The Spirit is an adaptation of an acclaimed and influential 1940s comic strip by revered comic artist and writer Will Eisner. The Spirit (played in the film by Gabriel Macht from The Good Shepherd and A Love Song for Bobby Long) is a sharply dressed, masked crime fighter who is loved by the ladies and supported by the police. He has no superpowers but is mysteriously invincible, as is his arch nemesis The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson). Frank Miller, a contemporary comic book legend, has written the screenplay and directed the film. Miller is responsible for the Batman comic story that influenced Tim Burton’s films Batman and Batman Returns, and he also created the comics Sin City and 300, both of which were very faithfully adapted for the big screen. Miller shared a director credit with Robert Rodriguez for the film version of Sin City so you would think that he was an ideal candidate for directing The Spirit film. But you would be wrong. Miller’s director credit for Sin City was very much an honorary title and he clearly didn’t learn much from watching Rodriguez work because The Spirit is an extremely amateurish effort.
The Spirit begins strongly and appears to have the same hyper stylised look that Sin City had but more retro in style and lighter in tone. The mixture of hardboiled dialogue and over-the-top action suggests that The Spirit is going to be a fun, camp, tongue-in-cheek ride. However, this initially promising opening is not sustained and it soon becomes apparent that aside from the occasionally inventive action sequence, The Spirit is a very poor film. Most of the film consists of long, rambling dialogue sequences and most of the characters elicit no interest whatsoever. Jackson as The Octopus is reasonably fun and Eva Mendes as femme fatale Sand Saref also does a decent job. However, Gabriel Macht as The Spirit lacks charisma and Scarlett Johansson hits an all time career low in her abysmal performance as Silken Floss, another femme fatale
Perhaps most significantly, The Spirit just doesn’t look that good. Miller clearly wanted to achieve the same Sin City comic book style, but he is only successful in the occasional action scene. Otherwise The Spirit simply looks like a cross between the Underworld films and something that Edward D. Wood Jr. may have directed. The film’s highly inept editing further compounds the limp visuals, bad acting and substandard script. The film lacks all sense of rhythm and too many pointless moments are dragged out unnecessarily. The Spirit resembles a bad student film that contains perhaps 15 minutes of excellent cinema that can be found somewhere within the film’s 108 minute running time. It is so perplexingly random and chaotic that it borders on being a Surrealist masterpiece. But it’s not.