It has not escaped the notice of geek-Americans that, visually and thematically, Frank Miller’s big-screen adaptation of Will Eisner’s pioneering comic The Spirit is essentially a sequel to Sin City, the wildly influential green-screen epic adaptation of Miller’s comics series he co-directed with Robert Rodriguez.Infinitely more alarming: in terms of humor, The Spirit feels like the follow-up to Batman & Robin no one wanted. Main bad guy Samuel L. Jackson even spends much of the film indulging in egg-themed wordplay that almost inspires nostalgia for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s avalanche of ice puns in the unloved third Batman sequel.
A Love Song For Bobby Long’s Gabriel “Who?” Macht plays the title character, a rookie lawman who is killed and later resurrected by a mad scientist/supervillain with a God complex, played with scenery-chewing abandon by Jackson. As The Spirit, the hopelessly bland Macht is literally a stiff in a suit, easily upstaged by Jackson and an outsized gallery of scantily-clad lovelies, including Scarlett Johannson as the ultimate sexy librarian-type gone awry, Eva Mendes as a femme fatale who was once Macht’s true love, and Sarah Paulson as Macht’s wholesome, long-suffering love interest.
As his comics work suggests, Miller is a peerless admirer of the female form, which is to say a shameless lecher concerned primarily with exposing as much luscious female flesh as possible. As a babe-delivery system, The Spirit is a rousing success. In every other sense, it’s a pronounced failure. The hard-boiled visual style of Sin City,with its comic book compositions, noirish black-and-white, and impressionistic splashes of color, now feels shopworn. Running gags limp and scenes drag on endlessly with little sense of rhythm, shape, or momentum. Miller’s screenplay oscillates sleepily between leaden camp, stumbling slapstick, and pulpy pseudo-poetry and Macht leaves a fatal charisma void in the lead role. Not even the presence of Jackson in a Nazi uniform late in the film can give this regrettable boondoggle a pulse. In comics, it took Miller decades to devolve into embarrassing self-parody. In film, he’s made that leap over the course of a single disastrous film.