By pretty much every objective measure, The Spirit is not a good movie. Like, at all. It exists in this weird limbo between being a gritty Frank Miller comic book movie and a winking farce of itself, and it doesn't consistently work as either. But note the word "consistently," because there are parts of this film that are so gut-bustingly absurd that it almost excuses the entire film. And all of those scenes star two actors who are so far above this schlock that they consequently elevate the entire experience: Samuel L. Jackson as villain The Octopus and Scarlett Johannson as lead henchwoman Silken Floss.
Jackson leans so heavily into playing a character whose moniker bears no relation to his motivation or origin that it's quite frankly more than a little impressive how dedicated he is to the insanity. There's chewing the scenery, and then there are scenes so ridiculous that you have no choice but to swallow some force-fed set, but Jackson plays it all with such a wink and a smile that you'd think he was eating crème brulee.
Take, for instance, the following scene where The Octopus discovers he has stolen the wrong item:
Why are they in kimonos? Where are they? Why this sudden shift in tone and style? Why the hell does Jackson have obviously fake sideburns in this scene that he's constantly playing with?
Who cares? Jackson owns this scene so much purely through charisma. You can tell he's having fun, so consequently, we're having fun. Did you ever want to see Samuel L. Jackson deliver a monologue in Nazi regalia to a man tied to a dentist's chair? Do you want to watch him laugh maniacally as he melts a cartoonishly adorable kitten—off-screen, don't worry—down to its precious little eyeballs? The material he has to work with is so insane that if he weren't having a blast, there would be no chance of any of us finding a modicum of enjoyment in it.
But what makes these scenes work infinitely better is how much Scarlett Johannson is a perfect straight-woman to Jackson's madcap. Her character is clearly the brains behind The Octopus's schemes, so her straightfaced management of The Octopus's eccentricities makes her an equally vital component in making any of their scenes work. Watch her try to keep a straight face as Jackson finds the perfect words to describe his latest cloning creation:
Now, do Jackson and Johansson elevate The Spirit into some kind of unsung masterpiece of the superhero genre? Of course not. But I do think they put the film firmly in the camp of a so-bad-it's-good or a seeing-is-believing kind that bad movie aficionados have yet to latch on to. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of extreme talents to inject some irony into some otherwise wretched material to make some small nuggets of comic gold.