A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Spirit is an update of a 1940s comic book from one of the creative forces behind 300. It's overflowing with hyper-stylized and excessive violence -- and suffused with smirking sexuality. There's only one instance of nudity (female buttocks), but the movie's sexual politics are decidedly retrograde -- all the female characters are either tarted-up villains, "bad" girls with hearts of gold, or long-suffering true loves who stand by their men. Also be prepared for buckets of stylized (but still graphic) bloodshed and lots of gory wounds and deaths. While the violence has the hyperactive, cartoony feel of a comic book, it's also brutal and depicted with extraordinary detail.
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What's the story?
A rookie cop named Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) returns mysteriously from the dead as The Spirit, a crime fighter lurking in the shadows of his beloved Central City. His mission is to protect the city from evil forces, especially his nemesis, the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), a killer who will stop at nothing -- including the total destruction of Central City -- to obtain immortality. The Spirit tracks down the Octopus, all the while facing a series of beautiful, sometimes treacherous women, some who want to seduce him, and some who want to kill him.
Is it any good?
Directed by Frank Miller -- the comic book creator behind 300 and Sin City -- THE SPIRIT takes comic book icon Will Eisner's 1940s character and updates him in all the wrong ways. The classic Spirit strips had a noir sensibility, but they also had rich, well-drawn characters and a brilliant sense of urban setting; Miller, making his directorial debut, jettisons all that for flashy visuals, sexy posing, and over-the-top violence.
All of the actors are capable -- even the bland, handsome Macht in the title role -- but Miller's script is so shabby and threadbare that it's impossible to care about the characters or their situations; awash in fake blood and infantile sexuality, The Spirit doesn't so much represent the triumph of style over substance as represent the triumph of style over everything, including sensibility, storytelling, the look and feel of the original material, and the need to create a coherent film. Miller may be able to craft a story on the printed page, but with The Spirit, it's clear he can't make the jump to the big screen.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of comic book cinema. Why do you think so many comic characters, no matter how marginal or lesser-known, seem to wind up on the big screen? Do all comic book movies have the same appeal? Why or why not?
Discuss The Spirit's broad, almost cartoony violence -- is a violent film that's so over-the-top more or less problematic than a realistic one? What would be the real ramifications and consequences of violence like what's shown here?
How does the movie depict women? What role do they play? And how much of the film's marketing and iconography is about selling sex?
- In theaters: December 25, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: April 14, 2009
- Cast: Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson
- Director: Frank Miller
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of stylized violence and action, some sexual content and brief nudity
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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