Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Director - Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Cast - Nicolas Cage, Idis Elba
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 1
MSRP - $30.99
Distributor - Sony Pictures
Reviewer- Bobby Morgan
The Film: 1/5
It’s been five years since Marvel and Sony finally got the lead out of their asses and put a Ghost Rider movie on the big screen. It didn’t make Spider-Man/Avengers money at the box office but thanks to Nicolas Cage’s gloriously goofy performance in the title role and some decent visual effects the movie did well enough in theaters and on cable and video to squeak out a tidy profit for its financiers. But the universal consensus since Ghost Rider’s release was that it was a terrible movie, an abomination of pure evil that could only have been conjured by a union of the Two Towers, the mongoloid butt baby offspring of Satan and his loyal disciple Mark Steven Johnson (who wrote and directed). I myself saw it in theaters on opening night in February 2007 and quite enjoyed it even though I could plainly see it was one dumb fucking flick that didn’t do the Marvel Comics hero proper justice. In the years since I’ve watched Ghost Rider a time or two via the occasional airing on FX; at one point I even owned the Extended Cut DVD although I could not tell a difference between the extended version and what was released theatrically. It’s not a particularly good film, but as I was watching its long-threatened sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance something strange and unnerving suddenly occurred to me: I wish I had been watching the first movie.
Since the events of the last movie (which have been helpfully ret-conned to reflect casting changes and in order to prevent confusion for those in the audience who have either never seen the movie before or have seen it and chosen to erase it from their memory - I am neither) Johnny Blaze (Cage), a former professional motorcycle stunt rider who sold his soul to the devil (here named Roarke and played by Ciaran Hinds) in order to save his father’s life only to get royally screwed over and become the Dark Lord’s personal errand boy the Ghost Rider, is hiding out in Eastern Europe and hoping to avoid any situations that might bring the Rider out of him again. Blaze is approached by the mysterious monk Moreau (Elba) to help him protect a boy named Danny (Fergus Riordan) and his mother Nadya (Violante Placido) from Roarke’s evil clutches. Turns out that ol’ Beezelbubba has designs on walking the earth in human form - even though he kinda already does that - and needs Danny to help him achieve his ultimate goal. Roarke employs his hired toady Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) to hunt Danny and Nadya down, but once Blaze enters the fray atop his mighty steed of burning steel the battle intensifies until the forces of good and evil meet in an epic showdown to decide the fate of humanity.
Almost half a decade of false starts and unfilled promises of a reboot that’s more faithful to the comic book interpretation of the character goes by before the studio took a unproduced draft of Ghost Rider written by hot scribe David S. Goyer (Blade) in 2001 and handed it off to a pair of veteran TV writers/producers, Scott Gimple and Seth Hoffman, to be rewritten into a sequel. Then they hired Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the directors of such spastic action flicks as Crank and Gamer, to direct the movie at close to half the budget Johnson had to make the 2007 original. With Cage, looking as weathered and half off his nut as ever, back in the saddle for another go-around as the demonic bounty hunter with the killer stare and flaming dome to match and a pair of gonzo filmmakers as fearless in their choice of film projects as their leading man calling the shots behind the camera you would think that the final product would be a certifiably insane guilty pleasure at its worst.
I apologize in advance because that plot synopsis I just gave might lead you to believe Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a good movie. Believe me I was na´ve once. I was led astray by the rapid-fire trailers and TV spots and that bitchin’ poster showing a meaner-looking Rider ready to raise a whole lotta hell. After all that’s just what we would expect a Ghost Rider to give us. It’s just that we never seem to get that movie. Much like another Marvel character who can never seem to get a better-than-decent movie, the Punisher, the Rider gets no big screen respect. The real shame is that the writers and directors who are handed the character are not without talent. They just don’t give a shit about him. Why should they? It’s not like they’re working with one of the more prestigious members of the Mighty Marvel Stable of Supers. You won’t see Johnny Blaze hob-nobbing with the Avengers or moving millions of dollars in merchandise. He’s a second tier character and everyone knows it, but that doesn’t mean Ghost Rider is deserving of any less reverence than Iron Man or the Fantastic Four. The character’s origins, which were partially based on the German legend of Faust, would make for a compelling story if executed properly. Combine that with the heavy metal album iconography of the comic books and some decent acting and action beats and you would have a pretty cool movie. So why the hell is that so hard for talented filmmakers to achieve? It’s a no-brainer assignment that keeps getting fouled up royally.
