Mega Review: The Spirit and Valkyrie - Both High-Energy and Surprising
by Kevin Powers
December 24, 2008
With a slew of movies vying for your attention this holiday and similarities in The Spirit and Valkyrie, I thought it'd be worthwhile to combine them into one "mega review." After all, The Spirit and Valkyrie both have blockbuster expectations - the return of comic wizard Frank Miller and the chance for Tom Cruise to prove his box-office mettle, respectively. This hype is certainly going to play against these two, since they end up in very different places. The Spirit is confidently not the next Sin City, and Tom Cruise actually proves the weakest link in Valkyrie. Nevertheless, both films are high-energy experiences, one more visual and the other more emotional, that are worth the $20 that Grandma sent you this Christmas.
The Spirit: Long on Energy, Short on Life
Directed by: Frank Miller
Kevin's Rating: 5.5 out of 10
It can't be said enough that The Spirit is not on the same level as Sin City oe 300. There are vast and deep differences beneath the surface that result in an altogether difference experience. The action and violence in first-time solo director Frank Miller's film has more camp than a boy scout retreat, while the storyline is as frenetic, fanciful and fleeting as a dream. The film is a slapstick and imaginative tale that, despite being visually engrossing, amounts to only a shell of a story, with little tangible or memorable form.
The story centers on a superhero-like ex-cop called The Spirit (Gabriel Macht), who seems to have more love for his city than the Sex and the City girls do for New York. And more lives than all the cats in his loft. The Spirit races over rooftops in his suit and trademark red tie, saving damsels in distress and saying things like "golly" and "oh brother." It's true, The Spirit has an oddball '50s-style to it, what with the fedoras and old cop cars, but it's certainly not a period piece - that's clearly evident by the typography and weaponry. It's a unique formula, and for the most part it succeeds in creating a rich, alternate universe. The campy tone comes across as fun in many of the artistic action sequences; like when the The Spirit tells The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), "I'm going to kill you all kinds of dead!" while fighting him in a muddy bog.
But there are also parts where it doesn't work. In the slower, more drama-aimed segments it can be very tedious, such as during the numerous flashbacks, or when The Spirit is talking to the police commissioner or flirting with the female doctor. Miller's incredibly styled fights and adventuring is just so compelling that it makes the rest of the film and it's campy storytelling feel anemic without it. And then there are parts that are just bad. In league with the Octopus, The Spirit's nemesis of equally indestructible composition, is Silken Floss, played by the usually enjoyable Scarlett Johansson. While everyone else manages to deliver their cheeky lines in the requisite retro good-vs-evil manner, Johansson delivers every line like an embellishing drama student. She's even more irritating than the perpetually smiling test-tube bad guy, played by the dumpy Louis Lombardi.
It's disappointing that The Spirit, given it's unique comic (and comical) temperament, won't find itself alongside the memorable Sin City and 300. With its inconsistent tone and overwhelming visuals, The Spirit is a film that manages the complex achievement of being stunning and forgettable at the same time, destined to be simply a haunt of the genre.
Valkyrie: Despite Cruise, A Taut Thriller
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Kevin's Rating: 7.5 out of 10
If you must decide between the two, Valkyrie may be the better choice since it's a more conventional, accessible thriller. However, don't expect Tom Cruise to redeem any industry clout in this one. Considering the star power of the man and his lead role, it's eye-opening that the supporting cast outdoes him to such a degree; and when you consider the overall math of the film, it can be said that Cruise proves a negligible addition. Not exactly what he and his troubled production company, United Artists, were hoping for.
To director Bryan Singer's credit, Valkyrie is one of the tautest films of the year. There is virtually no time spent on the characters before the main plot kicks into high gear - that of an inside job to assassinate Hitler. The subject matter is fascinating and very much based on real events. Singer's Valkyrie is not a half-hearted "inspired by" accounting, which gives the film incredible gravity. Seeing the character of Hitler on screen is equally weighty, especially since other WWII films of this year (and years past) shy away from direct depictions of the man (e.g. The Reader, Defiance). Singer's framing gives the character the needed drumroll and cloud of fear, which makes the assassination attempt all the more stomach-wrenching.
Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the young and motivated mastermind behind the plot to kill the Nazi leader at his remote headquarters, the "Wolf's Lair." The story's pace does Cruise no service, as his confidence and canniness feels too efficient and remarkably like his Ethan Hunt character from Mission Impossible. Any depth to Stauffenberg is coincidence at best and not the work of Cruise. On the other hand, those in league with Stauffenberg manage to weave a needed emotional layer that broadens Valkyrie beyond a just vapid blockbuster. While much of the supporting cast does a commendable job (e.g. Tom Wilkinson, Kenneth Branagh, Terrence Stamp, Eddie Izzard), it's Bill Nighy as General Friedrich Olbricht who is an absolute standout. Nighy's performance truly gives one the sense of hope and fear those involved in the assassination attempt must have felt.
While it's surprising that Cruise doesn't offer more to Valkyrie, the film is nevertheless a thriller in the truest sense. Not to mention, a historical tale, riveting in its ambition and consequence. And even though Singer's portrayal sits at a 30,000-foot view, especially in the finer details like language and accents, Valkyrie's strong supporting cast helps ground the film enough to give it true feeling and weight.
Reader Feedback - 30 Comments
The Spirit was awful. 5.5 out of 100 is to generous of a score, 5.5 out of 10 is absurd. What an hideous movie
Adam Frazier on Dec 24, 2008
Im surprised the fact that Tom Cruise is playing a German yet doesn't even have a German accent in the film wasn't brought up in the review. I think it is pretty dumb to have a movie based on a German character and take place in Germany and not have them speak in German, or at least have the main character speak with a German accent. Ahh the blunders of Hollywood.
Dan W on Dec 24, 2008
tell me, adam(#1), how you managed to see a film that hadn't come out yet. and Alex, that kind of comment kinda shows that you were routing for Spirit to be poor all along. All i am asking, is give films a chance.
Al on Dec 24, 2008
I am with #4.
SillySil on Dec 24, 2008
I'm with number 4, but I have to say this review is horrible for The Spirit. The comic if you ever read it, is not all about beat em up and I'll kill you type of fighting. It is a cop comic with serious overtones, comedic one liners, and overall NOT ALL ABOUT VIOLENCE. I embrace the fact Frank Miller did something different. It shows he can float all across the spectrum.
Movieraider321 on Dec 24, 2008
oh and Kevin make sure to always proofread. Some minor spelling errors. So I give your review a 2.5/10
Movieraider321 on Dec 24, 2008
ONE FINAL NOTE: the spirit came out originally in the 1940s........no wonder they say "good goly" or "oh my". Before you review a comic based movie, read the comic.
Movieraider321 on Dec 24, 2008
I saw a press screening of it on Friday, Dec. 19th. I can't discuss it because I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement with Lionsgate saying I would not post my review until Christmas Day.
Adam Frazier on Dec 24, 2008
Thank you Kevin, I was worried you didn't enjoy it in the slightest. But I get what you were saying. And I was just poking fun at you, it's understandable with this, the craziest of holidays, to make a blunder or two. Merry Christmas man.
Movieraider321 on Dec 24, 2008
I was telling friends that my gut was saying the spirit would bomb. As for Valkyrie I didn't want to see it at all after seeing the first trailer. Why make a thriller about a part of history and not try to be as authentic as possible? English speaking actors. That's ridiculous. Remember Dances with Wolves. Lots of subtitles. Apocalypto, all subtitles. Bryan Singer is circling the drain as far as I'm concerned. I might rent this when it gets released on video, but I'm not going to spend my hard earned money on a half baked movie.
Mike on Dec 24, 2008
I'm surprised so many people are so pissed that Valkyrie is not in German. I mean, Yeah, I'd like to see it in German, with german actors and stuff, but then it would probably also be a German film. How many of those do you see in the theaters here? Not many. Reason? A lot of people hate subtitles. A whole lot, in fact. And how many people in the US do you think have EVER watched a foreign film that wasn't dubbed? People here just will not watch a movie with subtitles. So then the next complaint is lack of a German accent... well that would just be silly. If they're all going to speak english, then they may as well just speak english. Otherwise you'll have actors all with mismatching german accents and slipping out of their accents... not to mention that the german accent is kindof hard to do and remain intelligible. Or without sounding goofy and comedic.
