Big-screen comic-book adaptations can only go so far, as proven by Frank Miller’s first solo effort as writer/director, after sharing credit with Robert Rodriguez on “Sin City” and collaborating on “300” and “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.”
Derived from Will Eisner’s seminal 1940’s graphic series, set in Central City, it introduced The Spirit as a crusading murdered cop, Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht), who mysteriously returns from the dead, dressed in a suit, red tie and fedora. He was one of the first masked avengers. His nemesis is a crazy criminal called the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), aided by Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega) and assorted henchmen (played by Louis Lombardi). And there’s a stolen elixir of eternal life.
Stilted, subsidiary characters flit in and out, like The Spirit’s boss (Dan Lauria), his doctor Ellen (Sarah Paulson), even his childhood sweetheart-turned-jewel-thief, Sand Saref (Eva Mendes).
Visionary Frank Miller falls flat here, sacrificing a potential franchise. Using starkly contrasted visuals (inky black, stark white, streaks of crimson), he’s created a bleak yet bland, big-screen illustration, a self-conscious, weirdly pointless parody.
Neither The Spirit nor the Octopus characters are developed, so there’s no emotional commitment, meaning there’s less at stake when they fight. And the props for their scuffles include a toilet seat and a kitchen sink. As for dialogue, it’s peppered with threats like, “I’m gonna kill you with all kinds of dead,” and stilted commands like, “Shut up and bleed.” It’s no wonder that the actors look inept. Even the production values are murky or maybe Miller didn’t care that back in the 1940s there were no cellphones.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Spirit” is a hyper cartoon-like 2. Give up on this ghost.