The Spirit, the first feature written and directed by Frank Miller, got a pretty bad reception when it debuted. I’m a huge Frank Miller fan, but the negative buzz was such that even I stayed away from the theaters despite actually being intrigued by the movie. That was my mistake because I really missed out on something strange and, ultimately, entertaining to no end.
Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) is a fresh-faced young cop protecting the city he loved from the forces of evil. Of course, every fresh-faced young cop in movies either goes crooked or gets killed. Denny gets killed, but the thing about Denny is he just can’t seem to stay dead and returns as The Spirit, the hero Central City needs in its war with The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and his organized crime syndicate. The appearance of the beautiful thief Sand Serif (Eva Mendes, looking better than ever), two mysterious cases, and a bevy of beautiful ladies only complicates The Spirit’s quest for vengeance.
The resulting film is a fast-paced, energetic, and seriously funny romp that never takes itself seriously while having quite a bit of fun with film noir and Miller’s more serious work. Samuel L. Jackson, in particular, seems to really have a hell of a lot of fun in his wild costumes and is completely over the top (in a good, megalomaniacal sort of way). Gabriel Macht is engaging as The Spirit, with the comic character’s boyish charm firmly intact.
For all the abuse the film took upon its theatrical release, director Frank Miller definitely has a vision. He knows what he wants, and after the debacle of Robocop 2, he’s made sure he’s going to get it this time. The dialogue is hypermacho film noir chatter that is distinctively late Frank Miller, and everything from The Spirit’s fedora to the actresses involved reveal Miller’s giddy, adolescent fingerprints. The movie might have been better in a more experienced director’s hand, but it probably wouldn’t have been as much breathless fun.
The Spirit 2-Disc Special Edition DVD doesn’t offer a ton of special features, compared to other movies earning the moniker of Special Edition, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Specifically, the special features seem to go to great pains to explain just what the point of the whole movie is: a celebration of comic book excess and deliberate cheese. Green World takes great pains to explain The Spirit‘s highly stylized world (even more so than companion piece Sin City) and to provide insight as to why the backgrounds were blacked out or why scenes were liberally washed in tones of gold or red.
Miller on Miller is Frank Miller doing what he does so well: talking about himself, comic books, and the hows and whys of how he became the semi-lovable be-hatted maniac he is today. (He also does a director’s commentary, in case you want to hear more [you probably will].) This is a fascinating feature for any fan of comic books, and anyone who looks at the content of The Spirit and wonders just why it is so damn… over the top.
A really interesting thing Miller says in this is about knowing when to not do too much, because movies can give you so much more stuff to play with. With the technology they use in The Spirit, Miller could pretty much draw something and they could replicate it exactly, so the pressure is knowing when to stop; however, this movie is incredibly over the top. Knowing that this is Frank Miller with some restraint makes me wonder just how mad this movie COULD have been had he just said, “Screw it, I’m doing everything I want and damn the results!”
Samuel L. Jackson parades around in a samurai outfit and a Nazi SS uniform, and that’s the sedate, boring version of the movie. The Octopus carries around more guns than Charlton Heston’s yard sale, and that’s Frank holding back. The Spirit practically flies between buildings, and that’s the lucid and reality-based moment of the film. I can only imagine how crazy this film could have ended up.
The Spirit is a treat for the eyes and ears. The DVD looks gorgeous and clear on a variety of different screens. The sound, offered in both Dolby 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, is crystal clear and very well defined. It gets a bit loud at times, but the explosions never muffle the dialog. In a lot of films with action scenes, you have to constantly adjust the volume to find the happy medium, but The Spirit doesn’t require this.
The animated menus are particularly impressive and appropriately stylish, as is the DVD’s slipcover (which folds open to display a centerfold of The Spirit and his various women). A digital copy is included in case you want to bring Silken Floss and company along on your next car trip.
The Spirit deserves a second chance on DVD. The trailers did not do this movie justice. So long as you’re not going in expecting something even remotely serious and are willing to embrace the craziness of what is literally a comic book movie, the movie might hit you in the right spots. I guess it depends on how you feel about Samuel L. Jackson acting crazy.
US correspondent Ron Hogan should have given The Spirit a shot back in December when it hit theaters, rather than just bashing it from trailers alone. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.