Squiggly on Dec 24, 2008
I'd like inform you that Scarlett Johansson (actress)actually is a clone from original person,who has nothing with acting career.Clone was created illegally using stolen biomaterial.Original Scarlett Galabekian last name is nice, CHRISTIAN young lady.I'll tell more,those clones(it's not only 1)made in GERMANY-world leader manufacturer of humans clones,it's in Ludwigshafen am Rhein,Rhineland-Palatinate,Mr.Helmut Kohl home town.You can't even imaging the scale of the cloning activity.But warning,H.Kohl staff strictly controlling their clones spreading around the world,they're NAZI type disciplined and mind controlled,be careful get close with clones you will be controlled too.Original family didn't authorize any activity with stolen biomaterials,no matter what form it was created in,it's all need to be back to original family control in Cedars-Sinai MedicalCenter in LA.Controlling clones is US military operation.Original Scarlett never was engaged,by the way
Serge G on Dec 24, 2008
#3: Years ago Roger Ebert established a rule of thumb regarding accents: if all the characters are speaking a foreign language then obviously they don't sound foreign to themselves and we as the audience listening in on them are are going to hear them in normal English, without accents. The notion that we should expect to hear German characters speaking English with a German accent is irrational.
RandyG on Dec 25, 2008
wow #16 awesome post its very true.....but #14 I am sometimes called a tinfoil hat motherfucker, but honestly if your not joking then Oh my god go get committed.
Cody on Dec 25, 2008
Hated Valkyrie. Wish I had picked one of the others to see.
Jeana on Dec 25, 2008
who the fuck is robert evert...? who cares ehat this fucker says
BaDGuY on Dec 27, 2008
Valkyrie is a fantastic movie. It is informative, inspiring and fascinating. I think it is quite unfair for some critics to mislead the public with negative reviews that are absolutely false. At a time when the world is filled with dictators such as Robert Mugabe, it is inspiring to know that there were people that saw the evil of Hitler and tried to stop it. For me, Valkyrie informed me about historical facts of which I was unaware. I am inspired by the knowledge that some made a spirited effort to stop Hitler. I love the fact that Tom Cruise did this movie; it was not the usual smooth superhero that he plays but a real life human hero with limitations. I loved and enjoyed the movie immensely. I recommend it whole heartedly to anybody who has a brain and a heart. What a fantasatic movie!
Millie on Dec 27, 2008
I finally got in to see the Spirit, and I thought the movie and the feel was ok. I have a lot of the old Spirit magazines from the 1970s and lots of the little scenes looked right out of the magazine art. A little wierd and over the top in places but overall very neat and seemed to capture the Spirit look and feel. Lots of ladies and grumpy cops------------and wierd bad guys-----------and they all seemed perfectly in sync with the movie. Lots of people wont like the style but those people most likely wouldnt like the comic magazines either. Randy
randy on Dec 28, 2008
the problem with the spirit was that frank miller was working out side of his medium
cali on Dec 29, 2008
Singer once again fails....my God, even a hint of a German accent would have made a huge difference. Look at the many WWII films that have been made, at least the Jerry had the the accent. Ink Kasas yenna Klien houd! Dien fogel dumazzel !
D-9 on Dec 31, 2008
You guys are whiners. The reason the actors didn't speak German was artistic. When seeking accuracy, subtitles are by far the best method. The goal here though was to create characters that were as relatable as possible. Having German fade to American English made the break created by a language barrier less, and inserted specifically American audiences more easily into the place of each character. But you're right. There's only ONE way to do anything, and that's the way a nonprofessional whiner would do it to please himself and his obsessive buddies. This wasn't supposed to be Saving Private Ryan. Some of you guys missed the point. Finally, I know it's cool to bash Tom Cruise, but he delivered a solid relatable performance. Stop jumping bandwagons and give the guy a fair shake.
Stephen on Jan 1, 2009
Big differnce between using an ACCENT and the LANGUAGE Steveo. Artistic my ass, how 'bout lame!
scrooge on Jan 2, 2009
LAZINESS! That's what it all comes down to. Valkyrie was made the way it is not because of artistic intentions, trying to make characters more relatable, or any other half-assed excuse for LAZINESS. #13 nailed it on the head by saying Americans hate watching movies with subtitles....... and that is, again, LAZINESS. Yes, let's continue to make New Year's resolutions of hitting the gym and losing weight. Here's an idea, stop being LAZY. Maybe even watch a movie with subtitles for a change. You never know, you might even enjoy it.
