Murdered cop Denny Colt, mysteriously returned to life, protects Central City as its masked hero, the Spirit. Jewel thief Sand Serif, Dennys childhood sweetheart, competes with the Octopus, a master crook who shares the Spirits invulnerability and know
This contemporary take on Will Eisner’s 1940s comic is too strained to play well. It suffers from clumsy slapstick, so, when the hero is bashed with a lavatory, it’s hard not to argue with the villain’s desperate ‘come on, toilets are always funny!’ And Gabriel Macht’s black-masked, red-tied, fedora-sporting vigilante – who loves the ladies only slightly less than he loves his city – is a deliberately chiselled, simple good guy in contrast with the father-obsessed misfits of recent superhero movies.
Director/writer/comics auteur Frank Miller, who deconstructed Batman a generation before Christopher Nolan, even jokes about the hung-up-on-Daddy cliché as a police woman laboriously explains the antiheroine’s Electra Complex to impatient guys who just want to get on with hitting people.
The film’s problem is that it takes a reel or so for the penny to drop that the gorgeous, noirish, snowy, CGI-augmented visuals which evoke Miller’s Sin City are at odds with an essentially comical approach. It’s as if Miller were answering The Dark Knight’s ‘Why so serious?’ with ‘Why so whimsical?’ -- while an unrestrained, probably uncontrollable Samuel L. Jackson, cast as the Octopus (just a pair of evil gloves in the strips) seems bent on fulfilling a lifelong ambition to be special guest villain on the Adam West Batman show.
As in many comic adaptations, there’s not much of a story – Miller invents a Wolverine-ish origin Eisner couldn’t be bothered with – and supporting characters from various periods in the strip’s run are crammed in almost at random. It also substitutes roof-running for action, and misses much of the quirky charm and humanity of Eisner’s originals.
Like Sin City, The Spirit works best as a catalogue of glamorous, kinky pin-ups. Not since Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon have so many idealised beauties paraded in extreme fetishwear for a Boys Own’ movie: Eva Mendes redeems a ‘you’ve made a perfect ass of me’ photocopied bottom joke, Scarlett Johanssen dons hornrims and naughty nurse gear (she gets a Gestapo uniform too), Stana Katic sports the ultimate in tailored cop outfits and Jaime King shimmers as a siren of death only heard by cops and sailors.
This settles onto a shelf with Dick Tracy, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Doc Savage The Man of Bronze and The Shadow: displaying admirable love for pulp material and striking enviably sexy poses, but missing the emotional resonance, zeitgeist-c