What the Hell Was That?!

Posted: April 16, 2009 in Jeff Holland, Threat Quality

spirit-2It’s been three days since I’ve seen Frank Miller’s film adaptation of Will Eisner’s “The Spirit.” And I am still not sure just what I saw.

The first half-hour plays a lot like the sequel to a movie that was actually just a fever-dream that must have played in Frank Miller’s head one terrible night. How else to explain the bat-shit insane combination of Dick Tracy grotesquery, Sin City pulp monologues, Loony-Tunes comic violence, and a remix of the Daredevil origin/Elektra romance story?

Amazingly, the one influence that is nowhere on display? Will Eisner’s “The Spirit.”

Miller is a devoted Eisner acolyte, and if you look at his earlier art, you can see the influence, the way panel and setting work to tell the story as much as the dialogue and narration. But apparently, Miller never paid much attention spirit-3to the tone of those old Spirit stories, which are often light-hearted and whimsical, sometimes darkly romantic ‘crime does not pay’ tales, and sometimes are just plain weird. But in every case, they’re bright and colorful, and warm -The Spirit is mostly recognizable for his bright-blue suit.

What they aren’t, is Sin City. Which is why I’m at a loss for what Miller was thinking when he got the project, and immediately put the lead character in jet-black clothes and a red tie. Or why he talks a lot like Dwight from Sin City – except when he’s talking like a boyish goofball. There’s no consistency in his character – he’s just a hodge-podge of Things Frank Miller Likes (Trench coats! Converse sneakers! Ridiculous monologuing!).

And then there’s Samuel L. Jackson as arch-villain The Octopus. Apparently, Miller decided if you’re going to put on screen a character who’s never seen in the comic, you might as well REALLY put him on screen in the movie, in increasingly elaborate and ridiculous costumes (he’s a samurai! He’s a nazi!), spirit-sam-jacksonyelling about eggs (because Octopuses…hate eggs? I dunno) and laughing like a maniac. And this is Samuel L. Jackson. All hyperbole aside, turning Samuel L. Jackson up to 11 is potentially catastrophic for all mankind.

Since the movie is utterly out of its mind, its pacing follows suit – and not in a wacky, ‘anything goes’ style, so much as a ‘wait, what’s happening and why are we spending so much time on it?’ way. For starters,  in lieu of explaining who any of its characters are, it opens with the Spirit investigating a break-in with Officer Frank Miller (really) before breaking into a long, cartoonish fight in a mud-hole – what is it about Miller and men fighting in mud? – and then segueing into an EXTREMELY long flashback of the Spirit as an Angry Kid on the Mean Streets.

Then it pingpongs back and forth between Samuel L. Jackson plotting with his scientist-moll Scarlett Johanssen (who belittles her goons, at various points, as “doorstops,” “farts,” and “toe-cheese” – just to give you a sense of Miller’s dialogue here), and the Spirit either flirting with women – angrily, usually, for reasons I’ll worry about in a moment – and arguing with the police (including “Castle”‘s Stana Katic as a rookie cop who shouts and overenunciates every word while walking in an exaggerated goose-step for no discernable reason) over whether Eva Mendes’s character has an Elektra complex.spirit-4

It’s would be odd enough that characters would wonder about the implicit psychology of a character so explicitly (“It’s like an Oedipal complex for girls, Chief!” Katic barks helpfully), if the movie wasn’t also so heavily focused with its hero’s Oedipal complex…with his city.

At one point, he monologues: “She protects me. Provides for me. This city is my mother. And she has been very, very good to me.”

Then later: “She owns me completely. She is the love of my life. She is my city.”

So the city is his mother, his lover, and his primary place of residence. It must be frustrating, and confusing. This might be why his flirting style is so snarly and dismissive.

Please note that nothing I’ve just written makes any sense, or has anything to do with the source material (also, the central plot revolves around the Spirit’s invulnerability – a power he does not actually have in the comics, which would be like giving Batman the ability to eat a lot of gnats at once and making it a focal plot point), but it is there anyway. Because Frank Miller has slowly but surely, descended into lunatic self-parody. And someone gave him millions of dollars to put his craziest dreams on screen.

