Thursday, July 28, 2011

Give Us Your Worst, Part 11: The Spirit

This one almost slipped through the cracks of The Middle Room. We never saw it in theaters, though at one point we'd planned to do so, and we hadn't gotten around to seeing it on DVD. When we were planning this project, this movie had certainly come up, but then we'd somehow forgotten it along the way.

It wasn't until we were skimming the listings at Hulu that we stumbled across it. We put it on immediately, lest we forget once more.

We've seen many bad movies in the past month, many awful ones. We've seen movies so dull we could barely remain awake, so painfully stupid, we couldn't comprehend how they came into existence. Indeed, many of the movies we've already seen were worse than Frank Miller's adaptation of The Spirit.

But this is the only movie we've seen that was blasphemous. Will Eisner's The Spirit comics occupy a key place in the history of the medium: they are widely seen as the first truly literary superhero comics. They elevated the genre itself and inspired a generation of writers.

To say this failed to do them justice is an understatement so cynical as to be meaningless. This is their inversion, a sickeningly twisted revision that turns the Spirit into the very thing the comics were rising above: cheap, exploitative garbage. The worst kind of pulp. And, perhaps, the single worst work to bear Frank Miller's name.

And, given his writing on All-Star Batman and Robin and The Dark Knight Strikes Again, that is certainly saying something.

There's no mystery as to how this film came about. Miller had worked on Robert Rodriguez's Sin City, where he'd been credited as a co-director. There, he must have seen a world of film production far different from Hollywood blockbusters. Rodriguez's sets are famously fun, as are his movies. He's known for producing films quickly and cheaply, which he does by - let's be honest - cutting corners and not sweating every detail. Regardless, he's proven time and time again that he's able to make solid, entertaining movies at a fraction of the price of larger studios.

Clearly, this style isn't as easy to copy as Miller must have thought. And he certainly does try to copy it, using the same blue screen/CG backdrops and costuming approaches. But there's nothing similar about the results.

This movie looks and feels like it was written and directed by a group of fourteen year-old boys, using their home computers for special effects. If you've spent any time on Youtube watching fan videos of the Matrix, you've seen things that look precisely like this.

Nothing about Miller's The Spirit is entertaining. The backgrounds blend together into a uniform grey, while the characters feel like cheap knock-offs. Miller re-writes the Spirit's origin, giving him superpowers and reducing him to a generic costumed avenger. He abandoned the Spirit's classic blue coat, opting for a black trench coat instead. Simultaneously, the character's mental abilities have plummeted, and he's been re-imagined as a lunatic.

Little is consistent - in one scene, the Spirit is worshipped as a savior; in another, a crowd is disappointed when he doesn't fall to his death. Characters are psychotic in one scene and rational in the next. The only real constant is the film's exploitation of women, but then Frank Miller has been consistent in that regard over his entire career.

This movie was boring. It was pointless. Stupid beyond belief. The jokes - and there were many - weren't remotely funny, and the story was bizarre and random.

It was, in a word, garbage.

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