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There's tough. And then there's Spirit tough.
The Spirit is tough like your Aunt Leona's fruitcake jerky. His enemies shoot, stab and bonk him on the head with large pieces of metal, and the guy keeps on coming, shaking shrapnel off like so much powdered sugar.
He was once a living, breathing human being named Denny Colt, a young Central City police officer who stopped living and breathing when he was gunned down in the line of duty. It looked for all the world as if Denny had booked his last bad guy.
"Stone cold dead," was how the coroner described him. "As dead as Star Trek."
But the coroner had other plans. He injected Denny with a stew of chemicals that brought a little life back to the fellow (though, inconveniently, after he was already buried) and gave him the ability to heal quite rapidly—so rapidly, in fact, that he became almost impossible to kill (again).
The Spirit version of Denny quickly formulated a to-do list: 1) Claw way out of coffin. 2) Buy new wardrobe consisting of mask, hat, sneakers and red tie. 3) Assume new identity and fight for truth, justice and the American way!
But it's not long before The Spirit realizes he's not the only guy who can take a punch (or a bullet or a machete or a guillotine). Another tenacious tough calling himself The Octopus also prowls around Central City, and he has far less honorable intentions. Spam filling his inbox bothers the guy more than a hail of bullets, and he's searching for something—a pint of ancient, Herculean blood, if you must know—that will make him even more powerful. He's aided by the beautiful and mysterious Silken Floss and a disposable horde of cloned, clueless goons who distinguish themselves from each other only by their eponymous T-shirts (labeled "Pathos," "Ethos," "Adios," "Amigos" etc.).
In between the lines, there's Sand Seref, a font of mischief who loves (and steals) sparkly, shiny things. As luck would have it, she was Denny's childhood girlfriend.
Oh, and the angel of death—who, in Central City manifests itself as a beautiful, singing siren named Lorelei—keeps asking The Spirit when he'll be joining her. Underwater.
Looks like The Spirit needs to modify his to-do list a bit.
The Spirit works in league with Central City's police force and its cranky commish, Dolan, to foil evildoers' evil plans. While he has his faults, The Spirit is not a tortured antihero, no conflicted or unwilling champion. He's a determined good guy who opens doors for ladies and tells children to brush their teeth before bed. Sure, he's a little obsessed about bringing The Octopus to justice, but is the zealous defense of law and order a bad thing? "Maybe you and your force could use a little obsession, Dolan," he says.
The Spirit might actually play second fiddle in the hero department to his sorta girlfriend, Ellen Dolan, though. She's a dedicated doctor who never takes a day off and always remains on call, ready to help The Spirit should his injuries need her healing touch. She's in love with him, sure. But she also stays by his side because she knows the city needs him.
Is The Spirit a Christlike figure? Comparisons could be made, of course. But the script here is far more preoccupied with classic Greek mythology and the power of science than anything Christian.
The baddies want two relics from Grecian lore. Sand has a hankering for the Golden Fleece of Jason and the Argonauts fame. The Octopus wants that vase filled with Hercules' blood. Drinking the blood, he believes, will cement his powers, make him immortal and turn him into a god. (Never mind that the blood didn't actually keep Hercules alive.) By way of explanation, The Octopus gives The Spirit the CliffsNotes version of Hercules' origins, telling him that Zeus spawned scads of half-god heroes—one of them being Hercules (who is often referred to as Heracles).
But while The Octopus expends a great deal of energy in tracking down this vase of heroic hemoglobin, he also says that mankind is always "making up" gods and afterlives to hold off the specter of death. And, of course, The Spirit's resurrection was the product of scientific experimentation, not supernatural intervention.
The Spirit claims to have room in his heart for only one suitor: Central City. "She is the love of my life," he says. But let's keep in mind that The Spirit is the product of death: Life is a relative term for the dude, and so, apparently, is love.
"You say lovely things to every woman you meet," says Ellen, "and you mean them all." And, indeed, The Spirit tells Ellen that she's the only one for him. The two engage in a near-miss sexual encounter at her office. (There's no nudity, but when they're interrupted, both hurriedly button their clothes). He kisses Sand with a great deal of passion. He has an odd hallucination that features the faces of several women and shows The Spirit's hallucinogenic doppelgänger sliding out of the lips of one.
The Spirit's women wear clothes that expose legs, stomachs and cleavage. Sand is particularly enamored with revealing getups. When we flash back to when she and Denny were teens, we see her in a midriff-revealing top, and the level of cloth coverage rapidly diminishes from there as she grows up. At one point, she's clad only in a towel—which drops when The Spirit tries to arrest her. (Audiences see a close-up of her naked backside and a hazy long shot of her front.) The Spirit tracks her down using a photocopy she'd made of her posterior: A doorman is able to identify her "goddess"-like rear. At one point The Spirit's pants fall down around his ankles.
