Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Spirit, or Why Films Don't Have to Be Like This

A dead man fighting crime against his arch-nemesis Samuel L. Jackson. That's about as much as you can tell you about the plot of The Spirit, because that's all that I understood. It's not a film that concerns itself with narrative clarity. It is, first and foremost, stylish. Super stylish. Hyper stylish. Stylish to the point of being annoying. It takes its comic book roots and smacks you in the face with them. All inked up in a Sin City sort of way, every shot resembling a panel from the source material. You can practically see the speech bubbles coming off the characters. You could see them if you closed your eyes too, because the acting is all bold type and capital letters. Any recognisable human sounds are thrown out the silhouetted window as the actors drone out one-dimensional chunks of words. The music parps. The faces shine. The green screen backgrounds scream at you even though you've fallen asleep. Nothing remotely engaging happens, because nothing seems to happen at all. If everything's in this misty highlighted landscape, and the people sound like parodies of themselves, why should I care? It drifts through cool-looking scenes in chunks and bits and never bothers to interest you.

Should comic book films really look like this? A drawing is stylish by necessity, a film can feature real things. Look at The Dark Knight, at Watchmen - style and substance and nobody's overdoing it. There's no need for so many fireworks. Ten minutes is fine, but then you get bored and annoyed and start looking at your watch. Even as a piece of character mythology, The Spirit falls way short. It's all half explained points and tangled backstory. The hero is a ladies man who loves his city. We know this because that's all he does. Kisses girls and talks about the city. The villain is doing something with clones and vases, but I honestly couldn't tell you what. And I was paying attention. I have no idea about the original work, but if it's any good at all, this film has badly let it down.

To Frank Miller and everyone else involved, stop it. Films do not have to be like this. Films should be about things. People and places and words being spoken properly. Style is what comes second. There was no need for this. If it serves any purpose, it's to remind us why films shouldn't be this way. Sin City was a novelty. This is taking the joke too far.


  1. But still, Scarlett Johannssen and Samuel L. Jackson are kind of entertaining together.

  2. This movie is a travesty, Frank Miller should not direct on his own. Tha scene where Jackson the the hero bash each other in the mud with like broken toilets and shit is a waste a complete waste of film and no more than a bugs bunny cartoon. I loved Sin City but this movie is as awful as any horrible graphic novel adaptation I've seen. You've hit the nail on the head while also being way too generous at the same time. This film is garbage through and through.

  3. This might have been a big hit on its style alone if we hadn’t just seen Sin City and Dick Tracy didn’t exist.

  4. Simon - They make back a few points. Maybe half a point. A bit of a point.

    Mike - And there was me thinking I might have gone too far with my criticism. I'm glad it's not just me.

    Drake - Yeah, it's a good thing everyone was already tired of it.

  5. I completely forgot about this film's existence! I loved Watchmen ...and The Spirit and Sin City (which I also hated) can't even compare.

  6. God I hated this!!! Sin city was far superior and this garbage was trying to cash in on the look of Sin City. I was bored stupid by the lack of any real plot or direction within the movie. I almost walked out of it because it was so bad.
    You're right it is all style over substance. sin city set the standard and the style should just be left alone....