Looking back: The Spirit (2008)

Looking back is a new feature here, whereby I watch an old film I may or may not have seen already and then give it a review afterwards. Typically these will be films that aren’t on general release at the cinema, as those will just appear in the normal reviews section.

As I say, the Looking Back feature will be a chance to view and review older films and may hopefully give my readers the opportunity to have their say on a chosen film in the comments, I might even be able to unlock a hidden gem for people to watch or maybe someone has a recommendation for me.

Today: The Spirit 

Director: Frank Miller

Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson

Synopsis: Rookie cop Denny Colt returns from the beyond as The Spirit, a hero whose mission is to fight against the bad forces in Central City.

One of the taglines for The Spirit upon its release was, “he’s something the world needs”. I’m not sure how true that statement is after recently watching this noir/superhero/Sin City clone of a movie.

The Spirit starts quickly. Highlighting our heroes desire to protect his city, Central City, and some of his extraordinary abilities early on. For instance, The Spirit can run a whole cities distance quicker than he apparently could if he had a car or a more common means of transportation. He’s not like everyone else you see.

Well, he is like someone else. The Octopus, played by Samuel L. Jackson, also has abilities and he has eight of everything apparently. The Octopus, is the villain of the piece and is the counter point to The Spirit. He wants to destroy Central City, The Spirit and possibly the entire world.

There’s a certain level of madness going on in this movie and it’s wise to try to accept that before you sit down and watch it. Some things came across as very incoherent to me, and even in hindsight they don’t make any sense. Samuel L. Jackson dressed as a Nazi while attempting to put an end to The Spirit, after he had just received some kind of belly dance, is one particular example that stood out.

Sticking with the madness is the action, being completely OTT and more Saturday morning cartoon than cult comic book. The kitchen sink is literally thrown around at one point and barely makes a mark on its intended victim. Again though, if you can accept this as the norm for The Spirit you’ll be fine.

The Spirit himself is, like in all noir, a good guy in a situation bigger than he imagined and falling for every girl along the way. He has a particularly gruff voice, a little bit like Christian Bale in Batman Begins but without sounding like he’s swallowed too much cough syrup. The man behind the mask, Gabriel Macht, does well in the role. Managing to make him likable if not necessarily relatable, he is pretty much a God after all.

Samuel L. Jackson appears to be enjoying playing the villain, trying to evoke Jack Nicholson’s The Joker but not quite getting there. Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson also seem to be having a good time, both playing strong characters both after separate goals.

It may look like Sin City, it does come from the same creator after all in Frank Miller. The Spirit however, is not as awful as a lot of people would have you believe, it’s also nowhere near as good as it could be. The best way to view it is with an open mind and just try to enjoy it for what it is, a silly, OTT, switch your brain off comic book film noir.


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