If you only see one film this year, make sure it isn't The Spirit
. You know how some movies are so bad they're good? Well this isn't one of them. It's teeth-grindingly, eye-gougingly, there's-two-hours-of-my-life-I'm-never-
getting-back bad instead.
To begin with, there is no absolutely characterisation or sense of pacing. Even my non-writer bf complained of a lack of foreshadowing, and at the large chunk of the Spirit's background that's left until right at the end of the movie - "and by then I'd stopped caring." There is no sense of what the characters were like as people, no sense of what motivates them beyond the female antagonist's Electra complex and love of shiny things, and the villain's desire for immortality. A desire for immortality so he can rule the world, but not for any reason other than He's Evil. He must be evil because he wants to rule the world, and he wears a Nazi uniform apparently just so that the fanboys can see Scarlett Johansson in one too.
Johansson also gets to wear a "sexy academic" outfit - in fact with the exception of one character's Miss Sensible ensembles, most of the women in this film seem to be dressed in outfits usually found at the back of a branch of Anne Summers. There are more soft-focus shots than in the original Star Trek, and most of them seem aimed at pointing out that women have boobs and bottoms. There's even a scene where Eva Mendes photocopies her behind.(I should point out that they do wear more than the women in Sin City, but at least there the women are independent and in charge of their own destiny, even if they are all portrayed as either lesbians or prostitutes.)
With a script that bad - full of pretentious voice-overs (anyone who can refer to the same city as his mother and his lover has a whole set of issues of his own) and cheesy lines - it's no wonder most of the performances are so wooden they make Pinnochio look like a real boy. Johansson spends the whole film looking bored, while everyone else spends their time doing the kind of meaningful-look-filled emoting that you'd expect from a first year drama class. On the other hand, Samuel L. Jackson's acting as the Octopus is so over the top that while his character was ranting about how much he hates eggs (runny, free range, or on his face) I just wanted to shout at the screen "but they go so well with ham!" He made Jack Nicolson as the Joker seem restrained.
This campness is part of the problem, as the film swings between trying to convey the gritty darkness of Sin City and the camp silliness of Adam West Batman, and fails to succeed with either. Frank Miller was obviously going for the same kind of comic-panel-as-frame cinematography that worked so well in Sin City and 300, but whereas in those films the panels are woven into the action, here they seem to be the whole point of the shot. There are whole scenes of action that are nothing more than one panel after another. It's like Miller knew what made Sin City and 300 work, but couldn't understand why it worked.
And the mythology. Don't get me started on the mythology. There are two MacGuffins, both taken from Classical mythology - the blood of Hercules and the Golden Fleece. There's a little background of the blood explained, for the benefit of the few people in the audience who haven't heard of its previous owner - and explained to the Spirit by the villain and sidekick just two scenes after they rant to their minions about how the Spirit must never find out what the blood is. The Golden Fleece, however, is mentioned in passing early in the film and never really explained beyond that it's "the shiniest of shiny things." The film assumes knowledge of the fleece even though it doesn't credit its audience with knowing who Hercules is.
Towards the end of the film was a brief exchange that irritated my inner academic beyond everything else. The Octopus refers to "the blood of Herakles." "I thought it was Hercules," replies the Spirit, in a smug and knowing way that implies he's caught the Octopus out. Nothing more is said about it. But he didn't catch the Octopus out. Herakles is the Greek name - Hercules is the Romanisation, and therefore technically less correct.
It is a bad, bad film. I actually curled up in my seat and tried to sleep, but my brain was so stupefied with horror it wouldn't switch off. Please, in the name of good storytelling, save yourself the mental anguish this film will cause. Unless you want to see how not to tell a story, make a movie, or adapt a comic. In these cases, by all means go and see it. Just take a really thick notebook. You'll need it.