We're approximately eight years into the second wave of CGI trickery. The first wave was content with touch ups and the adding of unrealistic elements. This second wave, which we could properly say began in 1999 with George Lucas' STAR WARS prequels, ushered in a new use of CGI as a way to create any kind of environment or situation. This era's creative and aesthetic peak came in SIN CITY in 2005. Director Robert Rodriguez utilized CGI to create a CALIGARI-like dream world of Impressionistic images. I credit Rodriguez solely for this achievement, despite Frank Miller's name being attached as co-director of that film because I have seen Miller's first solo directorial effort, THE SPIRIT. An atrocity in every way, Miller has made possibly the most amateurish large-budget feature film of the year. The film stars Gabriel Macht as Denny Colt, a police officer who is killed and then resurrected as the crime-fighting Spirit. He spends his nights prowling the city, looking for criminals and thwarting their reign of terror. High on his list of baddies is The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), an indestructible villain who relishes their little encounters. The film is misguided from the start. The story itself, based on a Will Eisner comic strip from 1940, feels painfully out of date. What lumbering studio brainiac thought that modern audiences could be interested in something so relentlessly old-fashioned? It is also completely free of tension, as it pits two superhuman, indestructible beings against each other repeatedly. It's like watching Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots fight for two laborious hours. But then Miller gets involved, and the entire enterprise tumbles into Miller's twisted, misogynistic id of scantily-clad women and ridiculously hard-boiled dialogue. The script by Miller is pathetic, chopping and pasting opposing scenes together in such haphazard fashion that a weed-whacker would have a better shot at assembling it properly. The dialogue Miller forces into the mouths of his mostly skilled cast should be banned in the next SAG contract negotiations. Miller's direction takes this amateurish and directionless script and manages to even do it further disservice. Scenes linger like the last fart from a dying man. The entire film plays like a silent film that has been colorized, digitally-spruced by Jett Lucas, and then had sound slapped over it. It is easily the worst directorial job of the year. And the acting ... wooo ... this cast is better than this. Samuel L. Jackson gives one of his worst performances ever, making his turn as Mace Windu look like Brando's Vito Corleone. He bugs out his eyes and rambles endlessly about eggs for some unknown reason. Macht comes off better, owing mostly to the fact that he is only required to growl and pose heroically. The huge bevy of female actresses come and go without any impression whatsoever, except as lingerie/leather models in the skin flick of Miller's mind. This film exists only as a highlight reel for the huge battalion of special effects artists who labored over every pixel of this film. The look, very much reminiscent of SIN CITY's monochromatic style, is eye-catching for approximately four minutes. Then, like 2004's SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, the lack of substance underneath the effects cause the entire film to collapse. Of course, SKY CAPTAIN had one advantage in its favor: Frank Miller was not involved. Miller is obviously a graphic genius; his strips are masterpieces of impressionistic art. But movies require more than pretty pictures and little bubbles of narration, and with THE SPIRIT, Miller shows conclusively that he needs to go back to his books.
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