Now that it’s been four years since it came out, I think it’s safe for you to actually watch The Spirit (2008). It’s okay; nobody will judge you.
What’s that? You heard it was terrible? Well yes, it is, but it’s exactly the right kind of terrible. So many bad movies aren’t particularly noteworthy in any way, but The Spirit is visually sumptuous and gleefully ridiculous at the same time. With hindsight, lowered expectations and an open mind, The Spirit kind of works as sketch comedy much better than it did as an attempted noir blockbuster. Seriously, you could take just about any five-minute stretch of this movie, and shoot it again as a Kids in the Hall sketch with exactly the same dialogue, and people would love it. (Although Eva Mendes looks much better in a skimpy dress than Kevin McDonald does.)
At first glance, this film is attempting to be as hard-boiled as they come. The visual style is lifted whole from Sin City (2005), not too surprising considering that this film is also written by Frank Miller, here trying his hand as a solo director. Perhaps fans were waiting for an excuse to tear into Miller for such past missteps as RoboCop 3 (1993) and the comic book The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Sure, he deserves criticism, but in hindsight, I don’t think The Spirit is (as it was frequently branded) a failed clone of Sin City. After all, if Miller really wanted to make another Sin City movie, he’d just make Sin City 2 (which actually is in the works, based on Miller‘s comics.) Instead, he made a film that looked exactly like Sin City, but which experimented with something the earlier film never touched; a sense of humour. I love Sin City, but the filmmakers and the audience are equally aware that laughter would destroy it.
It takes a while to realize how silly The Spirit is. We’re invited to appreciate the coolness of the visuals, and to accept the hard-boiled narration at face value, but after a while, the goofy moments accumulate to the point that they must be intentional. The Octopus is an unseen villain in the comics, but here he’s a cackling madman played with hysterical aplomb by Samuel L. Jackson. Some might grumble about Will Eisner’s classic work being destroyed by Hollywood hacks, but why grumble when Sammy Jackson is chewing up the scenery and dissolving kittens while wearing a Nazi uniform? The ultra-seriousness of Sin City flies out the window like a leaky balloon whenever this guy’s on camera, and I say good riddance. How can you take this movie seriously when Sam is muttering “that’s damn weird” while watching a living foot jump around his desk? Or when The Spirit avenges a kitten while shouting “This is for Muffins”? Or when the voluptuous Paz Vega tortures The Spirit via exotic dance, while he turns directly to the camera and tells us how crazy she is?
Which reminds me; the women of The Spirit are seemingly lifted straight out of my dirtiest dreams. Scarlett Johansson, Paz Vega and Mendes look indescribably hot, and are constantly filmed in skimpy outfits, or wet, or whipping their hair back in slow motion. Miller himself allegedly forgot how to speak English while trying to direct Vega’s belly dance, and it’s easy to see why. Sarah Paulson doesn’t make much of an impression as the “good girl” love interest, but amongst such delicious competition, it’s hardly surprising. So, why all the hypersexualized femme fatales? Hey, why not?
This movie crashed and burned during its initial release, with audiences and critics almost competitive in their eagerness to denounce the film’s utter crappiness. Now that both The Spirit and Sin City are somewhat distant memories, it might be a good time to give the flick a second chance, and have a bit of a chuckle at the goofiness of it all.