Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Spirit

There are days when I’m glad we don’t have a rating system.

The Spirit is a curious piece of cinema. Marketed as a gritty follow up to Sin City, adapted from a comic strip that attempted to break the clichés of superheroes, and packed with an all star cast. What the audience gets is in fact a camp, cliché ridden superhero tale full of over the top scenery chewing performances. But does that make it bad?

Here’s the thing, The Spirit is an incredibly dumb film but gloriously so. In all of my years of cinema trawling, there are few films with such a blatant disregard for characterisation, pacing and subtlety. The film opens pretty much with a fight between the titular hero “Spirit” (Gabriel Macht) and the villainous “Octopus” (Samuel L Jackson), two seemingly immortal characters tearing each other up in a swamp with whatever items they can find as weapons. The Octopus hits the Spirit over the head with a cistern, which gets stuck, before proclaiming “Come on! Toilets are always funny!” to an indifferent, dead sigh from the audience. That’s the level we’re at here.

Another sequence, one that has become slightly infamous, involves the Octopus delivering a monologue dressed as a Nazi. Though it has been criticised as tasteless, I assumed it was the very silly humour of the movie coming in to play, with each scene trying to hammer home how evil the Octopus is. The ridiculous nature of this should really have been taken as read; given that shortly afterwards he dissolves a very cute kitten, much to the disgust of the girls sitting on the same row in the cinema. But like the toilet joke, it was the reaction that I found funnier than the film itself.

Performance wise, the film is okay. Gabriel Macht plays a good Bruce Campbell, Scarlett Johannson plays a plank of wood convincingly and Samuel L Jackson once again proves that no one else can play Samuel L Jackson quite like he can. Eva Mendes also shows up in the film as the femme fatale of the film, also providing by far the worst performance on display here. Everyone else is at panto level, she could convincingly transport her character to “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace” without changing a thing. Sadly, at least that is supposed to be a parody.

The characters are never fully explained, with the exception of San Sarif (Mendes) who gets a terrible, extended flashback which does break the big, dumb fun aesthetic of the rest of the film. It’s even stranger given that her character has no depth in the first place, so it’s difficult to care. Basically it can be summed up as “I was poor and like diamonds, so went off and got rich.” Done. Takes twenty five minutes in the film.

The main draw of the movie is the cinematography, and if you’ve seen the trailer I’m sure you’ll agree it is absolutely stunning. Almost every shot in the film looks fantastic, with the Sin City colour palette being brought out once more and pushed to its extremities. It’s also quite nice to be able to see what’s happening in the fight sequences, which hasn’t happened for a while. However, given the Sin City colour scheme and total rewriting of the lore of the comic (for example, the Spirit in the comic is a normal man who fakes his death to become a ghostly vigilante figure, here he actually dies and is resurrected as a superhero), the lack of fame of the comic (really, who had heard of it before the film?) and with the full title being “Will Eisner’s The Spirit”, why Miller didn’t just say it was his. Maybe he realised the script was really bad, and needed a scapegoat.

But the Spirit is a difficult film to review, it’s incredibly pretty and a lot of fun, but it is shit. I’m not entirely sure if I even enjoyed the film at all, or whether it was just the audience response, which is rarely a good sign.

Perhaps it would have been better received if it had advertised the more ridiculous aspects of the film a bit more heavily rather than it's generally dark marketing campaign, even so it still sits in the grand canon of "so bad it's moderately entertaining-ish". Just remember, it has nothing to do with Sin City.

And to think, I saw this instead of "The Wrestler".