Monday, January 05, 2009

Movie Review: The Spirit

Classic comic book creator Will Eisner died a few years back. He was a big enough figure among comic creators that the annual award for comic book writers and artists is called an Eisner Award. Eisner himself handed them out right up until his death.

Eisner's big creation "The Spirit" hasn't been published as a monthly in a long time but collections of them started being released in bound hardcover format near his death. With Eisner's passing there were several tributes to him made. There was a Batman/Spirit crossover about two years ago. And now there's a movie.

I wasn't sure what to think when I started seeing the trailers for this movie. They kept showing scenes that looked much like writer/director Frank Miller's previous work, "Sin City". That worked for "Sin City" because that's how the comic was drawn. That's not how "The Shadow" was drawn. But trying to mimic "The Shadow"'s style would likely lead to something like the Dick Tracy movie. But the previews just showed the most dramatic scenes. The most dramatic scenes do look like that. The rest of the movie is dark with some stark color contrasts, but it's not the pen and ink style and there are lots of other colors.

I haven't read much of "The Spirit" so I can't compare the movie to the comics. Others who have read a lot assure me that Frank Miller did a great job of capturing the spirit of "The Spirit". I had some doubt because while I think only comic book fans can properly make a comic book movie Frank Miller, famous for his own comics, tends to steer things to the dark and prostitute filled. But, as I said, he kept true to the original this time.

So what can you expect when you see this movie? And, yes, you do want to see this movie. Take your standard pulp noir story about a private detective working the dirty seedy streets of the city. Now, give that detective the ability to survive the kind of poundings that a comic book character (or a Warner Brother's character) is likely to take. Finally, give the artist a sense of humor about the world he's working in.

For example, early in the movie you have The Spirit fighting his arch-nemesis, the equally indestructible Octopus. The Octopus is an evil genius who finds very little in life nearly as entertaining as fighting with The Spirit. So they fight it out in the middle of a bog. Some defining moments are when The Octopus breaks a toilet over The Spirit's head and gets mad when The Spirit doesn't laugh, saying "Toilet's make everything funny" or words to that effect. The Spirit retaliates by hitting The Octopus with a kitchen sink. Possibly a reference to the old publisher "Kitchen Sink Press" or just a gag about how they threw everything at each other, including the kitchen sink.

The Octopus also has a clone army of grinning idiots with their names on their shirts. You sometimes see them grouped to form interesting phrases like "Huevos" and "Rancheros".

I thought it was a great movie, I will be getting it on DVD, and I'd be willing to go see it again.


Mike Rhode said...

Wow. I need to get you some actual Spirit comics.

Ibid said...

I could definitely use some proper Spirit comics. What I know of the art is only what I've seen in a few displays showing some older comics. I know almost nothing about the story other than some reviewers who claim they have read the originals. I did try to stay away from talking too much about the comic and focus on the movie.