Another femme fatale, named Plaster of Paris, cavorts in a skimpy belly dancing outfit, and appears to be fond of sadomasochism. Speaking of which, Sand cracks wise about The Spirit's handcuffs. The Spirit makes reference to a seedy side of the city where children are forced to prostitute themselves. One of The Octopus' clones is named Dildos.
"I'm gonna kill you all kinds of dead," The Spirit tells The Octopus. But when both can survive more punishment than cockroaches in nuclear winter, that's easier said than done. Thus, the result is prolonged sequences of attack-and-whack violence.
The Spirit is stabbed at least three times (one blade goes through his abdomen and sticks out of his back) and is pelted with hundreds of rounds of ammo. He gets hammered with fists, storage chests, huge hunks of metal, human heads (severed from police officers) and a toilet.
"Toilets are always funny!" The Octopus bellows.
The Spirit nearly drowns as his life-force is sucked out of him by Lorelei. The Octopus and Ms. Floss unveil a chart of The Spirit's body, stitched with crisscrossing dotted lines that illustrate how they plan to cut him up (so he won't regenerate). The Octopus then calls for Plaster of Paris to bring him The Spirit's toes.
As for The Octopus, he's pummeled almost senseless in shallow water, where he nearly drowns. One of his henchmen is forced to commit hara-kiri. Another gets thwacked in the head with a ninja star. Still others are shot in the gut with an arrow, cleaved in two or electrocuted. (Some of them continue to walk around with the weapons sticking out of their bodies, apparently impervious to pain.) A clone's arm is broken. And a colleague is run over by a truck (his face is cratered with tire tracks) before Octopus finally executes him by shooting him in the head. A misshapen clone—a disembodied foot with a clone face—jumps into a pot and dissolves in a howling brew.
Elsewhere: The Spirit blasts and pounds tons of evildoers (throwing one into a garbage can, flinging a manhole cover into another, etc.). At least three people commit suicide. One, after accidentally shooting a policeman, puts the gun to his head and pulls the trigger. Another's head is blown away so that he looks like a shattered egg shell. In flashback, we see a stylistic rendering of Denny's murder. One character gets shot several times in the forehead and has his arm torn off by a gigantic gun before getting blown to smithereens by a grenade. (We see part of his ribcage resting in the street.)
An old-fashioned crime comic features a picture of a man being hung. A kitten is melted by a chemical concoction, leaving behind only a pair of eyes. The Octopus mentions that his failed experiments led to a freezer full of dead beagles.
Crude or Profane Language
Dolan's favorite expletive is "g--d--n"; he says it at least a dozen times. Jesus' name is also misused. Milder profanities include a handful of the words "h---," "b--ch" and "a--."
Drug and Alcohol Content
The Octopus apparently runs a drug racket. And he and The Spirit both owe their superhuman abilities to the injection of experimental serums. The Spirit is injected with something that renders him unconscious. We see champagne and hear about other forms of alcohol. A drunk offers The Spirit his flask. Cigarettes are glamorized.
Other Negative Elements
Hatred for policemen is expressed. Sand takes part in a poker game. The Spirit asks Dolan to let Sand go—even though she's been stealing stuff and encouraging people to commit suicide. Dolan obliges.
Never mind that The Spirit showed up in theaters on Christmas Day. This is certainly not a movie about one of Ebenezer Scrooge's instructive spirits. The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, after all, don't moonlight as masked vigilantes with a yen for nasty humor, stylistic carnage and red ties.
Granted, the film has a chic comic book sensibility courtesy of 300 and Sin City's Frank Miller. With The Spirit, Miller actually tones down the explicitness of his violence. But I'm not feeling relieved. Simply securing a PG-13 rating doesn't do much for me anymore. And infusing bloodshed with "style" and a comic book "flair" doesn't make it any less bloody. In fact, sometimes the way in which Miller executes his craft makes the violence feel more intense and vivid.
Maybe another guy who loves to wear red will give Miller an appropriate gift this season: A nice lump of coal. Don't throw it at anyone, Frank.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Gabriel Macht as The Spirit; Eva Mendes as Sand Saref; Samuel L. Jackson as The Octopus; Scarlett Johansson as Silken Floss; Sarah Paulson as Ellen Dolan: Dan Lauria as Commissioner Dolan