Monday, September 7, 2009

Why So Serious?

The Spirit(2008)
Directed By Frank Miller
I guess by comparison to "Sin City" and "The Dark Knight", this movie looks pretty ridiculous and it is, but that's also whats enjoyable and ultimately redeemable about the Spirit.Frank Miller takes on the task of answering the question "so whose the spirit anyway?”, and has a fun time of it. From a newspaper comic created in 1940, a character without a formal origin in his own series; “he used to be cop Denny Colt....then he became the spirit...”.Filling in the blanks is a pretty straight forward comic book magic serum, but that’s about the only typical thing here, that and Miller's dialogue, which does sound like the left over pages from Sin City. The rest of the film is Samuel L. Jackson as The Octopus (because he has eight of everything), basically just bieng Samuel L. Jackson. More often than not he's slugging it out with "El Spirito", through mud, wardrobe changes, and plenty of visually iconic posturing atop rooftops.People are right to say this film is part noir, part comic book, part comedy, part parody, part WTF, but so was the original strip, where the Spirit was never really the main item of interest, but the pretense forWill Eisner's zany ideas and visual experiments.The only thing that really disappointed me about the movie was the costume choice, black instead of the original blue, as if "a blue costume...woah that's pushing it too far...".If you don't take this too seriously (I know it's hard to remember a time when superhero films weren't aiming for best actor awards), it's enjoyable and fun in a sublimely stupid sort of way. Like Dick Tracey meets well....Sin City.Frank Miller certainly owes a debt to Robert Rodriguez, whose animation techniques he mimics here, though they in turn were mimicking his early work to begin with.That may be the other real problem with this movie it looks like Frank Miller is stuck in another film, imitating himself. Still though, The Spirit made me laugh (intentionally and otherwise), it's not The Dark Knight or Iron Man, and at no point aims of seriousness or pathos. The Spirit is a crime fighter who wants kids to brush their teeth and loves the company of kittens and justice. His arch enemy is a mad scientist with idiotic clones and a sexy assistant Scarlett Johansen who shares his love for "fabulous" matching costumes from Kung-Fu master to Nazi themes. Among the movies first scenes is a fight between Octopus and Spirit, that rightly resembles Looney Toons, sound effects and all, and highlights all that is cartoonish about grown men in costumes constantly knocking each other down and never killing or even bruising each other.Nearly all super-heroes do this in one form or another, but the super adaptations of late, some of which have been very entertaining and decently made, have traded away much their ridiculousness, swagger, and yes childishness, for more lucrative teenage-angst and grim-gritty-realism. As if adding more violence and sex, is the only thing which separates adult storytelling from that for children.Miller’s Sin City (the comic book) was so violent and sexual, because it was Miller’s first book outside of the Comic's Code; a system of internal regulation not unlike the Hollywood production code, which also when abolished caused a new wave of sexuality, moral ambiguity and violence to burst forth onto the American screens. I personally don’t care for Miller’s work, he’s a decent artist, but mostly an old crank with no ideas of his own save bad ones. Will Eisner on the other hand would go on to later create the granfather of the graphic novel "A Contract With God"(, and his original The Spirit strips were some of the first American cartooning to fuse cinematic techniques to paper in camera angels, zooms, “cuts” etc.The Spirit and even The Punisher: War Zone, are at opposite ends of the same spectrum in a return to the crude, bold, and un-ambigous super-heroism of old, that I at least found refreshing. Is this a flat, un-dramatic, and ridiculous movie, well certainly, and I don’t think any honest person would argue with that after a few minutes. At the same time I dont particularly understand what people were really expecting here, but maybe that’s because I was familiar with the silliness of the character and director in general. It’s a black and white equivalent to “Speed Racer”, and if you can stomach one, I don’t see why you would have trouble with the other (though Speed is emphatically more visually pleasing)If the choice in modern costumed adventures is between films like this or more Hancock, Wanted, Spiderman 3, and Wolverine: Origins, then I'm all for “The Spirit”...that man really loves his speaks, it screams, and it’s got a cheesy one liner for everything.

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