Sunday, May 7, 2017

Trash Bin: THE SPIRIT (2008)

Welcome to another installment of the TRASH BIN, where we watch the worst movies Hollywood has to offer (according to the critics), and give you our thoughts, good or bad. This week, we take a look at comic writer, artist, and now director, Frank Miller, and his film...THE SPIRIT!

The Spirit is a strange movie, as polarizing and as oddball as it can be, that much I think is safe to say. It's based on the Will Eisner comic strips of the same name, but doesn't resemble them in the slightest. It's got a big name in the director's chair, but they're not a big name because of anything related to film, Frank Miller. It resembles Sin City, but in reality is...well...I don't quite know what. It's dark and noir-ish, except when Sam Jackson starts going on about eggs, and dresses like a Nazi. The movie is full of these contradictions, and untangling what exactly I'm supposed to be looking at is like the Spirit himself untangling a good mystery. Except for here where it's hardly a mystery to begin with. Let me start over. Did I enjoy this movie? Oh, absolutely. Is it any good? Well...let me explain.

The Spirit is directed by comic book writer/artist Frank Miller, who, having been bit by the film bug after assisting director Robert Rodriguez adapt his comics into Sin City, decided to try his hand at directing a feature-length film. In some ways, knowing Frank Miller as a writer and artist is as useful here as knowing a director's filmography would be. Frank Miller's comics have always been known to have a very distinct, very macho, and often a very noir style to them. The original Sin City comics and his runs on Daredevil and Batman, I think, are the closest thing to his vision distilled and filtered through good editors to craft brilliant tales of epic heroes and larger than life characters. The Spirit is that to a tee, with Miller taking the characters created by Will Eisner and molding them into something that resembles something Frank Miller might've created in a new Sin City comic. That kind of visual thinking is evident throughout this film, with the cinematography being honestly kind of breathtaking. While Miller might not have had the whirlwind directing career he might've hoped for, I think he could've made for an interesting cinematographer, at least. The sharp blacks and whites that cover the film give it a rich atmosphere unlike anything you've ever seen.

Of course, the story is...well, it's a mess. In that way, while the visuals definitely harken to that 80's and early 90's Miller we saw in Daredevil or Batman, the storytelling definitely evokes his more modern style. That is to say, throwing everything and the kitchen sink into a blender, turning it to high, and seeing if the result is palatable. Coming from most people, that'd sound like a recipe for disaster, and disaster is certainly what a lot of critics saw this film as. But coming from a mind with tastes as unique (some might even say garish, tasteless, or even offensive) as Miller, the result somehow comes off as kind of charming. At least it does to me. This is most certainly not a film for everyone, and better men than me have tried to suss out what exactly Miller is on about in this, so the most I can do is sum up my feelings as honestly as I can.

The story, such as it is, focuses on Denny Colt (played by Gabriel Macht), a former cop who was killed on the job, but somehow came back to life. Seizing the opportunity, Denny lets the city thinks he's dead and adopts the mantle of the Spirit, a vigilante who seems on some level superhuman, or at least tougher than most, and who protects the people (mostly the women) of his city from criminals. The Spirit fights to keep the city safe, a fight made tougher by the emergence of a criminal known as the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), a master of disguise after a mystical substance that holds the secret of immortality, and someone who also may have the key to Denny learning what really brought him back from death. At the same time, a figure from Denny's past, Sand Sarif, returns to the city and makes things more complicated for him as he weighs his duty to his city against his personal desires.

Now, that's just the broad strokes of it, and it doesn't betray just how odd this movie really is, especially visually. The story is conventional but the way it unfolds zigzags more than a confused squirrel given bad directions. It has weird, surreal visuals, especially with anything involving the Octopus and his femme fatale sidekick, Silken Floss (played by Scarlett Johansson). The Octopus and Silken Floss are dressed as Nazis at one point in the movie. Not for any real reason, mind you, it just seemed to be a cool theme in the moment, I guess, as did the samurai/geisha outfit they wear in a different scene. They have a seemingly endless supply of bone-headed henchmen who all look the same and who wear t-shirts with a single phrase on them, usually for no real reason (my favorite are the pair who have shirts that say "Adios" and "Amigos").The city treats the Spirit like a hero, except for halfway through the movie after the Spirit's trousers come down showing off his boxers, at which point the city thinks he's an idiot. The Spirit is a pig who flirts with every woman he sees, swearing up and down that he loves them and that they're different before moving onto to the next girl, sometimes RIGHT IN FRONT of the previous one, and it's played for laughs.

It's a melodrama to the highest degree, but unlike Sin City,with was a melodrama played absolutely straight and with an earnestness that made it so that it was hard NOT to get invested, the Spirit plays with its tone, almost trying to parody superhero tropes and hitting every genre that it can possibly hit in 90 minutes. It's weird. It's wacky, at times. And Sam Jackson can't stop talking about eggs, for some reason. But somehow, it all seems to all at least feel like it's the same movie and the same world. It almost feels less like it's supposed to be a coherent movie or story and more like Frank Miller kind of just wanted to keep the audience entertained until the credits rolled. It's VERY much a taste issue. I, for one, quite enjoyed my time with the film. It's out there, it's wacky, it can sometimes be nonsensical, and it can be absolutely sleezy, but the characters are fun. Jackson and Johansson very clearly had a lot of fun with their roles, and I have so much fun watching them. The visuals are gorgeous, and the style can often hold my attention, even while I acknowledge that any substance within it as shallow as the yoke of a broken egg.

It's very much an aquired taste. In a lot of ways, I think it's similar to enjoying Rob Zombie's films like House of 1000 Corpses. Either you'll like it or you won't. For me, even with all the admitted problems the film has, it doesn't let any of it get in the way of the sheer fun the film is having with itself. It tries anything and everything and leaves no stone unturned. For a lot of people, it's gonna feel disjointed, jumbled, tonally brain-dead, with characters you hate or don't care about. But for me, and for people like me, it's a rockin' good time and a sick, twisted journey into the mind of Frank Miller. That's about as well as I can describe it. Check it out and decide for yourself.


Rotten Tomatoes: 14%
Metacritic: 30
IMDb: 4.8/10 1/4


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