At the very least I would have expected the Neveldine/Taylor team to try a little harder than this sorry grease puddle. When it was announced that they had signed on for the Ghost Rider sequel I couldn’t help but smile. These two guys have made some deliriously bat shit B-movies in the past with a feckless, seat-of-your-pants filmmaking style that wasn’t exactly refreshing but it seemed appropriate for the kind of movies they were making. That style could have made a great fit for the Ghost Rider property but their attempts to bring some of that behind-the-camera mad energy to the proceedings only results in the movie looking like it’s consistently in a hurry to get to a destination that ultimately doesn’t matter at all. The action comes hard and fast - often so fast you can’t tell what’s going on - without there being any actual story for those scenes to have purpose. It’s all just a meaningless series of chases and fights that are chopped and screwed to the point of incomprehensibility. Say what you will about the job Mark Steven Johnson did on the first Ghost Rider movie, but at least he shot his action sequences with a clear sense of movement and geography. Their choice of cinematographer Brandon Trost, who also shot Crank: High Voltage and recently directed the awful wannabe cult flick The FP, does okay work when he’s not making this look like the biggest-budgeted Uwe Boll movie. While their effects and design team did succeed in giving the Rider a more monstrous appearance befitting his vocation that’s about the only element in Spirit of Vengeance that feels like an improvement over the 2007 movie.
It’s not clear if Spirit of Vengeance is meant to be a reboot of the movie series since Cage is reprising the role but elements of the continuity established by the first film have been altered. At the end of the original when Blaze is given the chance to give up the power of the Rider and have a normal life with his true love but chooses to keep the power and use it to defend the world against the forces of darkness. But when the story catches up with Johnny he’s in hiding trying to suppress the Rider. Then what was the point of keeping the power and forgoing a life of hot lovin’ with Eva Mendes? And why does he act like being Ghost Rider is such a terrible thing? At no point during the movie is Blaze’s goodness ever in doubt. This guy isn’t the Incredible Hulk; his job is to punish the wicked and protect the innocent and that’s all he does. Therefore, what is the fucking problem? It’s a character conflict that is pointless and eats up valuable screen time a movie would usually not be able to spare, but it’s about the only real story Spirit of Vengeance has going for it.
Cage is clearly in paycheck mode here, as he has been for the most of the past decade, and his performance reflects his boredom and contempt for the material. This is a real shame because he played a similar character in last year’s pulpy chase flick Drive Angry but looked like he was having a ball there. He even looked more lively and engaged in the first Ghost Rider movie. Anyone going into this movie expecting Nicolas to go full on Cage crazy will be severely disappointed. Everyone in Spirit of Vengeance looks like they’d rather be elsewhere but are happy to be picking up a nice wage. Not even Idris Elba, playing the same detached badass he always plays (and he seems to be in every movie made these days), can liven up the proceedings. Ciaran Hinds does fine as the Devil in human form but he can’t really bring any new dimensions to a part that has been bettered portrayed in the past, but at least he looks to be having some fun. Johnny Whitworth takes the prize for lamest comic book movie villain of all time as the useless moron who will have you getting wistful for the days when Ghost Rider took on a far worthier big screen adversary - Wes Bentley. Genre fans might get tickled seeing Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Christopher Lambert show up for geek-pleasing cameos, and then they’ll definitely get ticked when they blink and miss their appearances.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance comes to DVD looking pretty sharp and almost nausea-inducing in a 2.40: 1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that on occasion manages to make the rather cheap (for a Marvel superhero movie) flick look a tad pricier than it actually is. Solid but unexceptional English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French 5.1 audio tracks accompany the action well. I have to hand it to Sony. They sure know how to polish a turd. English, Spanish, and French subtitles are also included.
The DVD edition of Spirit of Vengeance has only a few slight extras. It’s almost as if Sony is trying to tell us something, like BUY THE GODDAMN BLU-RAY! Anyway what you BD holdouts get for your egregious mistake are six thankfully deleted scenes running a total of eleven minutes and previews for 21 Jump Street, Lockout, Starship Troopers: Invasion, Men in Black 3, and The Amazing Spider-Man - the first three play upfront when you load the disc. The cut scenes would have added zip to an already anemic narrative so they deletion from the final film was an act of mercy I suppose we can thank Neveldine/Taylor for, but the hell with that.
$31 for this piece of shit? Are you fucking kidding me? If you must own this movie, if your thirst for mediocre event cinema must be sated no matter the cost, then Blu-ray might be the way to go since it has better extra features and improved A/V quality. Otherwise just skip this one. Hell you’d be better off buying the 2007 movie instead. At least that one has pretty lil’ Eva Mendes for you to ogle.