+++++

Other signs of Miller Dementia:

Sand Serif (Eva Mendes), while calling someone a perfect ass, photocopies her own ass and hands him the paper, to…underline her point? I have no idea. spirit-1
Later: “You did some neat work there, Sand,” Spirit says, then looks down at the ass-copy, and growls, “You shouldn’t have signed it!” Because Sand Serif, you see, has the world’s most singular butt.

Other telltale dialogue:
“Keep the mask on, something tells me it might be better that way.”

“Weren’t you, little girl? You were looking for a hero!”

“Is every goddamn woman in this goddamn hellhole out of her goddamn mind?”
“No sir, we’re just well equipped!”

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Comments
  1. matt says:

    But beautiful as Hell. Now, we just have that one minor “make the story good” detail to worry about.

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    “The Spirit” was the last of a string of Lion’s Gate releases I caught over the last week or two, the others being “Punisher War Zone” (which was still as crappy as it was in theaters), and “The Transporter 3” (I’m so close to a Jason Statham post I can taste it). Every DVD started with the trailers to these other movies. It got annoying.

    Which means two things:
    1) Lion’s Gate pumps out some real timewasters, and
    2) I have got to watch a movie with some redeeming cultural value soon, or my brain’s gonna start leaking out of my ears. “Frost/Nixon” comes out next week, right?

  3. braak says:

    Okay, I’ve been meaning to say this, and then I keep forgetting. But now I just remembered!

    Frank Miller has that really old-fashioned kind of misogyny, that’s rooted in a man’s surpassing fear of the terrific power of his attraction to women.

    All of Frank Miller’s portrayal of women is rooted around one simple trope: a man is seduced by a woman–TO HIS DOOM!

    Everything else is patterned off of that.

    Weirdly close, homoerotic friendships between men? Of course! Friendship between men is the only real friendship, because it’s the only kind that cannot seduce you to your doom.

    Men aggressively resisting the advances of seductive women? Of course! A true hero is protected from being seduced to his doom by sublimating his attraction into anger; rebuffing a woman’s advances makes him powerful.

    A man anthropomorphizing and feminizing objects (or locations, I guess), and displaying devotion to them? Yes, quite. Exercising your sexual attraction towards an object that you pretend is a woman is the only completely safe way to love a woman–because a city cannot seduce you to your doom.

    Successful “relationships” that happen only between men and women that act like (Frank Miller) men? Naturally–women that only care about violence and killing are not trying to seduce you to your doom.

    A kind of puzzling fear of homosexuality? Yes–because men that cross the line between homoerotic friendship and an actual homosexual relationship are men that have begun to act like women. Now, even your violent partners in shooting can’t be trusted, as they will try to seduce you to your doom!

    I don’t know if Frank Miller is like that on the inside; I’m just saying that, as near as I can figure, all of his work reflects this paranoid, volcanic terror of women’s sexuality.

  4. Jeff Holland says:

    This is absolutely true, and over the years it’s grown more and more primary to his storytelling.

    Assuming “All-Star Batman and Robin” isn’t a knowing self-parody (and nothing I’ve seen about Miller tells me he’s that self-aware), then Batman’s primary motivation is to prevent 10-year-old Dick Grayson from doing all that mushy stuff, like talking to girls and grieving for his parents and entering puberty (Batman actually comes off a lot like Dirk Anger from “Nextwave” here).

    How does he do this? By leaving Grayson in the batcave to hunt rats to survive, while Batman goes out into the night to beat people up and dry-hump Black Canary (while insisting, of course, that keeping the masks on makes it hotter).

    It is hilarious, but not necessarily in a good way.

  5. The Zed Word says:

    Wow. This confirmed all my worst fears about The Spirit movie that could only guess at from the trailers.

  6. […] the Alan Moore book – but on its own merits, it’s an okay film), or even pure batshit lunacy (The Spirit actually IS a horrible movie, but it’s also a fascinating inner look at a big creator’s […]

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