This often-forgotten telefilm from 1987 was a pilot movie for a series that never panned out, but Spirit purists who complained about the 2008 movie version may actually prefer this unassuming little flick to the big- budget 21st Century version.
The Frank Miller movie from 2008 changed the Spirit’s iconic costume to black instead of blue and “Millerized” him, making him a kind of Dark Knight clone instead of the lighter, quirkier hero that Will Eisner fans remembered him as being. For Spirit novices, the superhero was detective Denny Colt of fictional Central City. In his origin story he ran afoul of the mad scientist Dr Cobra, and in the resulting struggle got drenched and drowned in one of the good doctor’s experimental chemicals.
In the “embalming-free” world of superhero fiction, Colt was buried in Wildwood Cemetery, but, as it turned out, Dr Cobra’s chemicals had only made him appear dead. Digging his way out of his grave Denny Colt adapted the alias the Spirit and fought the usual supervillain types with his greatest advantage being the superhuman durability that Dr Cobra’s formula had bestowed on him as it saturated his body.
Spirit geeks who hated the Miller film criticized this durability as if it was a new angle, but if you go back and read the stories all the way from the beginning in 1940 (collected volumes are available) they were loaded with scenes of the hero taking inhuman amounts of punishment and with the villains commenting on how the Spirit could literally take a licking but keep on ticking. All Miller did was make the durability (never invulnerability – our hero could still be hurt and rendered unconscious) more prominent and more like Wolverine’s famous healing factor.
The 1987 flick starred Sam Jones from 1980’s Flash Gordon film. With his hair dyed black, Jones certainly looked the part and most of the comic strip’s essential characters were included in the story. Garry Walberg (Lt Monahan on Quincy) played Commisioner Dolan, with Nana Visitor as his daughter Ellen Dolan, our hero’s on and off love interest.
For the villain the telefilm eschewed Dr Cobra for P’Gell, one of the Spirit’s many femme fatale enemies. Though P’Gell is one of the most memorable villains of the Spirit stories McKinlay Robinson’s portrayal of the character is pretty bland. However, the threats that she and her network of thugs use against our hero are usually credible, like a vat of acid and explosives, and overall the story and P’Gell’s criminal plot are pretty entertaining, just not great.
To get a look at the Spirit being depicted more like his creator Will Eisner had always rendered him and for an enjoyable couple of hours, check this movie out.
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