The city is an inky maze of tenements and skyscrapers and back alleys, and the dialogue is so hard-boiled you could just about break your tooth on it. The hero, with his fedora, trench coat, Lone Ranger mask, and bloodred necktie — one of the only slashes of color on display — is a former detective who has become a ghost, but there’s nothing particularly supernatural about his attitude. Dead or alive (or somewhere in between), he’s the dame-slapping tough guy of a thousand film noirs and film-noir knockoffs.
The Spirit, an adaptation of the legendary comic strip created by Will Eisner in 1940, was directed by Frank Miller, who showed Eisner’s influence in the creation of his graphic novels Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City. The movie is heavy — one might even say mythic — with the reverent weight of cross-generational pedigree. But if, like me, you stand outside the circle of comic-book obsessives, The Spirit comes off as just another ludicrously knowing and mannered noir pastiche, full of burnt-end romance and ”style,” but robotic at its core. It’s like the 2005 movie version of Sin City without all that arresting Day-Glo splatter. The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) must face down the Octopus, a baddie who wants to acquire a vase that holds the blood of Hercules (to make him immortal); he’s played by Samuel L. Jackson with a cackle that is never quite dangerous. As the vamps, Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson might be posing for a fashion spread with just one note to play — gorgeous high-bitch mockery. Miller stages it all with sleek angularity, but it’s the film’s clichés that seem to have lived forever. C