Note: This article was previously published on Capes on Film.
If you’re willing to put your brain in neutral and lower your IQ about fifty points, you might have a good time at Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (SoV). While I don’t think the filmmakers will have to worry about renting a tux when award season rolls around, it wasn’t the disaster that many other critics seem to think. It ranged from outright ridiculous in spots (What action movie isn’t?) to actually kinda cool. I went into the theatre expecting a leaner, meaner, grungier take on the Ghost Rider franchise than the 2007 film, and for the most part, that’s what I got. If you’re expecting a groundbreaking, profound piece of cinema, stay far, far away. However, if you’re the type of person who enjoys watching old, cheesy horror or action movies and appreciates them as visual spectacles – nothing more, nothing less – then maybe you’ll dig it. I have to chuckle when I read reviews bemoaning the lack of character development and the silly dialogue in SoV. Come on, we’re talking about a ninety minute movie based on a comic book character with a flaming skeleton as an alter ego, and you want character development? Screw that – The Rider has asphalt to melt and evildoers to flame-broil.
|Nicolas Cage – Sony Pictures
To put it bluntly, SoV is not as awful as many would have you believe, given that co-directors, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, had a budget of around $75 million, which is almost half the budget that Mark Steven Johnson had for the first Ghost Rider film. These days, it’s almost unheard of for a major comic book movie to be made for under $100 million. Neveldine and Taylor made good use of their meager budget by filming in interesting (and I’m sure, cheap) locations in Romania and Turkey – full of ancient ruins and abandoned industrial facilities – which definitely gives the movie an eerie look. There are also two major action scenes that they nail – one in which The Rider commandeers a giant bulldozer of some kind, and the climactic chase featuring The Rider against a convoy of armored cars. What the movie lacks in a coherent story or believable dialogue, it at least makes up for with sheer heavy metal destruction. The directors also gave Cage free rein to be as nutso as he wanted, and he delivered – with a whacked out performance that bordered on self-parody. There are several over-the-top Cage freak-outs that will surely become YouTube classics.
The overall story is really the weakest part of SoV. It’s a plot that’s been used in horror movies for decades, and I have a feeling it took the screenwriter, David Goyer, all of two weeks to write it. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before – A special child is needed by a cult in order to make a sacrifice to Satan, and if that occurs, “a darkness will fall upon the earth” (someone actually says that in the film). Johnny Blaze (Cage) is recruited to save the kid (Fergus Riordan), many chase scenes then follow, and the Ghost Rider snuffs a lot of bad guys. That pretty much sums up the storyline of SoV. By the way, these demonic possession stories always seem to involve some secret sect of “the church”, and sure enough, SoV has one of those, too. Without a doubt, the cliche-filled plot was the weakest part of the movie and definitely could’ve used a few more original ideas.
While the re-hashed plot was disappointing, SoV has three things going for it. First, the visual effects people improved on the look of the Ghost Rider from the first film – with thick, black smoke trailing him, and a more realistic motorcycle, he’s less flash and more fire and brimstone. Next, the supporting cast is good, and considering the mediocre script, should be given credit for putting in solid performances. The stunning Violante Placido (The American, 2011) plays the mother of the boy whom the bad guys are after, and seemed right at home amidst all the carnage (she can handle a sniper rifle, as well). Yes, she’s there strictly as eye candy, but I have to admit, the close-ups on her flawless features were almost worth the price of admission. Idris Elba (Thor, 2011) also looked like he was having fun playing a mysterious motorcycle-riding monk named Moreau, and through sheer talent gave his character some depth despite having a non-existent backstory.
Finally, Cage himself – I think it’s obvious that Nic knows people like to see him go batshit crazy and he has several scenes in which he does just that. Yes, go ahead and call it terrible over-acting, but when you’re watching a movie based on a completely ludicrous concept, Cage’s histrionics seem appropriate. So, the final verdict is - Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance gets a few things right, but in the end is just mediocre. It can’t rise above its cliche-ridden plot and dumb dialogue, and it’s simply not as good as it could’ve been.While I liked parts of it, I believe only hardcore Ghost Rider fans will enjoy this ride.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.Screenplay by David S. Goyer, Seth Hoffman and Scott Gimple. Based on Ghost Rider by Marvel Comics. Studio – Hyde Park Entertainment. Distributed by Columbia Pictures. Release date – February 17, 2012.
Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider
Johnny Whitworth as Ray Carrigan/Blackout
Fergus Riordan as Danny
Ciarán Hinds as The Devil/Roarke
Violante Placido as Nadya
Idris Elba as Moreau
Christopher Lambert as Methodius