Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Spirit (2008)

Let's talk about Frank Miller. Yes, I know we've talked about him before, but never really in depth. Miller was a talented writer who revolutionized the industry at the time by bringing a serious style to characters who were treated in a somewhat less serious manner. His run on Daredevil is so iconic that it has become the standard for the character, his reinvention of Batman's origin after the Crisis on Infinite Earths made people begin looking at the caped crusader as something more than a character Adam West played on a glouriously silly show. And his work on his own creator-owned property, Sin City? Really quite amazing, channeling that film noir style perfectly onto the comic page and it eventually gained so much acclaim that it actually got two films based on the stories.

Yeah....they probably should've stopped at one.

Now, you may have noticed that in the above highly complimentary opening paragraph, I used the word "was" when referring to his talent as a writer. There's a very good reason for that. Frank Miller is ruddy terrible writer now. Worse than me, I would say, and I'm not that great. There are probably countless typos I still haven't caught in my reviews and rants, my jokes don't always hit home, and ultimately sometimes my head just feels like it's not in a good place. Despite it being one of my most viewed things, I personally think my Gingerdead Man review is shit. Miller though, he seems to get some sort of pass from a large percentage of fans because he actually used to be good at his job. He wrote powerful character defining stories and had this style to his art that really fit the tone. But as he got older he seemed to only be able to write one kind of story. That story he's capable of now is best encapsulated in a really terrible comic called Holy Terror. It's a story that was originally written as a Batman story. After reading it, one can easily understand why DC Comics took a pass on it.

The cover itself serves as a bit of a warning to how bad the book is.
To comment on that little blurb above here, yeah, I mean that. The cover does illustrate issues with the overall story. The art is awful, for one, and highlights how Miller's art has degraded over time. The mummy looking guy is a middle eastern terrorist, which is handled about as well as you'd expect by Miller. And the title font? Yeah, pretty familiar looking, isn't it? That actually is a good thing to point out too, as this cover is the main problem with him in regards to his career: it's trying to call back to things he did that were actually good. The 300-ish font, the Batman lookalike, the surly older character, it's all stuff he's done before. But the story itself is a stark illustration of who he is now: a racist, sexist, bigoted old man who has unrealistic views about how the world works and paints all practitioners of a faith as either victims or killers. Oh, and his thinly veiled Batman character kills and tortures more people than he saves, because that's something Batman would do.

Take a wild guess as to which recent film he was a creative consultant on.
He also seems to have this thing against Superman as a character, always vilifying him in his stories while painting Batman as the superior character because he's a man who trained for his abilities. You know, when he's not portraying Batman as a psychopath who kidnaps traumatized children to call retarded, having sex next to thugs he's set on fire, being pissy because Spawn touched his cape, or just having being nothing but a walking meme because he saw people joking about him calling a traumatized kid a retard.

Goddammit, Frank...
I am not on good terms with Frank Miller as a fan. Hell, I didn't even get into how he has this habit of writing everyone woman as if she's a prostitute or how he seems to think lesbians only need a strong man to make them straight again. As a fan of pretty much all of his older stuff, seeing him gradually become the thing he is now was painful. It's like watching someone with dementia slowly lose all memory of the people or things they love, eventually becoming this much different person who seems disconnected with reality. Back when I did Superhero Week, I had originally planned to squeeze more things in, but had to pass because of other factors. This movie today is one of those things, because this, my friends, is Frank Miller sitting alone in the writer and director seat of a major Hollywood film. Not only that, it's his adaptation of a beloved comic character whose creator is considered one of the greatest to have ever lived, Will Eisner. So, of course, it's not going to resemble the original comics at all and it's probably just going to piss me off.

Me? Getting pissed off at a movie? That never happens!
So, I unwrap my dusty yet still unopened DVD, stick it in, and try my best to ignore the trailers for movies I'd rather be watching. The movie begins with a flatline, because apparently it's already dead. Good, now I don't have to watch it! But no, it's just there to set up what makes our hero special, which is that he has escaped death's cold embrace and now fights crime...even though in the comics he was never actually dead and only was in a sort of comatose state. But who expects the writer and director to read those, right? It's not like he works primarily in comics or anything.

Not that I'm hinting at anything here, like him being lazy or just making shit up based on what he looked up on Wikipedia.
I'm kidding about the Wikipedia thing too, because even Wikipedia makes mention of the fact that he was " in fact gone into suspended animation caused by one of archvillain Dr. Cobra's experiments" in regards to The Spirit. So, yeah, random people editing Wikipedia know more about this character so far than the man who wrote the script who actually works in comics and claims to be a fan of the character. Brilliant. I can feel Will Eisner giving Frank Miller the most massive finger ever from the grave. I hope he shows up as a ghost when Frank dies so he can punch him in his ghost dick. Moving on, the opening bit here is actually being narrated by what is supposedly Death herself. I don't remember Death being shown with such long fake eyelashes though. Weird. Also, I think she's actually Sam Beckett, about to leap into a new body.

