I promised a site a review of the biggest cinematic event of the year, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which I planned to see at midnight. Then I didn’t see it at midnight or the next day (because I really wasn’t paying 3D prices for this thing) and I guess by the time my review was done they’d lost interest. But you lucky folks still get to read it. So, unedited from the way it was meant to go up:
Like many people who dislike terrible things, I was baffled and mildly offended by the idea of another “Ghost Rider.” The first film is nearly impossible to defend- an aggressively lifeless byproduct of Hollywood’s “green light every superhero movie” policy from the mid-2000s (which has since evolved to “green light everything based on a comic book”). I never would have guessed it might actually spawn a franchise, nor would I have wanted it to.
Then I learned the details: No one involved with the original movie would be working on the sequel except Nicolas Cage; instead it would be directed by Neveldine/Taylor, the lunatics behind the “Crank” films. I found this news encouraging, considering one of the first “Ghost Rider’s” biggest problems was taking itself far too seriously, something that these two would surely remedy.
In that respect they fare reasonably well, and manage to keep tongue firmly planted in flaming, skeletal cheek. The only problem is when things get a bit too goofy, creating a film that sometimes teeters at the brink of self-parody without ever fully committing to the brainless, exploitative fun that could have been found in the inherently ludicrous set-up.
Johnny Blaze (Cage, naturally) is on the run from his literal inner demon that’s possessed him ever since his short-sighted deal with the Devil, here incarnated in the mortal body of Rourke (Ciaran Hinds), who I can very confidently say will not earn a place in the Cinematic Satan Hall of Fame.
It just so happens there’s a day of prophecy on the horizon involving a boy (Fergus Riordan) who, despite being far more likable than most kids who get caught up in the events of action movies, is the Antichrist. In the hopes of keeping him and his mother (Violante Placido) safe, devout do-gooder Moreau (the always watchable Idris Elba, doing far better with his slimly-written role than most would) tracks down and enlists Johnny Blaze’s help in the hopes that the evil-obliterating spirit of the Rider will be able to stop Rourke’s forces, led by hired gun Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth).
From this point you could write the rest of the movie yourself, the action and character beats so perfunctory that only true inventiveness in the execution could make the proceedings stand out in any way. The movie doesn’t quite rise to the occasion, in part held back by a PG-13 rating when we know very well that the directors make their home in the gory and the profane.
There’s a bit of fun to be had: Cage’s Blaze isn’t as morose as in the first installment, and occasionally his wonderful manic side shines through. Most impressively, you can actually notice the difference between this and the first film, in which Cage himself didn’t play his character’s heavily CG-ed alter ego (CG that looks far more impressive in this go around, the skeleton convincingly charred). Now the Rider has a weird little sway going on, plus a liveliness and a glee that’s distinctly Cage. Much of the tension is erased by the character’s nearly-indestructible nature, but it’s easier to forgive when he seems to be having fun with his immense power. Most enjoyable, perhaps, is a scene in a construction site that effectively utilizes the idea that any vehicle the Rider commandeers becomes as hellish as him.
Outside of that, though, is a largely paint-by-numbers comic book movie that only Cage’s most devoted fans should consider viewing. As for Ghost Rider fans, well, I only know of one: Nicolas Cage himself, who went so far as to get a tattoo of the character’s fiery skull emblazoned on his arm. For him, playing Johnny Blaze is very much a dream come true. I don’t understand either, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love him for it.
So yeah, that’s it. I’ll add that if you could combine the strengths of this film with those of Drive Angry, you’d have a pretty excellent film on your hands. That said, Drive Angry edges this one out for the title of “Best movie where Nic Cage fights the forces of hell from vehicles.” Largely thanks to the villains, which put the ones from this film to shame.
Gee, look at the words I used here.