9. The Spirit (Lionsgate)
$2.1M Saturday… $6.5M 3-day weekend… $10.4M 4-day holiday
Not every comic book can become a hit movie. Movie analysts didn’t expect much life from this adaptation of Will Eisner’s graphic novels despite a flashy marketing campaign. Lionsgate shouldn’t have tried to brave the Christmas competition.
…and the verdict is…THE SPIRIT is a big flopperoo.
Before we go any further, at the risk of sounding like a namedropper, I consider Frank Miller a friend, so I’m not going to jump up and down or pile on. Call me biased or non-objective or whatever you want. I’m just being honest.
Is THE SPIRIT a good movie? No. Is it entertainingly and inventively bad? Yes. At the press junket, Samuel L. Jackson was at pains to point out that “the movie is not mean spirited”, which would seem to be an odd way of promoting a film, but it’s an accurate one. Supporters of the film have compared it to the parodic anarchy of ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER, and I think that’s an apt comparison. For all its goofiness — some deliberate, some not — it’s a well-intentioned movie, with a kind heart…a lot like Frank, I think. As much as critics have ragged on the characterization, the film is fond of all the characters, even the villains. And it is visually inventive and imaginative. Plus, it has kitty cats. So…there’s a lot to look at.
Like I said, Frank is a friend, and I’m not going to write anything I wouldn’t say to his face (assuming I ever see him again). I will say that Lionsgate really shot everyone in the foot by thinking they could turn this cult movie into a Christmas film. It was originally set to be released on January 16th, in the wasteland of movie releases. At such a time, the film’s eye-poke awkwardness and weirdness might have been a welcome respite to winter doldrums and might have even made some money at the box office.
Instead, with a Christmas Day opening, it went up against a bevy of high-profile films by Oscar contenders, and just couldn’t make the grade.
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But there is a lot that’s odd about this film. It was shot by Bill Pope (THE MATRIX, SPIDER-MAN) who’s the best in the business at action and CGI. This veteran was paired with a rookie director and, perhaps crucially, a rookie editor, Gregory Nussbaum. Stronger editing would definitely have made this a better movie, although not having seen the original footage, that’s just a hopeful guess.
On the plus side, THE SPIRIT has provided an opportunity for some of the most amusing cinematic putdowns of the year, like this classic from Roger Ebert:
“The Spirit” is mannered to the point of madness. There is not a trace of human emotion in it. To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material.
At which exact point The Spirit hits rock bottom is a matter of debate. Maybe it’s when we first see our eponymous hero scampering across rooftops in a fashion less appropriate to a movie superhero than to a cast member of Guys and Dolls.
FRANK Miller on the big screen is like Scratchy or wasabi or a bass player – he doesn’t work on his own. He needs a partner, or some diluting ingredients, or maybe a restraining order.
Finally, there’s going to be a lot of blowback about this movie, and fanboy glee over its failure is everywhere. I will quote a comment from Peter David from Blog@ in full, some may call it defensive, but it is also well-intentioned and good hearted.
What has Frank Miller done that he warrants a “comeuppance?” Seriously. What the hell has he done that he somehow deserves to have a movie that he spent several years of his life crafting, about a subject that he obviously cares passionately about, wind up crashing and burning?
You, who stands so bravely behind his words that he has to hide behind cutesy fake names, feel the need to label Frank Miller with condescending nicknames? You know what? Ants don’t get to condescend to eagles.
Presuming you even saw the movie: Perhaps you feel you didn’t get your money’s worth. Y’know what? I feel the same way. I paid admission, same as you. Same as everybody. I could have gone to a free advance screening. I was invited. Instead I chose to wait so that I could support the producers, who are friends of mine. But there is absolutely no way that I feel that Frank somehow had it coming. Because all Frank Miller has ever done is try to produce the best stories he is capable of, and he signs his name to everything he writes, which is more than I can say for you.
Even when Frank Miller falls, he falls from heights that most of us cannot hope to achieve, myself not excluded. If it’s too much to think that you should show at least a modicum of respect for someone who has devoted his life to this medium, then at least acknowledge that the reason you’re doing the happy dance over the failure of someone who has achieved more in his life thus far is than you likely ever will in the entirety of yours is because you’re unspeakably petty and ungrateful and ungracious.