I am probably one of three people in North America who not only liked The Spirit, I really liked it. I have to admit, that's partially because I like the underdog, and flat out this is a movie that most of the critics simply don't get. That's okay, of course, because even most superhero fans don't get The Spirit in comic book form either.
When Will Eisner created Denny Colt, also known as The Spirit, he wasn't doing a mean-spirited send-up of the superhero genre, but he was indeed tweaking some of its then-current standards, and a certain number of them haven't changed over the years. The Spirit was like the Timex character: he took a licking and kept on ticking. He was dogged, determined and a man's man, but he also wore a silly little mask that stopped anyone from knowing he was Denny Colt. The very notion was ridiculous, which clearly is what Eisner must have thought of many of the superhero secret identities that were already the norm for the Golden Age heroes by the time the Spirit first bowed.
In other words, the Spirit is semi-serious, and semi-silly. It's a hard road to walk. Frank Miller, who wrote and directed this highly stylized, campy-action hybrid, knew and related well to Eisner. He knew that Eisner wasn't interested in seeing some paint-by-numbers version of his own work.
In fact, it's probably important to point out, that Eisner recounted more than once in my presence -- and it's not like I knew him that well -- that he was thrilled with the different interpretations of his character when Kitchen Sink was publishing The Spirit - The New Adventures.
This is important to how I see the criticism of this film. There are two camps. The movie critics who don't get it, and the self-appointed arbiters of superhero purity, who also don't get it.
The critics, who frequently just cough up what the critic before them said, just don't fully understand costumed heroes yet. Sure, they can understand the box office successes in terms of dollars, but they can't tell us why something is cool, why it resonates or doesn't. They only understand the mold, and The Spirit doesn't fit.
The self-appointed purity police are even worse. I've actually heard complaints that this wasn't a pure adaptation of Eisner's work on The Spirit. My advice to them is to take the money they would have spent on their next movie and purchase a clue instead. If you don't like the movie, fine, just fine, but don't suggest that it's because Miller didn't do a true version of the Spirit.
Denis Kitchen, Eisner's longtime friend, publisher and agent, could probably tell us oodles about what Will Eisner would have thought. Other than him, I really don't want to hear from anyone proclaiming to know what the grand master of the graphic novel would have thought about his old creation hitting the silver screen.
The film is indeed highly stylized. I would have been happier never seeing The Octopus's face, but Sameul L. Jackson was hysterically funny and menacingly crazy. The Spirit and the various femme fatales (and their Eisner-created names) were likewise over the top. Why it worked, for me, was that the characters -- even with all their silliness, never stopped to point out what they were doing.
This is not my finest review. I have a lot of random thoughts flying around my head, but this was a fun film. On the other hand, if you can't take Adam West Batman because he isn't "the real Batman," pass on it.
And, you know, get some help.