Directed by:Frank Miller
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johanson, Eva Mendes,
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of stylized violence and action, some sexual content, and brief nudity.
Parental Notes: This film is so highly stylized that the violence (and nudity/sexual content) is mostly cartoonish and unreal. There are, however, a few gruesome (if bloodless) shots, so sensitive or young kids should probably be left at home.
Coming Up In Film
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* January 7, The New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of Massenet’s “Thais” broadcast in local theaters. See www.fathomevents.com for details.
* January 10, The New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of Puccini’s “La Rondine” broadcast live in local theaters. See www.fathomevents.com for details.
* January 11 (11am) & 14 (7pm), Italy’s Grand Opera’s production of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” at Camera 7. See www.cameracinemas.com/operas.shtml for details.
* January 15-21, Berlin and Beyond Film Festival. See www.berlinandbeyond.com/ for details.
* January 16-17, Midnight Movie Madness: “Army of Darkness.” Midnight screenings at Camera 7 (Friday) and Camera 12 (Saturday). See www.cameracinemas.com/midnight.shtml for details.
* January 21, The New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of Puccini’s “La Rondine” broadcast in local theaters.
* January 23-February 1, Noir City Film Festival. This year’s theme is newspaper noir. See www.noircity.com for details.
* January 24, The New York metropolitan Opera’s production of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” broadcast live in local theaters. See www.fathomevents.com for details.
* January 25 (11am) & 28 (7pm) Italy’s Grand Opera’s production of “Norma” at Camera 7. See www.cameracinemas.com/operas.shtml for details.
“The Spirit” is like a thoroughly distilled shot of whiskey — sure, it has some complexity, but not much. Mostly it is what it is: a strong dose of comic book action, straight up. No mixers like character development or subtlety. Just strong men and beautiful women and a superhero facing off against a supervillain.
“What are you?” asks a woman the Spirit (Gabriel Macht) rescues early in the film (she is disconcerted by his apparent lack of concern about a knife sticking out of his torso). For most of the movie we don’t really know, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that one day he found he couldn’t die. So he put on a mask and set to work cleaning up his beloved city, fighting everyone on the wrong side of the law, from lowly pickpockets to The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), a crime kingpin with very similar survival abilities to the Spirit’s own.
“The Spirit” is shot in the same dramatic visual style as Miller’s last film, “Sin City.” The whole film looks like a comic book come to life, from the gorgeous shots of the Spirit backlit by his beloved city with his red tie blowing in the wind to the unbelievably over-the-top outfits most of the female characters wear. There are lush setting shots, unusual camera angles, and loving closeups aplenty (though some of the latter are airbrushed to the point that the women look a little plastic).
The visual style suited “Sin City,” which was a dark story set in a gritty city. “The Spirit” tells us several times that the city its main character so loves is a “pit” or a “hole” but it’s not shown. We see the Spirit rescue one woman from a gang of thugs and return a stolen bag, but that’s it. And everyone, even the crime victims, is pristine and clean. We don’t see anything in particular to make us see the city as dangerous. Worse, the characters are also so distilled down to their archetypal bones that they don’t feel like people. It’s hard to care for someone who seems more like a pretty picture than an actual person.
And that’s where “The Spirit” fails. The Spirit himself is the distillation of every trenchcoat-and-fedora-wearing detective from the forties, blended with another of every superhero who has miraculous healing abilities. He’s not a person, he’s an archetype. All the other characters have the same problem. The women are all distillations of every beautiful female jewel thief, or every good woman who stays behind to patch up the hero, or every exotic beauty who is as deadly as she is graceful. And while it makes for gorgeous viewing, it doesn’t make for an emotionally engaging film.
So yes, there’s a story about The Octopus trying to take over the world, and an old flame of The Spirit’s showing up again to complicate things, but it doesn’t really matter. “The Spirit” is a film you see because you love comics, because you love the idea of a Hero taking on a Villain and romancing a Woman (or several Women) along the way. If you’re looking for delicate shading of any sort, visual or metaphorical, this is not the film for you.