Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence

Director: Brian Taylor/Mark Neveldine

Notable Cast: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, Violante Placido, Ciarán Hinds

Rating: PG-13

Review:  Ghost Rider 2: Bigger, meaner, badder they said.  Darker tone they said.  More hellacious violence they said.  Forget the original Ghost Rider they said (an easy check mark).  Finally, the Ghost Rider film populating comic purist’s dreams!  Columbia even brought in hyper energetic/daredevil directing team Neveldine and Taylor (Cranks/Gamer) to help bolster action and directorial creativity!  Nic Cage himself returned because of directing duo Neveldine and Taylor, enthusiastically praising their one of a kind attitude.  Watching some behind the scenes footage showing the dangerous lengths Neveldine and Taylor went for some hopefully worthwhile shots got my little fanboy heart pumping.  And then, the subsequent derail.  A bland PG-13 rating.  Equally negative initial reviews.  The realization of yes, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is probably just another Cage film.  And then pouring salt in all of our wounds: Todd Farmer (My Bloody Valentine 3D/Drive Angry 3D) released his treatment for Ghost Rider 2 (subtitled Riders of the Storm) penned with collaborator Patrick Lussier; a more enjoyable read than Ghost Rider 2 was watchable.  Why was it declined?  Too violent.  So the film Columbia promised got nixed and never even made it to production, replaced with yet another safer Ghost Rider addition?  Read Farmer’s description and some sense is made.  In these tougher economic times, hard sells and gambles aren’t as easy to pitch, watching studios play it safe.  So a more violent and non-mainstream friendly rendition of the flaming anti-hero was much less appetising given circumstances.  But Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance is yet another example why if you can’t fully embrace the source material effectively, don’t half ass a bubblegum substitute.  Ghost Rider has so much potential, and while Spirit of Vengeance is a definite upgrade, Johnny Blaze shines more like a children’s sparkler instead of the deserved raging inferno for his second big screen attempt.

Still cursed with his Ghost Rider alter ego, Johnny Blaze (Cage) hides from humanity in an effort to stay off radar.  But like any man who doesn’t want to be found, trouble searches him out.  A priest named Moreau (Elba) finds Cage and solicits his services as a bodyguard in return for a cure to his dark passenger.  In order to secure freedom, Blaze must protect a boy named Danny (Fergus Riordan) who happens to be the spawn of Satan.  Just like Blaze, his mother Nadya (Placido) made a deal with the devil for her life in exchange for birthing a worthy vessel to house his soul.  This is the same devil that Blaze made a deal with of course, so the stakes are a tad bit personal.  If Johnny can in fact combat the devil, called Rourke (Hinds), and prevent him from inhabiting Danny’s body, The Rider will forever leave Johnny Blaze.  Embracing the chance to become human again, Johnny must channel Ghost Rider’s powers to defeat Satan’s evil ways and be the hero once again.  Johnny Blaze may just have Rourke re-thinking this whole deal with the devil gig.

 Ghost Rider’s new makeover…at least something got darker…

Because I’m in a good mood, let’s delve into the brighter parts Spirit of Vengeance offers.  As noted above, more attention was paid to the actual character of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider in visual appearance and character execution.  Cage fans will be happy to hear the new Johnny Blaze is brimming with much-loved “crazy Cage” moments of insanity.  Tons more contorted faces, expressive emotions, yelling when angry, bodily flailing, and suitable comic book lines push Blaze’s erratic behavior from the comic onto the big screen, where originally painted more normal.  And let’s be honest, only Cage does it with that “I’m seriously not all there” gleam in his eye.  As for physicality, the skull and flames look much darker, and the spikes were removed…along with an originally cartoony feel.  Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider at least felt like the renegade loose cannon superhero with a dark side, mixing in a silly side showing Ghost Rider literally pissing fire.  The Rider also demonized numerous vehicles, see giant flaming conveyor belt crane construction equipment, which was a more comic book element the original left out.  So old Ghosty gets a makeover, starts being more of a dick, gets an attitude…and that’s where Spirit of Vengeance‘s praise stops.

Now, because of Crank, Neveldine and Taylor will always be directors I’m willing to give benefit of the doubt.  I love hearing just to get the right shot, one of them was strapped to Elba’s motor cycle wearing roller skates and coasting behind him with an expensive camera.  Dedication to craft right there.  But sometimes with their ambition, question marks arise.  Why did Carrigan get spotlight treatment every time he went in for a decay kill, like a blurry Mortal Kombat fatality?  Who inserted random animated sequences for no reason?  Who cast Johnny Whitworth?  Yeah, Carrigan didn’t do much for me considering he was supposed to be a worthy adversary for Ghost Rider.  The battle on Nadya’s hood was short-lived and barely brutal, and protecting the golden child proved a droll task for Johnny Blaze to accomplish.  Sucking baddies souls could have been extremely more visually pleasing, instead of just watching a flaming skeleton yell super loud until humans disintegrated.  Sketchy and random CGI work fluttered in an out, and pacing never felt all together for Neveldine and Taylor’s vision.  Overall delivery of the material seemed as if Neveldine and Taylor were trying to spice up a boring script with their distinct style and humor which absolutely works with Ghost Rider, but the story itself lacked any intensity or fluidity for our adrenaline junkie directors to work with.

Ghost Rider is a terrible comic to film adaptation that failed to grasp Johnny Blaze’s dark nature.  Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has a stronger hold, but still fell victim to the bars of mainstream cinema.  We wanted a hard-R rated grindhouse type slug fest, unleashing the true inner Rider.  Instead, we got the dubbed down silly beat em’ up with minimal redeeming qualities, using a sane version of Ghost Rider for Hollywood’s amusement.  Let’s be honest, Spirit of Vengeance ended up being the movie we all expected, and not the movie we dreamed for.  No surprises, just more disappointment.  Can Johnny Blaze be resurrected in true form someday down the road when a script like Farmer’s once again becomes valuable?  Or will Spirit of Vengeance seal The Rider’s fate in the bowels of cinema hell, never to be viewed by human eyes again.  At this point, I’m not positive which consequence I’d hope for more.

Final Rating: 5 flaming skulls out of 10 

Oh yeah, Idris Elba plays a drunk priest.  More EH.


About Matt Donato

I love all things film. I'll watch any genre, any actor, at any time. This whole film critic thing is a passionate hobby for now which I'm balancing with working in the business world, but hey, someday, who knows?
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