And so Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from role to role, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap to a better movie.
That whole bit is essentially what we get as far as an origin story for this character who most mainstream audiences are in no way familiar with. We've got to show Batman's origin every single time, but the Spirit? Nah, fuck it. As a matter of fact, fuck pretty much everything that's actually related to the Spirit character that Will Eisner created, because none of it is actually present in this film. Let's not kid ourselves at all here, this movie is doomed already because it was made by a man who decided the actual characters and concept of the original stories weren't good enough, so he just made up whatever he felt like doing and called it an adaptation.

Don't you just love when that happens?
Easy jokes on other bad movies aside, do not make my mistake and go into this expecting anything resembling the comic it's purportedly based on. I've watched porn parodies that are more true to the source material and they treat their female characters better too while filling their various holes. Yes, I am saying Frank Miller is a worse director than Axel Braun. Braun actually seems to give some sort of a shit with his adaptations, which is more than I can say about this entire movie that we're talking about here today. Yeah, I know I'm supposed to be breaking down the plot for you, but I keep coming back to how much a hack Miller is. It's just mind-boggling that the man keeps getting work when he churns out garbage of this caliber. The Spirit isn't Sin City. The Spirit is a comic about middle-class guy who fights bad guys in a reasonably nice blue suit and domino mask. He doesn't have powers, he doesn't brood, and he actually generally has a fun personality despite the dark deeds he ends up running afoul of. It's always been about colourful characters playing off of the serious bits.

He saw colour and he wanted to paint it black. Then he painted the black black. With red accents.
I cannot sit here and talk about the plot of this film in great descriptive detail because it makes me so damn angry. Frank Miller and Will Eisner were supposedly close friends. He took his friend's seminal work, a character that is synonymous with him, and he made it into a generic Sin City knock-off. Why? Because that's all Miller can write anymore. Not only that, he excised one of the main characters from the comic, Ebony White. Now, some would cry out in defense of this, calling Ebony a terrible caricature of black people. Here's the thing though, despite him having a cartoonish appearance that does indeed seem like a racist caricature, Ebony was a clever individual who was respected by the other characters. He was never used to make fun of black people and, as Eisner's former office manager Marilyn Mercer has said, was actually commended by some black people for his use. He wasn't a shameful character and leaving him out feels like you're trying to cover up his existence because it makes an old white guy uncomfortable.

Then again, this is the same guy who stuck his black villain in a Nazi uniform. Yep, Samuel L. Jackson wore a Nazi uniform.
You all went into this with an expectation that I would break this film down scene by scene, as I always do, to mock it. But, despite my best efforts, the jokes aren't drowning out the significant amounts of anger that keep overtaking me the more I try make "funny haha" happen. This movie is a massive piece of shit. It is gorgeously filmed, yes, but it's still a terrible thing to exist and highly offensive to the man who created the characters involved. Will Eisner has an award named after him, which exemplifies how much he really means to the comics world. Frank Miller....well, I named a bowel movement after him once. It was a long mean experience that gave me tons of pain and then...turned out to be diarrhea. Like Miller's work, it fell apart before it ever even came out, resulting in a mess that was just really unpleasant.

And seriously, what is up with the Nazi fetish he squeezes into literally everything he does?
There's not going to be a scene by scene breakdown this time and you know what? That's fine. I do it all the time and it's okay to break the formula on occasion. The most honest review I have for you is what I have written. This movie is a beautifully filmed piece of work but that does not even begin to make up for the fact that it is extremely offensive on every level to the original work, the fans of said work, and to the people who paid money to see this.

Guess who that includes?
I saw this steaming piece of crap in theaters. I walked into a theater excited to see it. I put money down at the ticket counter and told them that I was going to see The Spirit. It was opening day. Never have I left a movie more angry at a filmmaker than I did when I watched this movie. I collect my movie ticket stubs and keep them in a book, but that one? I flushed it down the toilet. But, after a long time had passed, I ran across it on sale. I thought "maybe I was being too hard on it" and "maybe I should give it another shot". It say on my shelf ever since, waiting for that shot. Now that it has had said shot, I feel like I need to drink some shots. I do not recommend this film to anyone. I actually recommend that if someone mentions thinking about watching it, you shake them violently until they come to their senses. You don't have to listen to me, but that's just my advice on the matter. Me? I'll be holding onto this thing as a reminder that sometimes $6 is still too high to pay. So, until Frank Miller writes that Nazi porn comic he so clearly wants to write, I'll be here reminding myself that this month is finally at a close. Later days, bleeders.

"So...are we gonna do this threeway or not? These jackboots are chafing me."

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