Frank Miller entered the Hollywood spotlights when people started turning his graphic novels into films. Sin City and 300 were great successes, but now Miller himself is taking place behind the camera. To remake one of his own comics? Nah, too obvious. Miller is taking one of Eisner's and tries to make it his own. Whether to say he succeeded is not an easy task.
People will tell you The Spirit is exactly like Sin City. Chances are they will then tell you how Sin City is better, effectively explaining why this film isn't really like Sin City at all. Visual style withstanding, there really isn't all that much common ground between both films. If you will, The Spirit relates to Sin City in the same way Batman & Robin relates to The Dark Knight.
The Spirit has a very typical superhero setup. There's the main hero, protecting the city with his cape and face mask. He has a love/hate affair with the local police and ties with some secondary villains. All of this acts as filler, juicing up the time not spent on battling his arch enemy Octopus. There's some fighting, some gun-slinging, lots of fancy talk and in between some very serious drama.
American comics usually handle this stuff in a rather grave, serious tone. Miller's adaptation of The Spirit does not. It's light-hearted, fun and even a little tipsy. Oh sure, everything might look dark and moody, but the tone of the film is almost humorous. There are even some manga-esque influences, best seen in the over-the-top character of Johansson, making dry comments from the sidelines at the weirdest of times.
Visually the parallels with Sin City are plenty, as The Spirit more or less adapts the same visual style. Not too surprising of course, Sin City based its visual style on Miller's original comic, but as this is filmland we have to give some credit to Rodriguez. That said, I liked The Spirit a whole lot better. Technically not perfect, but artistically way more impressive than Sin City. There are tons of landmark shots, smart play of shadows, nifty contour shots and Miller shows us a superb use of colour. The Spirit is a visual feast and screencap heaven.
The soundtrack is not as interesting, sadly, as it is composed of a rather typical superhero comic book score, featuring crappy tunes and lifeless melodies. Acting is equally horrible, with only Samuel L. Jackson making the best of his character. He goes completely over-the-top, clearly having the time of his life. The other characters are plenty of fun too, but most of the cast just doesn't cut it. Prime example is Johansson, who completely fails as Silken Floss, a role that should'nt have been too hard to play. Luckily, her character manages to survive nonetheless.
Even though the acting is quite bad and the humour doesn't work all that well, the tone of the film is just right for a story like this. It's nonsensical garbage and the film is quite aware of this fact. Miller blows everything out of proportion and has a lot of fun along the way, often felt in his over-the-top approach of the simplest of moments. All of this is carried to a big and explosive finale, giving me everything I would ever hope to expect from a film like this.
Fans of more serious adaptations will probably feel betrayed by Miller's film. Fans of Batman felt the same way with Schumacher's second Batman masterpiece. I say blah to that. I prefer my comic book adaptations like this. Silly, quirky and fun, drowning all seriousness in a puddle of over-the-top goofiness. The Spirit is just that, so beware before you venture any further.
Watch the trailer if you want a taste before trying out the real thing.