Adapting from his mentor Will Eisner’s much loved superhero strip, writer-director Frank Miller flies solo for the first time following his debut partnering Robert Rodriguez on the crude, overhyped fanboy favourite ‘Sin City’. ‘The Spirit’ is clearly cut from the same cloth, utilising the same headache-inducing, ripped-from-the-page graphic style and employing a similar cast of grim heroes, outrageous supervillains and scantily clad, largely interchangeable women.
The story, such as it is, unfolds in the battered urban landscape of Central City, where the eponymous indestructible crimefighter (unremarkable newcomer Gabriel Macht) and his jocular nemesis The Octopus (Samuel L Jackson) struggle for possession of a vase containing the blood of Greek demigod Hercules, abetted by a parade of hapless lovelies: Eva Mendes’s self absorbed jewel thief Sand Serif, Sarah Paulson’s drab nice girl Ellen and Scarlett Johanssen in a thankless, irrelevant role as evil sidekick Silken Floss.
Miller directs with stunning ineptitude, shooting entire scenes in close-up without ever establishing the location, flashing from monochrome to colour without warning or reason, keeping his action sequences as perfunctory as possible to make way for endless, excruciating scenes of exposition. His work as a writer is, if anything, even worse, throwing in pretentious, portentous voiceovers, hammy gold-tinted flashbacks and repeated attempts at slapstick and comic wordplay which, without exception, fall deadeningly flat. A few scenes – such as the one where Jackson and Johanssen dress up as Nazis for no apparent reason – threaten to spill over into outright drug-induced camp, but Miller lacks the imagination to take them beyond simply bizarre and annoying.
In the world of graphic novels, Frank Miller is king: a fine visual storyteller with an unimpeachable canon. Let’s hope ‘The Spirit’ puts an end to his moviemaking ambitions before that impressive record is irrevocably besmirched.