of her. The Octopus cackles as he fires off countless bullets, pulling out fresh guns as they are required – a close up reveals a maniacal grin. A stray bullet catches the chain linking the boxes together, and Sand hastily chooses one, swimming off. The other is left to the Octopus, who dives to grab it. Sand escapes, with a wounded comrade, hoping that they had ‘the right one’. Clip 3. A fight scene between The Spirit and The Octopus, exhibiting their resilience to pain. Pure Looney Tunes. The music here adopts a Mickey Mousing approach, with orchestral stabs with each punch and hit. They fight in the mudflats, and trade one-liners (‘…you’re giving me a headache, Octopus’). At one point, the Octopus reaches into the muddy water, and pulls a huge, metal lamppost out from underneath the Spirit, between his legs, lifting him up. Quickly recovering, the hero pounces on his foe, and lands punch after punch after punch in an absurd, cartoonish portrayal of violence. Later, he hits the Octopus in such a way that he spins towards the camera, dizzied, eyes crossed, and he collapses, accompanied by a pitch slide downwards from the score. He disappears in the mud. The Spirit is searching for him, the camera cuts to a close-up of the hero’s face, as the Octopus rises up behind, peeking over each shoulder in a pantomimic moment (he’s behind you! style). The camera pulls back, to show the madman lift aloft a huge, dirty toilet seat, poised to strike. Clip 4. The Octopus’ lair, underneath Central City. His henchmen are all clones, but they are stupid, fat, balding meatheads (not unlike Tor Johnson). He is cast as a mad scientist, looking for the perfect heavy. His most recent experiment has been a failure – the product is a small, bald head attached to a foot, which hops around. ‘That’s plain damn weird’ he exclaims, and continues to mumble as his assistant, Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) tries to talk business. She is all pout and purr, and doesn’t seem too bothered that she is practically bursting out of her tight, low-cut bodice. The Octopus is bored – ‘I wish the Spirit were here so I can get some real killin’ done’. Floss explains that it is more complex than that. The Octopus, however, knows all about The Spirit’s condition, and special powers, and reveals that he put the same ‘stuff’ in the masked detective and himself. Clip 5. The clip opens with a stylish shot of Sand Saref framed in a handcuff. She is wearing a towel, and The Spirit is there to apprehend her. [OK. Need to clarify something here. What was not said in this scene, but was prefaced by Del Prete, was that Sand Saref and The Spirit (when he was simply Denny Colt) were young friends before her turn to crime. In the comic, she recognises him on sight. In the film, she doesn’t. Not immediately, anyway.] ‘Hands behind your head’. She complies, and the towel falls. As the camera cuts to maintain a PG-13 perspective, her curvaceous body is revealed in silhouette. The Spirit is embarrassed, and turns away – telling her to dress herself. Again, she complies. They trade ‘sensual’, flirtatious one-liners: ‘you’re nothing but a common criminal’, ‘there’s nothing common about me… do I look like a good girl?’. The Spirit asks about her swag, a vase that stands on a table in her apartment. She reveals that the vase was not her intended prize – that she took the wrong box. The other box contained treasure: ‘something a little girl’s dreams are made of’. Here, The Spirit appeals to her, saying that he knew a little girl, a little girl ‘who needed a hero’. She slowly begins to recognise the man behind the mask – ‘he’s dead! …you’re dead!’. In disbelief, she beats him, pushes him… through the window. Clip 6. Towards the end of the film. The Spirit is closing in on The Octopus. In a stylistic reprise of the opening scene, he runs and jumps across rooftops. Plus monologue. ‘I have an entire city as my weapon’, as he topples a man off a balcony into an electricity wire, frying him. The Spirit somersaults up fire escapes, slides down roof ledges. He lands on the street, as more goons open fire: ‘…she provides for me… protects me… she’s a good mother’. A manhole cover pops up, and he uses it as a shield. He jumps down into the sewer, to be met by a sultry, strutting Silken Floss, who playfully whispers into his ear, before jabbing a syringe full of mysterious blue serum into his neck.
The Spirit is released 1st January 2009