Although Christopher Nolan’s gritty reboot of the Batman franchise owes a heavy debt to Frank Miller‘s mid-'80s reworking of the character, his name is absent from the movies’ credits. But rather than stew, Miller has simply transplanted his vision onto another costumed crime fighter.
“The Spirit” might bear the name of Will Eisner, on whose 1940s comics it is loosely based, but it bears as much resemblance to Eisner’s inventive, lighthearted creation as “The Dark Knight” does to its candy-colored ‘60s television predecessor.
Miller’s flat, humorless yarn is set in Central City, a vacant metropolis whose only residents seem to be cops and crooks. The lack of any citizens to protect would seem to obviate the need for masked vigilantes, but that doesn’t stop Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) from slipping on his stiff-brimmed fedora and crimson tie and stepping out into the night.
Rather than avenging his parents’ death like his Gotham City counterpart, Denny is, in a sense, avenging his own. A slain beat cop, he was resurrected by his archnemesis the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), who needed a guinea pig for his invincibility drug. Their battles, along with the Octopus’ inexhaustible supply of cloned henchmen (all played by Louis Lombardi), provide the opportunity for plenty of consequence-free fisticuffs, as well as more inventive forms of combat.
After the Octopus tastefully clobbers Denny with a toilet, he literally throws the kitchen sink at him.
Miller, who designed “Sin City’s” chiaroscuro frames, gives the movie a distinctive (if borrowed) look, enhancing stylized sets with animation flourishes, but he handles his actors with concrete mitts.
As a square-jawed boy scout who drops his voice to a growl when there are evildoers that need frightening, Macht is dull.
Jackson regurgitates bits of performances from other, more interesting movies, and as his sultry henchwoman, Scarlett Johansson seems uneasy, as if her high-heeled boots were two sizes too large.
Eva Mendes gives the movie a mild jolt as Denny’s childhood flame Sand Saref, now an international thief with a thing for plunging necklines. But even comic-book characters need souls, and Miller’s have none.
Denny Colt might have come back from the dead, but “The Spirit” stays cold on the slab.
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