Comic Book Movies 101: The Spirit

The Spirit is not a good film. It has problems left right and centre, and yet I can still see what the appeal (if limited) is of such material. It has CULT stamped all over it and one day will perhaps have a good following.

The film starts with the Sin City type of visuals as the credits role to a rather suspicious soundtrack that sounds like it was ripped right off from Tim Burton’s Batman. The film then turns into what seems like a monochromatic Dick Tracy (he even says “I’m on my way” to a police call). But it’s for the goofy, barmy, nonsensical crowd. Take a look at the first beat down scene between the Spirit and the Octopus. It’s hilarious!  It’s over the top violence with very little blood. And Samuel L Jackson is given the chance to show us some of his physical skills as well as shoot his mouth off (which he does at length). It suddenly becomes a very, very funny film.

Take a look at the many scenes at the Octopus’ lair with his cloned sidekicks and his number two (played by Scarlet Johanssen). Watching the pair of them take their frustrations out on the clone slaves is a joy. And really lets you know this film is daft, goofy and not to be taken too seriously.

Or what about the scene when they have the Spirit captured and tied to a chair and they are parading about on stage in front of him in Nazi outfits? Seriously – it’s all a mess, but I have to say frankly a very enjoyable one. This is very select humour.

Gabriel Macht is too good looking a guy, and therefore perfect for playing the tropes of a dead guy who is in love with all the ladies (and literally hits on everyone he meets) but loves his city even more. But it is just ridiculous how chiselled and charming this guy is! The Spirit may have failed at the box office, but this guy has a chance of being someone quite special if he’s given the right opportunities. If it all goes belly up though then he’s gonna end up the new Billy Zane. So let’s hope he’s careful with the parts he decides to play.

Ok, enough of the daft humour. We do get moments of emotion which are drawn on from the Spirit’s past. It is perhaps these scenes that don’t work so well (as back story flashbacks tend to be a thorn in the side of these types of film). In fact, they could have left it at a look the Spirit gives the first dame he rescues at the start of a film. She asks him who he is, and he pauses as if unsure how to answer. This simple question has made him look into his own soul and he is hurt by what he sees. So instead of answering, he has to distract the lady so he can run from both her and his past.

Of course this background ties into his future as we discover this dead soul has the power to come back, but then so does his nemesis to a degree – and it’s all going to end in an anarchic showdown of bullets, fists and explosions.

The female supporting cast is like hot-lady heaven. Some of the ladies here are in on the joke (Johannsen) whereas others have trouble dealing with the two dimensions of their characters. But although it’s a mess (that just gets messier) I know it’s a film I’ll return to when I’m in an off mood and looking for an odd kind of film. It’s much better that it’s here than it not having been made at all.

Steven Hurst

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