I saw The Spirit when it came out in theaters, and I enjoyed it in all it's silly, uneven, free-wheeling splendor. I was a little surprised by the degree of vitriol leveled at the film from the online fan community, to say nothing of what most film critics thought of it. I mean, was it just me? Had my critical faculties deserted me on the day I saw Frank Miller's directorial debut?
I took a second look at The Spirit, this time in the comfort of my own living room on Blu-Ray (coming out nationwide tomorrow), and I stand by my initial assessment. I don't care that the film bares more resemblance to Diet Sin City than Eisner's original series. The lack of plot doesn't bother me - there's more to movies than plot. What I see when I watch The Spirit is a collection of distinctive images, unearthly characters (matched by some unearthly performances), and action sequences that rely on a set of physics most commonly found in cartoon and video games.
The end result is not quite a movie at all, but rather a moving collage of what Frank Miller thinks of when he thinks of the Spirit. It might bare little resemblance to what Spirit fans think of the character, but for fans of extreme and indulgent pop art, Miller's vision contains several moments that should not be missed.
And with that, I present: Ten Moments That Makes The Spirit Worth Watching....
Plot spoilers after the jump, but again, why would you watch this movie for the plot?
1. The Giant Wrench (0:13:18)
During a outlandishly cartoonish fight scene early in the film, a gigantic wrench appear out of no where and is used to hit The Spirit in the crotch, and then as a ramp for the Spirit to run up so he can achieve the height needed to kick the villainous Octopus in the face. It was at this point in the film that I suspected the next 90 minutes would have at least some entertainment value for a person who enjoys slapstick and absurdity, such as myself.
2. Wordplay (0:18:00)
The following exchange occurs between the Spirit and one of his many love interests, with complete dramatic sincerity; "The Octopus knows something!" "Why do you say that?" "Because he just told me he knows something!" This got a big laugh from the audience when I watched it, and I have to believe it is an intentionally silly bit or writing in the vein of Strangers with Candy.
3. "No Egg On My Face" (0:23:30)
I have no idea who The Octopus is in the original comics. But in the movie, he is a crazy scientist who talks a lot about eggs. He is also Samuel L. Jackson's best role since Pulp Fiction. At this moment in the film, Octopus says he refuses to have egg on his face. He then shoots an offending henchmen and screams, "NO! EGG! ON! MY! FACE!....not a globbb!".
Then, in a whisper, starring at his reflection in his gun,"...not a glob." If there is one scene you need to see in this movie, it's this one. I mean, look at this. Madness on film.
4. Elevator Silhouettes (0:43:00)
Miller uses a simple visual gimmick here to spice up a short expositionary dialogue scene - three characters travel up in an old iron cage elevator, and we only see their back-lit silhouettes as they ascend. But is this live action? Is it animation? Is it some sort of aftereffects composite? Whatever it is, the body language is pushed to cartoon-level exaggeration, and it's a blast to watch. I'd love to see an an entire short film shot like this.
5. The City Is My Weapon (0:56:20)
This is one of the few sequences in the film that works as a genuine piece of cinematic storytelling. It's an action sequence that illustrates a central part of the story; The Spirit is part of the city he inhabits. As he fights off thugs, the Spirit uses literal pieces of the city in combat; snowballs, a manhole cover, the sidewalk itself. There are a lot of things for detractors of this movie to point to to tear it down, but I tell you what; ain't nothing wrong with this scene.
6. "It smells....dental..." (01:01:10)
When the Spirit wakes up tied to a dentist's chair facing a giant swastika, his reaction is my favorite line of the movie: "Dental and Nazi....great."
7. The Death of Danny Colt (01:05:15:)
Another all around solid sequence, this one dealing with a whole lot of exposition in a sharp, visually interesting way. Highlights include a morgue evoked with only a man, a corpse, and a red panel of ceiling, and a great POV shot of Danny trying to claw his way out of being buried alive (Miller's solution to the no-light-inside-a-coffin problem? Just light it anyway!).
8. "Get me a tie, and it sure as hell better be red!" (01:19:45)
When the Spirit cheats death yet again and wakes up in a ER, he just yanks the EKG cables right off and power-walks down the hallway with his sidekicks in tow. Lead actor Gabriel Macht made a fan of me with his performance in this film, and this scene is just one shining example of how he manages to nail a swaggering walk and pulp-noir growl with just the right amount of sincerity.
9. "We are locked and loaded!" (01:21:50)
Another performer who knows exactly how to play a cartoon character is Stana Katic, who plays Detective Morgenstern, a comically earnest rookie cop with a off-the-charts Bal'mer accent. In this scene, she whips out a gigantic gun out of nowhere that looks like one of those Zorg Guns from The Fifth Element, but MORESO. And it's a perfect character moment, because nothing phases this gal, she's enthusiastically unflappable. If that makes sense. Okay so maybe I have a little crush on this character. Shut up.
10. "Let's die!" (01:28:58)
Again, just another tip of the hat to Gabriel Macht for a killer line delivery. He's in Whiteout next, you know. I'll see it.
There you have it. Ten iron-clad reasons to check out one of the most maligned comic book movies in the last decade. And if that's not enough, it's also got Scarlett Johansson giving one of the most confused performances I've ever seen on screen. You feel bad for her, you do. You get the sense she couldn't stop starring at the green screens, and thinking, "This is not why I went to acting school."