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THE SPIRIT, 2008
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THE Spirit MOVIE POSTER
THE SPIRIT
Movie Review
Directed by Frank Miller
Starring: Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Louis Lombardi, Jaime King, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria
Review by Jen Frankel



SYNOPSIS:

When Denny Colt died, The Spirit was reborn to protect the city he loved.

REVIEW:

Damn, it's a shame Eva Mendes isn't much of an actress. Even I can see that. She's like an XX Keanu - when she's without lines, she's mesmerizing.

Too bad for The Spirit, but 3 out of 4 ain't bad, and the other three female leads in this flick are damn good, two even really, really great. I never took to Sarah Paulson in Studio 60 (maybe because she was just so unutterably evil in Deadwood), but I guess it's true that it's often the role and not the actor you dislike. She's great here, and so is Scarlett Johansson, another actress I run hot and cold on.

They're also polar opposites, although each her own kind of icy: one as the good girl who buries her feelings in order to take care of the Spirit, and the other the brilliant but bizarre partner of his nemesis the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson, who is having entirely too much fun with his career).

I've been hot and cold on comic book movies over the last few years in general. I wasn't the biggest fan of The Dark Knight, because it didn't have the maturity of the first in terms of theme and storytelling. A kick-ass villain or two can make you forgive or even ignore a lot of plot holes, but I couldn't quite get over the lack of character development for the big Bat himself.

Sin City was another film I wanted to love, and several of its loose anthology segments were very satisfying. But all in all, it was a lot of style with not enough substance.

Strangely, although I've always seen Frank Miller himself as a kind of Peter Pan-like man whose outlook is slightly adolescent and who's unlikely to form relationships with mature women, The Spirit does the opposite sex a lot more favors than the blatant Madonna/Whore victim-ridden Sin City.

The Spirit's attitude toward women, in fact -- which is central to the plot -- is its greatest strength and weakness. While the fact he loves all women is charming and somewhat romantic, the oblivious way he breaks the hearts of the most loyal makes us think less of him.

Probably the central difficulty with the film is just that -- while it's easy to get caught up in the story, the Spirit himself doesn't grow in the process. He learns nothing, really. In fact, the closing monologue is almost identical to the first.

A lot of the film is so entertaining you're tempted to cut it slack on the absolutely static character of the main protagonist. But when the entire story revolves around lost love and loss in general - including the Spirit's discovery of just what happened after he himself lost his LIFE - a little personal growth would definitely have been in order. There's just not much at stake already for a guy who is apparently impossible to kill without flinging the parts of his dismembered body to the four corners of the earth.

And Mendes is such a weak link it's almost painful. She doesn't seem to understand the stylized dialogue, which sound decent in everyone else's mouths and actually natural coming from the best of them. The young actress playing her as a teenager acts circles around her, which makes the limitations of Mendes's portrayal even more painful. The Spirit is a fun afternoon of comic-book candy, with enough laughs and enough unique ideas to keep you entertained, but a familiar feel if you've watched Sin City, 300, or any other comic book movie for that matter. It could have been better, but it's pretty good.

For awards, at this heading-into-the-Oscars season? Best use of cats in a motion picture.

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