This is Central City, the place former cop Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) belongs to, for he is The Spirit and its defender. He lives alone except for his cats, ready to spring into action whenever crime threatens the law-abiding citizens, as he does tonight when a woman is being mugged: he gets her belongings back and doesn't even mind the fact that he has been stabbed in the process. In fact, The Spirit is invincible after a near-death experience though he has no recollection of how this this state of affairs came about. Could it be something to do with master criminal The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson)?
Yes, it could, and so began a very poorly-received adaptation of Will Eisner's classic comic strip series, a pet project of a famed comics artist himself, Frank Miller. After the screen version of his Sin City books went so well, he was filled with confidence about this directing lark and set out on his own without Robert Rodriguez to make this, based on a work he and many others in his field had great respect for. Alas, that kind of respectful attitude does not always translate into the best way to do it justice, and many were left bored by a style that had very little variation.
Indeed, Miller seems to approach every scene in exactly the same manner, which left many a viewer looking for a respite from the relentless stream of stylised black and white images and arch dialogue that took up most of the film. In its favour, Miller does have a great eye for casting the right face, especially when it came to the actresses, few of whom ever looked quite as glamorous as they did here in a kind of forties chic that showed them off to quite some advantage. The time period is confused, however, as although it looks mid-twentieth century, it features apparent anachronisms such as The Spirit talking on a mobile phone.
So really the film takes place in some never-neverland of comic book panels, meaning it's fine to look at, but always feels emotionally distant. All this despite a very romantic view of its lead character's place in his world and his relationships to women; he still pines for his childhood sweetheart Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) although he has not seen her in years, and is unaware that she is back in town in her new role as a femme fatale and criminal, but on the other hand he also loves police pathologist Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), as she does him although she is frustrated by his lack of fidelity. He loves every woman he meets, she laments, and this would appear to be a theme hoving into view.
That theme being, how can one man stay faithful to one woman when there are so many desirable females in this world? Nobody in the film comes up with a decent answer, and Miller cops out with an acknowledgment that the only true lady in The Spirit's life is the city he lives in, which is all very well but his conversations with her are inescapably one-sided. Elsewhere, any questions of good versus evil are neglected in comparison, and The Octopus, while played with amusing relish by Jackson, is somewhat cardboard for a supervillain who shares The Spirit's invincibility, rendering their clashes uninvolving and, like much of the rest of this, too wrapped up in offering a striking visual to truly connect, even on an excitement level. So we continually return to those women and the pleasure of seeing them dolled up to the nines - this is all about the image and not about much else resonates. Music by David Newman.