A film review by Craig J. Koban February, 23, 2012


2012, R, 95 mins.


Nicolas Cage: Johnny Blaze / Ciaran Hinds: The Devil/Roarke / Johnny Whitworth: Carrigan/Blackout / Idris Elba: Moreau / Violante Placido: Nadya


Directed by Neveldine and Taylor / Written by Scott Gimble, Seth Hoffman, and David S. Goyer, based on the Marvel Comics character


GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is crummy sequel to the mediocre-at-best 2007 original film that, in turn, adapted Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog’s 1970’s Marvel Comics creation that seemed far better suited to the pages than in a live action silver screen treatment.  Certainly, Ghost Rider is undeniably cool looking – with his flaming human skull attached to a leather-garbed body that rides a motorcycle that sets ablaze with the fires of hell that pollutes the airs to the point of making environmentalists cringe – but he's ultimately a weak character that lacks intrigue.  When compared to the great recent pantheon of comic book films, the first GHOST RIDER entry felt as second-tier and forgettable as its original comic book narratives. 

SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is not quite a sequel, per se, and not quite a reboot, but more of a mindlessly and hastily cobbled together homogenization of the two options.  The new film has a scaled-down budget (apparently done for half of the original) and has opted for a darker and decidedly gritty vibe, which, to be fair, is arguably the right aesthetic choice.  The new film absconds away from being a big, glossy, and audience-friendly super hero action film and has secured the creators of the CRANK franchise, Neveldine and Taylor, to take some of their feverous artistic lunacy and twitchy and freakish visual flair from those films and transplant them to a new story of the cursed Johnny Blaze.  The new filmmakers at the helm certainly breathe new stylized life into the franchise, but they ultimate are not enough to erode SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE's ham-invested and pedestrian scripting and absurdly terrible performances.   

Proving yet again that he seems to care very little as of late regarding his career image, Nicolas Cage returns yet again to play the role of Blaze, whom we learned in the first film was a hotshot/daredevil motorcycle stunt driver that struck a deal with Satan that had the nightmarish side effect of turning him into his flame and smoke churning alter ego.   Five years have passed and Blaze has decided to hide out in Eastern Europe to avoid triggering his wretched Ghost Rider curse, although it's never made explicitly clear why Europe would be a location that would trigger less transformations.  While in exile there Blaze meets Moreau (the too-good-for-this-movie Idris Elba) who claims to be a member of a sect of mysterious monks who have the powers of exorcising the Ghost Rider curse from Blaze once and for all.   

Of course, Blaze’s payment for such a lucrative reward requires him to locate and escort a young adolescent boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan) and his mother, Nadya (THE AMERICAN’s smoky-eyed beauty Violante Placido) to a monastery.  It seems that Blaze’s old nemesis, Satan - a.k.a. Mr. Roarke (Ciaran Hinds, never so pathetically misused as he is here) is hot on the trail of the boy, seeing as he may actually be the son of the devil.  Mr. Roarke wants to use Danny in a demonic ceremony that will – correct me if I’m wrong – make him even more powerful on Earth (again, the script is a bit hazy on details).  With the devil himself and his henchmen, Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) in hot pursuit of Danny and his mother, it’s up to Blaze to release the Rider once again to ensure the safety of all and ensure that Satan is sent back to where he came from. 



At the very least, Neveldine and Taylor infuse this GHOST RIDER outing with a more gnarly and a propulsive heavy metal vigor.  The actual CGI effects work this go around, despite the lower budget, are indeed superior to the first film in terms of realizing such a bizarre-looking hero and grounding him in the reality of a live action film.  The possessed character only makes a few appearances here and there in the new film, but when he does the directors amp up the turbulent and explosive intensity in ways that made the CRANK films such brazenly hyperactive visual experiences.  There are some goofy moments of intrigue to be had here as well, such as the sight of the Rider literally eating a storm of machine gun bullets shot at him, to which he monstrously spits them back out at his incredulous enemy.  There is also a sly visual non-sequitur moment of sorts that has fun showing what it's like for Blaze – as Ghost Rider – to…uh…urinate, although I’m not quite sure why a creature made of fire would ever have to; what's in his bladder anyway?  Fire, I guess. 

Yet, Neveldine and Taylor’s outlandish and brazen spirit is not enough to hide the film’s laundry list of faults.  Considering the filmmakers’ reputation for harboring a jittery style, post-converting the film to 3D seems like – and is – a horrid artistic choice.  Their animated and always-moving camera, quick cuts, and overall instable method does not lend itself very well at all to a 3D, which has the negative effect of making the whole film feel that much more of an eye-punishing endurance test than it should have been.  Then there’s the film’s tedious and undisciplined scripting, which takes so many narrative and tonal detours that it becomes unmanageably messy.  At one point Whitworth’s Carrigan is turned into a creature that can reduce organic forms to ash (even food, which makes eating tricky) without much of a reason and later Christopher Lambert appears as the leader of the monks that promises Danny’s protection that’s introduced and then leaves the film before we can almost blink.  SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE was unfathomably co-written by BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT scribe David S. Goyer, an unpardonable sin if there ever was one. 

Some of the individual performers also seem to have very little idea that they populate such an utterly awful movie.  Placido is a luscious beauty to behold, but she is a totally vacant vessel here as the mother protecting her potential Anti-Christ son.  Hinds is an actor of such low key and piercing intensity that it’s really painful to see him reduce himself to the dubious level of a sniveling, snarling, and raspy-voiced villain that’s cartoonishly all over the map.  Whitworth’s attempts at scene-stealing mugging and would-be sly quips as his supernatural villain are hopelessly dead on arrival.  And then, of course, there’s Cage himself, whose appearance here is essentially motivated by money over any other impulse.   

I will say this, though: there is something kind of perversely empowering to see an actor of Cage’s past stature and acclaim thrust himself into one mournfully bad performance after another without the slightest worry in the world to negative feedback.  Nic…Nic…Nic…I sincerely understand that your recent economic woes have forced you to take one mournful paycheck role after another.  I get it.  I do.  Yet, here’s the problem: you've done so many of them lately that viewers are starting to forget your more lauded performances, which are unavoidably becoming distant relics of the past.  For every LEAVING LAS VEGAS, ADAPTATION, MATCHSTICK MEN and LORD OF WAR there seems to be a festering pile of Cage-ian stinkers that are overriding them, like the NATIONAL TREASURE films, THE WICKER MAN, BANGKOK DANGEROUS, SEASON OF THE WITCH, TRESPASS, and…yup…GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE.   

Anymore undistinguished and disposable crapfests like this, Nic, and all of the good will that fans and critics have bestowed upon you for years will go – pardon the pun – straight to hell. 

  H O M E