Those who take on the task of transforming comic books into feature films often pick between two very different options for adaptation. They can either take panels from the original comics, no matter how over-the-top and outrageous they are, and create a very bold, imaginative world that isn’t believable in a real world context but creates an alternate reality that is (if done properly) believable within the context of the film; or, they can take the original ideas from the comic and rework them just enough so they become something that could almost happen in everyday life.
“The Spirit“(2008) is an example of the first option. Frank Miller (Sin City, 2005) adapted Will Eisner’s classic detective superhero comic and directed the motion picture. Over-the-top is perhaps an understatement for the film adaptation, but what’s to be expected with characters like the sexy villainess Sand Saref (Eva Medes), the super villain’s sultry sidekick Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and the French-speaking sword wielding Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega).
The story begins with The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) running around Central City doing typical superhero things: leaping from buildings, rescuing a distressed damsel, pondering why he was given his extra-human abilities. He soon encounters the bad guy, The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), who doesn’t actually resemble an octopus at all.
Macht and Jackson both overact in their first violent action sequence together. This overacting is most likely intentional, fitting in with all the other exaggerated elements of the film, but it is at first somewhat irritating. As the story progresses the overacting seems to cool down, or perhaps it just starts to work better with the other exaggerations.
Eventually the plot unfolds and the viewer learns The Spirit’s true identity, his only weakness (beautiful women), that he is immortal (or maybe something more like undead), how and why he was resurrected, and a few things about his life before he became the protector of Central City.
Most of what the viewer needs to know to understand “The Spirit” is straight-up told to them by The Spirit as the narrator, spelled out in flashbacks, or revealed by another character to The Spirit with very little detective work required. The plot doesn’t require much thinking on the viewer’s part at all.
It does, however, give the viewer a chance to use his or her imagination. Computer graphics are used to help the movie look more like a comic book. Sometimes the film seems more animated than real. For example, The Spirit’s cartoonish flowing red tie and glowing white shoe soles stand out against the city’s dreary backdrop. Some shots look almost as if comic book panels were photographed and inserted into the film.
The animation and stylistic choices make “The Spirit” an arty alternative to more realistic comic films, but won’t leave you contemplating metaphorical subtexts.
Cover of The Spirit