Score [rating 2]
There’s something oddly refreshing about the pure insanity that exists in the first 30 minutes of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Neveldine/Taylor’s follow up to the reviled 2007 Mark Steven Johnson directed Ghost Rider. Where the original film felt spineless and without creative conviction, this incarnation is teeming to its eyeballs with the kind of decisions that can only be made by directors who know what they want.
Unfortunately what they want is, apparently, to make a bad movie. Because even though Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance begins with some inspired craziness that improves upon it predecessor in almost every way, it still manages to end up being a garbled, boring mess of a film that has no place in the modern superhero film landscape.
I’m not quite sure why Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor decided to try their hand at making a superhero movie. Did they just think that Ghost Rider was a ridiculous character that could be bent to their lunatic style of filmmaking? Because if Spirit of Vengeance lacks anything compared to the 2007 incarnation it’s any sort of reverence for its source material.
Neveldine/Taylor employ their usual cavalcade of quick cuts, ridiculous slow motion and trippy shot selection in almost every moment of the opening section of the film. It’s a furiously paced reintroduction to the character that actually had me accepting the B-movie tone of the story. It’s when the directors abandon that style and try to make you care about its characters that the film completely loses its way. There is a 20 minute long section of the film that tries its best to imitate the bonding scenes in Terminator 2, but instead just turns into an interminably boring sequence of scenes I couldn’t care less about.
Then there’s Nicholas Cage – oh Nicholas Cage is it even fun to make fun of you anymore? Wasn’t their a time where your over the top antics came across as something that set you apart from cliched movie star behavior and wasn’t in fact a cliche in itself? The answer to both those questions is of course, yes. But we are long past the days of Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation, and we can longer judge him against those performances. Instead we need to judge him against the litany of crap he has wrought over the past ten years and in that context Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not so bad. He’s utterly ridiculous and at times is so out there that it makes you feel uncomfortable but I don’t think any of it comes from a place of disrespect for the character. Quite the contrary, Cage seems engaged and alive in his performance. That isn’t to say his Johnny Blaze is any good it’s only to say it isn’t the reason the film is bad.
The performances don’t all feel like over revved jet engines though. Idris Elba, who plays warrior priest Moreau, is the real bright spot of the movie and a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Elba is a fine actor and he is so charismatic that I found myself wishing I could watch an entire movie about him. I also thought Ciarán Hinds, who essentially is playing the same Devil role as Peter Fonda in the last film, was a suitably evil nemesis for our demon stuntman.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance’s biggest virtue is that it sports a visual style and fidelity that are marked improvements over the original film. The Rider himself has a texture and weight that was lacking back in 2007. The fire on the skull feels more organic and the simple addition of black smoke billowing from the flames adds a sense of the character’s place in the real world. This all comes into play during the big action set pieces the movie employs. The action itself isn’t anything amazing, but the inclusion of a character like Ghost Rider, who has such a different look and set of abilities then a normal combatant, is enough to make them feel fresh. There is one scene in particular where Blaze rides a crane and imbues it with the powers of the Rider that deserved to be in a better movie.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not a sub par film that has flourishes of fun. Most of that fun comes from its utterly insane directorial choices and from the acceptance of all that Nicholas Cage brings to the movie. Unfortunately those things are also the film’s downfall. One moment you are getting these bizarre animated flashback sequences that somehow work really well and the next Ghost Rider is pissing fire.
This dissonance exists in every nook and cranny of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It seems that Neveldine and Taylor had no interest in making a truly good Ghost Rider film, and that instead they wanted to make their next film and it just so happened to be this one. What this all amounts to is a Rider that is all flash and no substance. Protect your soul and stay away.