Film Review: The Spirit

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Liked the over-the-top, heavily stylised Sin City, with its quirkily graphical black-and-white, comic-book feel? Can’t wait until 2010 for the sequel? Well, this might just keep you going until then.

It’s not just the heavily computer-enhanced black-and-white visual style of The Spirit, nor its comic-book origins that makes this a near-sister film to Sin City. It also shares a writer/director – Frank Miller, a near-legendary comic-book writer and artist in his own right.

Sin City may have been his first foray into directing, but Miller has been one of the big names of the comic-book world for a good couple of decades now. It’s entirely appropriate that he should now be making the leap into movies – not just because the combination of visuals and storylines that unites films and comics as sibling media, but because the movies have had so much impact on his own work.

It’s not just the film noir-inspired feel of his Sin City series – which with big name director Robert Rodriguez he helped bring to the big screen back in 2005 to massive cult success – a similar filmic sense has pervaded almost all his work, from his earliest breakthrough on Marvel’s Daredevil back in the early 1980s through his groundbreaking mid-80s Batman series The Dark Knight Returns, and 1998’s 300, inspired by the 1962 film The 300 Spartans and itself turned into another heavily-stylised big screen adaptation in 2006. If Miller’s first attempts at breaking into Hollywood only resulted in the lacklustre efforts that were Robocop 2 and 3, this can, perhaps, be blamed on him only scripting those films rather than having any control over their direction.

With his own creations 300 and Sin City already having been turned into films, and both Daredevil and Batman having already hit the big screen (albeit to varying degrees of success), for his first solo outing as a film director Miller has instead opted for one of the classic comic book characters that has helped inspire so much of his work.

Though not as famous as Superman or Batman, The Spirit remains one of the all-time greats of the Golden Age of comic-book characters. Created by the masterly, multiple award-winning Will Eisner back in 1940, though The Spirit never achieved the popular acclaim of some of the other comic-book heroes, this darkly complex masked detective may superficially seem to be just another Batman but without the gadgets, yet for comic-book fanboys he will always deserve a place among the greats.

Which all makes a film based on The Spirit a bit of a risky business – the general public have never heard of the character, while for comics fans he’s part of the pantheon, and any mishandling of him will be considered sacrilege. So, will “from the creator of Sin City” be enough to sell this – and, most importantly, has Miller learned enough about the art of filmmaking from his time sharing the director’s chair with Robert Rodriguez? No one doubts Miller’s enthusiasm for a character that did so much to inspire his own highly-successful career in comics, but can he do it justice?

As so often with these things, it’s largely going to come down to personal taste. If you liked the film version of Sin City, you’re likely to have a good time here; if, on the other hand, you’re one of those who wish that Sin City had remained just a decent comic-book series, you’re probably best staying away.
Film Review: The Spirit