How true to the spirit of the original should comic-book movies be, anyway? It would be hard to transfer Will Eisner's lighthearted, playful Spirit comics of the '40s and '50s directly to the screen nowadays; most directors would probably Schumacher it into a campy mess. A pre-Incredibles Brad Bird proposed an animated Spirit movie that might have been as close as can be. Ultimately, comics artist Frank Miller, who has praised Eisner's work for decades, chose The Spirit as his first solo film as director (after partnering with Robert Rodriguez for 2005's eye-popping, vacant Sin City), and he has hate-fucked his mentor's creation almost beyond all recognition.
The saddest thing about The Spirit is its lack of imagination. There's nothing here—from the cartoony visual effects right down to the Converse All-Stars on the hero's feet—that wasn't done, and better, in Sin City. Rather than being an aw-shucks, lantern-jawed hero, Gabriel Macht's Spirit is a womanizing hard-boiled tough guy who continually soliloquizes about how his city is his "sweetheart," his "plaything," his "love" and "wife." Unlike the comics, he is always talking.
And the movie is all talk, too. Samuel L. Jackson, whose Octopus is the worst comic-book screen villain since Tommy Lee Jones' kiddie-theater Two-Face in Batman Forever, can't shut up long enough about his complicated relationship with eggs to get a good fight scene in. The many actresses—Sarah Paulson, Scarlett Johansson, and especially Eva Mendes—are beautiful and play the awful clichéd script for all it's worth, but the movie desperately needs someone who knows what he's doing behind the camera. The trailers for this film look agonizingly bad. Battlefield Earth bad. Leonard: Part Six bad. Sadly, The Spirit is not that bad. It's just an uninteresting, mediocre mess by a willful director who's in way over his head.