There's nothing to say about it, really. It was too earnest to ever be a camp classic, and it was too campy to appeal to anyone. The frustrating thing was that it had potential. There were some moments, moments I can't really pinpoint now, where I thought: "This could have been a cool movie." Then the Octopus melted a kitten while wearing a Nazi uniform, so you know, I might have just been hallucinating some sanity where there was none. But the consensus among my gang was that if it had been directed by anyone other than Frank Miller, it could have been pretty good.
I can't even muster up a lot of scathing criticism for Miller. He's not blameless obviously -- the T&A and Octopus get-ups were all his idea, but there's no way anyone should have allowed him to do it. Films aren't created in a vacuum. Surely someone retained enough taste and sanity to say "Can we rework this a bit? Do we really want to melt a kitten? Why should they wear Japanese kimonos here?" Even if they decided, hey, let him go crazy with this ... surely there was an assistant director who might have pointed out that film doesn't work like comic book panels. The camera has to move around. There have to be things like close-ups and angles. Miller may have been the "co-director" of Sin City, but he hasn't been to film school, and someone needed to take his hand. Couldn't any of the players at least point out a clunky line or two?
Now, I'm a fan of Miller. I don't subscribe to the screams of "Hack!" and "Sell-out!" that pervade message boards across our great Internet. He's done a lot of good work. 300, Elektra Lives Again, and his Wolverine stand out are among my favorite comics of all time. But I'm not slavishly devoted to him – he's done a lot of crap, too. Frankly, I don't get him or his love-hate relationship with his readers. On one hand, it's like he hates us, and wants to see what our breaking point is. At the same time, he seems to think he's catering to us – I felt like The Spirit was his equivalent of asking for a fanboy hug. "It's Eva Mendes' naked ass, boys. Never say Uncle Frank doesn't do anything for you!" (Perhaps Gabriel Macht's nude scene was the nod to the fangirls? By then I had seen so much lovely feminine flesh that a naked man felt strange and wrong.)
That immaturity was one of the most perplexing aspects of the film. This is the guy who helped usher in mature comics, after all, peppering them with sex, violence, and nudity. Toilets are not typically funny in Miller's deadpan world, nor are references to The Hard Goodbye or Superman. If you had asked me five years ago what a film helmed by him would be, I would have said Punisher: War Zone or even Batman Begins. (Read Batman: Year One again and tell me I'm merely idealistic.) I wouldn't have expected something on par with Batman and Robin. That's what makes the whole experiment so gorram tragic – Miller rescued Daredevil and Batman from that sort of flashy, junky storytelling only to send another comic icon there.
It's that tiny reason I chose to close out the year by discussing The Spirit. My first thought as the credits rolled was how easily Iron Man, Batman, the Hulk, or the X-Men could have received this treatment. Batman already has gotten it several times over, because this is how mainstream audiences view comic books – campy, childish, and unreal. That changed this year. 2008 will go down in history as the year of the geek, and the year of the comic book movie. Audiences have begun to realize this genre has some meat on its bones, and that compelling characters can and do exist inside those outlandish costumes. They can't get enough – after every movie or trailer, a newbie was asking me where they could find more Iron Man or what Watchmen was. (I watched my parents go from "Why the heck do you read those?" to "Where's my issue of The Stand?" in a single summer.)
It's a shame that such a fantastic year closed on such a low note – and that Will Eisner, the man who we owe this "wacky" concept of graphic novels and adult storylines, was brought to those same Dark Knight-loving audiences in a shabby way. But it's kind of a blessing too. The Spirit can serve as a template alongside Batman Forever and Batman and Robin as to how not to make a comic book movie – and judging from the box office, audiences just might agree. I'd like to think that the bar has been set, and woe to any movie that fails to meet it.
So, with that – Happy New Year, my dear readers. Thanks for coming to Cinematical day in and day out, week after week, and sharing your thoughts. I count myself lucky that I have a job here that involves gushing over Wolverine, Watchmen, and loose cannon cops – and even luckier that it's for such an enthusiastic audience. It's been a great year at the movies, and a pretty awesome year writing about them. See you in 2009!