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!