I don’t know where the world got the idea that Frank Miller is a good director. Maybe it’s because he wears a cool hat. Sadly the truth is that drawing comic books no more qualifies one to make movies than does reviewing them. Miller is perhaps the greatest writer of comic books the world has ever seen, but he belongs there on the page, in two unmoving dimensions. Given a camera, the man seems clueless.
Don’t talk to me about Sin City. Miller co-directed it with Robert Rodriguez, a man whose talents I have come to appreciate all the more after watching Miller’s first solo directorial effort The Spirit. Left to his own devices Frank has taken a classic comic book character, beloved by hardcore readers, stripped him of any real identity, and made a laughingstock out of him. He’s a ridiculous paper cut out, roving around on the screen monloguing and being monologued at by the movie’s obligatory Samuel L. Jackson played villain, The Octopus. The Spirit is a joke and the complex world in which he lives, the city which we’re told he’s so much a part of, is as laughable as it is confused.
As a superhero, The Spirit’s powers leave something to be desired. His abilities? He can’t be killed. Or he’s already been killed and he’s walking around anyway. We’re never sure which it is. Is The Spirit invincible or is he some sort of crime fighting zombie? Crime fighting zombies might be good. It’s too bad Miller’s movie never goes that direction. Instead it obsesses over The Spirit’s shallow, meaningless, mostly sexless relationships with a wide variety of batty, bosomy women.
Scarlett Johansson is the Octopus’s number one henchman and falls flat. Eva Mendes is a bad girl, obsessed with things that are shiny. Sarah Paulson is the perfect girl, who The Spirit promises his heart to before turning his head to make out with the next. The list goes on. I’m not sure why most of these women are even in the film, they contribute little, heck almost nothing of real value to the plot. I guess Frank had a lot of low cut tops laying around. The man loves PG cleavage.
Frank also loves bad special effects. At times he struggles mightily to ape the style of Sin City, giving it his own twist. It’s a disaster. Worthy of specific dishonor are scenes underwater, in which characters flail around in some sort of odd, half-speed motion which achieves all the high-tech excitement of a Sea Monkeys commercial. Other times, Miller seems to recognize his visual style is daft and simply gives up on the stylizing, points his camera at whoever happens to be droning, and falls asleep. Sometimes The Spirit looks like the leftover shadow of a comic book page, sometimes he looks like a used car salesman in a mask.
The Spirit is a movie without a direction, a vision, or a definitive path. It’s all over the map. Frank can’t even commit to a time period to set it in. Characters look and dress as if they’re living in the 40s. They talk as if they’re trapped in a Double Indemnity parody. They drive classic, 1940’s automobiles. They use prominently branded cell phones to take digital photos and send text messages. Women who dress like decidedly unliberated, damsel in distress noir nurses, run their own hospitals and perform complex surgeries. Every office has a Xerox machine, apparently so Miller could invent a scene in which Eva Mendes decides to photocopy her butt. I’m pretty sure butt Xeroxing wasn’t possible until the 60s, when Xerox actually invented the machine. In Miller’s world though, the machine must exist so that the photocopying of Eva’s butt eventually can lead to a cheesy, poorly chosen double entendre. Frank just can’t help himself.
So bad is Miller’s script and so misguided his direction that it’s almost pointless to consider anything else going on in this movie. Sure Gabriel Macht is a dead end as a superhero, but maybe he only sucks because he spends the most time in front of Miller’s camera. Sure Samuel L. Jackson seems to be having a blast playing the Octopus, but maybe he should have thought twice when it comes to prancing around in that Nazi costume. Not that it matters, he’s not capable of saving this film. No one is. Miller’s movie is unforgivable; a mess of random, disconnected scenes, boring speeches, limp-wristed snark, and inconsistent special effects. Frank Miller is a man without a vision, without a direction, and without a clue. The Spirit may be immortal, but his movie is dead on arrival.