Frank Miller Recaptures the Glory of Manhood for Christmas

The Spirit is Frank Miller's tribute to Will Eisner's classic comic book series from the 1940s, and it features quite a line-up of female characters: Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson), Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega) and Lorelei Rox (Jaime King).  But don't get too excited about this - after all, what we've really got here is a sexy jewel thief, a sexy surgeon-next-door, a sexy secretary (Silken Floss was actually demoted from scientist to secretary in the film adaptation), a sexy exotic dancer, and a sexy siren (yes, a siren!).  Oh, and I haven't even mentioned that there's also a sexy female cop in the film, too.  Kudos to the actresses who play these roles, as they really do make something out of their characters (Scarlett Johansson actively lobbied Miller for more to do in the film).  And it's worth noting that these women are not helpless: Paulson commented in a recent interview, "The thing I liked about the part was just that there's not a single woman in this movie who's a damsel in distress. There's not a single woman in this movie who isn't a strong woman." The Spirit and Sin City pretty clearly show us that Frank Miller knows how to write tough women.  The central problem with The Spirit isn't so much the female characters or the cleavage shots, but the fact that they're entirely deployed in the service of a dumb, juvenile fantasy of malehood.

Here's Miller on the film: "I wanted to recapture some of the glory of manlihood that I feel the
world has lost. I wanted to bring it back through the Spirit." Comic book adaptations took some leaps and bounds this year with their
more thoughtful representations of masculinity and it's a bummer to see Frank Miller close out the year by wasting so many talented actresses on a completely adolescent fantasy.  And it's not great news for men, either.  Miller basically flushes The Spirit and his nemesis the Octopus, played by Samuel L. Jackson, down the toilet - yes, they even get a fight scene in sewage.  Crazy, sexy babes and toilet humor: is this a comic book masterpiece?

What's the good news in all this? The Spirit is gettig panned by mainstream critics and fanboys alike.  And many of them are none-too-impressed with Miller's depiction of women, either.  Variety concludes, "Graphic-novel geeks will be enticed by the promise of sleek babes and equally eye-popping f/x, but general audiences will probably pass on this visually arresting but wholly disposable Miller-lite exercise." Over at Cinema Blend, they're awesomely nailing Miller for his anachronistic approach to gender - and storytelling: "Women who dress like decidedly unliberated, damsel in distress noir nurses, run their own hospitals and perform complex surgeries. Every office has a Xerox machine, apparently so Miller could invent a scene in which Eva Mendes decides to photocopy her butt. I'm pretty sure butt Xeroxing wasn't possible until the 60s, when Xerox actually invented the machine. In Miller's world though, the machine must exist so that the photocopying of Eva's butt eventually can lead to a cheesy, poorly chosen double entendre. Frank just can't help himself."

For bonus holiday fun, check out this video on those crazy babes of The Spirit - and see how just how happy Miller looks to have Scarlett Johansson sitting on his lap... he's living the dream!

by Tammy Oler
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Tammy Oler has been contributing to Bitch for over a decade. Her writing about pop culture and fandom has appeared in Slate, Ozy, Vulture, and Geek, among others.

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5 Comments Have Been Posted

I felt really uncomfortable

I felt really uncomfortable just watching the previews for this. I'm a huge comic book fan, but this just doesn't look the least bit appealing or balanced. It comes across as one man's story of juggling a bunch of hotties in black and white. How interesting. And just what the hell does Miller mean by 'lost sense of manliness'? When aren't we washed over with images of the super dude saving the day with his skinny, 'sexy' babe waiting to kiss him?

Hey I'm a huge comic book

Hey I'm a huge comic book fan, but sadly for Frank Miller I'm not a 90's comic book fan when big tits and big guns were acceptable.

The Wrong Spirit

Frank Miller is not a person who trades in subtleties, so it should come as no surprise that his take on The Spirit is about as nuanced as a kick in the crotch. It should be pointed out that any similarities between this Spirit and Will Eisner’s original are purely coincidental. Eisner’s feat in the comic strip was bringing the evocative mystery of film-noir and the nyuck-nyucks of slapstick comedy together in harmony, and making them a lot of fun. Poll the most die-hard of Miller fans on descriptives of his work, and I’ll doubt “fun” will even make the list.<p>It’s almost pointless to call Frank out on his misogyny, because he’s been wearing it openly on his sleeve for at least 20 years. I don’t know the man, so I can’t speculate on how deep-seated his hostility to women really lies, but I do know his published work – in Miller’s worlds men relate and communicate only to men, and they do so through acts of violence. Women are just the tools they use. From “Dark Knight Returns”, through the various “Sin City” books, to the current “All-Star Batman and Robin”, Miller tells us the only measure of “manlihood” that matters is brutal domination.<p>It’s all a little sad. A missed opportunity. I have known Will Eisner, had the opportunity to meet him several years ago and talk with him about the state of comics then, and about his most famous creation. He was a little unhappy how such narrow conceptions of “heroics” and story-telling had come to monopolize the genre (the bulk of his graphic work is actually far outside the superhero ghetto). I think Will would be very unhappy to see how his colorful creation has been beaten and bleed into a small-minded, black and white cipher.

Lovely Review, But One Theme Remains Unaddressed

Once again, I find myself grateful for Bitch's existence - this time as a consequence of doing me not just one, but two cinematic favors: 1) assisting me in deciding which movies to see or not to see (and relatedly, with whom to see them and why), and 2) providing the sort of real review a quick Saturday night's google search just can't deliver. In light of the first, I now know not to go see 'The Spirit' with a particular male on whom the true depth of themes mentioned in the article will go conspicuously amiss, in spite of good intentions and a relatively keen intellect. (I think the most that can reasonably be expected is a nod to the errors of misogyny.)

However, I was surprised that, in its challenge of misogyny, the review did not address what appears to be a rather supportive treatment of unethical behavior in romance in general (and in this case, with specific regard to women).

In the interest of full disclosure, let me reveal that, 1) I practice a sort of polyamory myself, and as a matter of principle, refuse to lump all womankind into an essentialist 'females seeking monogamy' category, and 2) I have yet to see the movie, and thus my assumption may be premature.

And so, I am offended not by the mere depiction of one man having affairs with multiple women (which I condone when conducted in the right way), but by the emotionally reckless manner in which I suspect the affairs to be executed. From the previews, it is my guess that 'The Spirit' reaffirms and condones the complete and systematic disregard for the emotional sensitivity needed to balance multiple romantic endeavors - a practice which is usually still waged more frequently against heterosexual women, than men.

Of course, we are dealing in the realm of fantasy here. Yet in my opinion, a plotline such as 'The Spirit's' confirms (for both women and men) the vision of 'the cool guy' as someone with no regard for the consequences of his romantic actions. We know the influence of media culture on social behavior. In absolute terms (I stress 'absolute'), the movie thus gives women cues to fear men as "reckless," and men are given cues to *be* reckless in order to emulate the cool guy (or is it just 'a guy?'). Both are a far cry from the way an emancipated society should function.

Polyamory, at least in my world, is founded on principles of ethical consensus to such romance. I don't think I am assuming too much when I say that this is probably not propagated in 'The Spirit.'

you were right, the main

you were right, the main character conductes numerous simultaneous relationships, all of them clandestine from one another, in complete and blatant disregard for his main. that's not even taking into account his intensely fliratious behavoir with other women in front of her(and her father!). straight up derogatory.

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