PG on Jan 3, 2009
Singer was either LAZY like PG says or TC was LAZY and thought too much of himself to actually use an accent. Bottom Line: CONTINUITY! Perfect example of NOT how to do a script in WW 2 with Nazis as the main characters.
D-9 on Jan 4, 2009
I saw The Spirit over here in the UK on Saturday and was massively disappointed. I nearly walked out after 15 minutes but my mate refused to on the principle we'd just paid £6.50 to get in!! If I'm honest I'd say it was the worst film I've seen at the cinemas in a long, long time. Gun to my head I'd give it 2 out of 10 and that's generous. Now before everyone starts 1) I know you shouldn't slag off a film based on a comic/novel without any knowledge of the source, however you have to realise that films are aimed at the general public and therefore should not only be enjoyable to a certain fan base. Cerebus, great comic would make a bad film as it's too complicated and wouldn't appeal to a mass audience! 2) I also wasn't expecting Sin City 2, I know the comic, I know Frank Miller and I'd seen the trailers, therefore knew the style and story to expect 3) unfortunately I hadn't read any reviews, I normally try to avoid them! It sounds daft but it had everything that should have made it good, the campness I don't mind, the cheesey dialogue goes hand in hand with pulp novel/comics of the 40's era. The action, apart from not having "Kaboom" and "Thwack" popping out of the screen it was very reminiscent of the camptastic 60's Batman series! The characters were just terrible. Eva Mendes was good, although was it just me or did she sound at time like Sarah Bernhard in Hudson Hawk? Scarlett Johanson can't act. Sam Jackson's character was just annoying the "hero" was OK but irritating and at times I found myself thinking that he looked remarkably like a young bruce campbell and don't get me started on the 'clones,' or how his ex girlfriend doesn't recognise him when she's around him that much, it's only a mask for gods sake!! Finally the script seemed to be a mish-mash of about 6 different screenplays by several writers. The whole film seemed to just be a mess, unsure whether it was supposed to be serious, comical and deliberately played for laughs, camp, old school noir or action flick. It kept flipping between each one but with no real consistency, leaving the viewer confused as to what the hell kind of film they were watching. The plot was all over the place and seemed to switch between a film introducing the character with some back story to a failed robbery attempt to get a vase etc, which half way through seemed to take a back seat to everything and only popped up again when they needed the plot to move on ever so slightly! Again this is just my opinion, bearing in mind I lost the will to live after 15 minutes it's very possible that the story moved along perfectly and my brain just switched off. In the end I think it was a simple case of a film that just shouldn't have been made, it certainly shouldn't have been greenlit with a script/story like that! And before anyone points out the obvious that Lois didn't recognise Clark Kent as Superman because of a pair of glasses and a side parting...don't bother
Paul Douglass on Jan 7, 2009
I never thought I'd find someone who feels almost EXACTLY the same way about The Spirit as I do. The visuals were great, the cheesy and campy dialogue was fun...but when it came to the more dramatic parts it really didn't work. Frank Miller is brilliant with characters and writing, IMO. That still shows in The Spirit (which is up for debate). But Miller cannot direct his way out of a paper bag. He should stick to writing as he does not know how to end a movie. After it all, after the movie had time to sit in the back of my mind I wound up giving it the same rating of 5.5 out of 10, simply for the camp factor being what I wanted at the time and the characters being fun. I am not praising The Spirit, but I'm not calling it all out sh!t. Simply because I do not believe that is the case. You may think otherwise.
elgo on Jan 12, 2009
I completely agree with the fact that a hollywood movie based around German characters in Germany should have the characters speaking German. For example; K19: The Widow Maker had all the actors use dodgy russian accents and I winced everytime they spoke a line. The 13th Warrior was almost perfect until all of them were speaking English at some point. As Mel Gibson has shown in Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, using the appropriate languages gives one that full illusion/immersion when watching a movie. Unfortunately hollywood will never take a chance on an unknown actor even though he can speak several languages and might fit the character profile perfectly. Yes, I know actors are the reason most people go and watch a movie (unfortunately) but sometimes unknown faces and subtitles can be a bit too much for some.
Spikey Mickey on Jan 23, 2009
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