Frank Miller's Will Eisner's The Spirit Movie For DVD: Some Thoughts

Abridged version: That sure was a Frank Miller movie. A slightly deeper examination follows.

So, yeah, this movie. I love Will Eisner's Spirit. I generally love Frank Miller. By the transitive property, I should love this movie. And I sort of do. That said, I can't say it's good, per se. But it's really hard for me to not enjoy a film where Frank the Tank's head is used as a weapon in the first 15 minutes or so.

It seems to have a hard time deciding whether it's a serious superhero movie or a live action Looney Tunes (which is a problem a lot of people have with his comic work; see the debate over whether All Star Batman... is a bat shit insane comedy or just bat shit insane shit), but it goes with the former enough that I got a kick out of it. And whatever else you can say about Miller as a director in his first solo outing, the man certainly has an eye for lovely visuals (including but not limited to Eva Mendes).

As far as the adaptation goes, well, I wasn't expecting it to be 100% faithful to the Eisner stories, so I didn't have a hemorrhage when we saw the Octopus's face, and pretty much rolled with all of the other Frank Millerizations. That includes his origin for the Spirit, which gives him a healing factor, among other things. If nothing else that explains how he can take the level of punishment he did in the comics in a film. Not that the film's remotely realistic in any way otherwise, but still. Miller also found a way to shoe horn in Greek mythology in a way that clashes with original wildly, but by the time it comes in to play during the climax, I'd already accepted that this is Frank Miller's Spirit, so it didn't bug me that much.

As a big fan of P'Gell, it was interesting to see elements of her character (well, at least the serial marriage thing) folded in to Sand Saref, which sort of makes up for her not being in the movie. Even if she totally should have been, and Miller can only be forgiven if he was planning on doing a whole movie about her.

As far as the perfomances go, Samuel L. Jackson seems to be having a ball hamming it up, and Gabriel Macht is perfectly good as the Spirit (although if they'd cut Miller's trademark narration, I would have enjoyed him and the movie infinitely better), but that's pretty well it on the good side. Eva Mendes, Paz Vega, and Scarlett Johansson all look like Eisner femme fatales, but are pretty much just window dressing. Mendes is totally out performed by the child actor who plays a young Sand Saref, Johansson seems bored in every scene she's in, and Vega is a Spanish actress playing a French woman whose only lines are pretty much nursery rhymes. Although maybe I'm judging her too harshly compared to her other comic based role in the Wanted: Weapons of Fate video game. Her five lines of dialogue there were much better than her five here.

It was nice to see Sarah Paulson, who I loved on the short lived Studio 60 and will probably enjoy on Cupid once I get around to watching it. That said, she's playing Ellen Dolan, that prototypical doting girlfriend, so there's not a lot for her to work with. It was funny to see Stana Katic playing a plucky rookie cop (since she plays a cynical veteran cop in Castle) and Dan Lauria is occasionally amusing as Dolan (in that he plays the angry boss in every cop movie ever), but this isn't the kind of movie you watch for the acting anyway, so that was a waste of two paragraphs.

So, yeah, I enjoyed Frank the Tank's directorial debut. All of the references to comics people (from the shout outs to everyone from Jim Shooter to Paul Pope in the credits to the fact that the Octopus rolls around town in a van with Ditko on the side of it) and the fact that Miller's is just as over the top here as he has been since he became untouchable in comics make for a very entertaining film, as long as you're able and willing to play along. Of course, I could say that about all of the comic book work he gets shit for on the internet. That said, I did find the allusion to a sequel to be hilariously optimistic on Miller's part. That said, I'd totally rent the DVD if anyone was ever stupid enough to let him make a sequel.

Bonus: A much better, crayon rendering based critical analysis of the film can be found here, thanks to Tim Curtin.

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