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The Spirit

Year: 2008
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Frank Miller
Writer: Frank Miller/Will Eisner
Cast: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L Jackson, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Paz Vega

The buzz built, the articles appeared, the stars lined up and then...nothing. The movie appeared with barely a whimper, I read hardly any reviews and then it was gone. Who'd have thought a movie starring Samuel L Jackson, Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson could fail so epically?

Frank Miller was the high point of Hollywood's love affair with comic book publishers. His early cred from Tim Burton having mostly based his vision of Batman on Miller's 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke hadn't worn off, and by the time Sin City and 300 appeared, studios were ready to throw any amount of money at him.

In his trademark black hat, he stepped behind the cameras for what everyone assumed would be another visionary comic-based hit. Instead what we got was a rehashed, limp Batman retread with hammy dialogue, a lame hero who was too humourous by half, and the sexual outlook of a sniggering ten year old boy. Maybe - Lionsgate executives must have been saying to themselves - he was just a comic book nerd in a trench coat who'd never grown up and needed a girlfriend after all.

The Spirit is a former police officer who was killed on the job but has come back to life to wreak havoc on the city his loves by terrorising the criminals who threaten to overthrow it (a la The Crow - the 'homaging' never stops). His nemesis, Dr Octopus (Jackson - funny, having a good time and the only high point of the movie) has some disposable plan to take over the world etc etc.

I get the feeling one of the hallmarks of the comic was it's brazen sexuality, the hero an old fashion romantic who fell in love with every noir-like dame he met (it seems the only women who live there are all between 25 and 30 and smoking hot).

The slightly tongue in cheek approach might have generated a few chuckles in the comic but the aesthetic probably carried the story the rest of the way towards believability. In motion and on screen however, the fight scenes are tiresome, the lead character comes off as a particularly stupid creation, and the female fetishism comes across as slimy instead of sexy.

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