Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Review
If you've come here expecting me to crap all over Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance, like most of the reviewers have done since the film's release, then you might as well stop reading right now. It certainly isn't the perfect movie, and there are definitely better films out there worth your $11, that much has to be said. But If you go to a movie titled Ghost Rider, starring Nicolas Cage, and it's the second film in the franchise, then you should have absolutely no querries about what you should expect from that film.
I usually split my movie-going into a couple of different categories. There are the "high quality" films, no matter the genre, that you watch to stimulate yourself in one way or another. The "Oscar" type films, even some comedies and action/adventure films that are a cut above the rest. Then, you have the popcorn flicks. The Marvel superhero movies, the high-impact fast-paced action movies, the types of comedies where you can just shut off your brain. Finally, you have your guilty pleasures. The types of films that you may or may not want to admit you saw in public. The ones where you REALLY need to turn off your brain and forget about what you're watching or any possible logic. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is basically one of those movies, as are most of Nicolas Cage's other films.
Ghost Rider is about a guy, possessed after signing a deal with the Devil, whose head is on fire and who consumes the souls of people who have done bad things. But more importantly, his head is on fire. Which, as stated by Cage himself (or rather, the Andy Samberg version of Cage) in a recent episode of Saturday Night Live, is a key of any proper Nicolas Cage movie. I'll say that again. His head's on fire. Consider that very carefully as you're buying your ticket, and before you complain after the movie.
As far as the plot goes, Ghost Rider 2 catches up with Johnny Blaze, months, possibly years after the events of the first film. He's fled from the US, looking to get away from the spirit that possess him and forces him to do bad things. This has led him to Eastern Europe, where, unsurprisingly, a child (Danny) and his mother (Nadya, played by Violante Placido) are on the run from some bad people who want to kidnap Danny. It turns out that Danny is the son of Roarke (Ciaran Hinds), better known as the Devil himself, or at least the body he's taken over, and Roarke wants him back in order to complete some sort of metamorphosis that will create a super-Devil, of sorts. Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) runs the gang after Danny, while Moreau (Idris Elba) commissions Blaze to save the kid, with a promise to exercise the demon out of his soul. Blaze, as Ghost Rider, eventually finds Danny and delivers him to a sacred 2000 year-old monastery, and his wish is eventually granted, as his curse is finally lifted. Unfortunately for him, Roarke has possessed Carrigan with the power of decay, allowing him to capture Danny and return him to Roarke for the ritual. Sans powers, Blaze, Moreau and Nadya must then get Danny out of Roarke's clutches before it's too late.
There's really nothing spectacular out of the general plot. It could really have simply read: Guy with head on fire saves kid from devil, questions his own powers. Typical superhero lore, with obviously some darker twists. Where the script form Scott M. Gimple (FlashForward), Seth Hoffman (Prison Break) and David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight) may falter is in its attempts to insert religious matters and theories, peppering them as Blaze questions the demon inside him and they of course talk about the Devil's presence on earth. This is all of course 100% fictional, but it would have been nice if it at least had a semblance of a basis in reality, as religious history can often be a rich tapestry for such films. But as we've already said, this is a movie about a guy with his head on fire, so we're not going to complain much about getting their facts wrong. For what it's worth, the plot is simple, relatively devoid of any major holes, and all things considered, that's all you can really ask for.
We mentioned a pretty impressive list of actors above, and they do the best with what they have. Nicolas Cage delivers the performance you'd expect, which of course features a lot of whispering and yelling, and a nonchalant attitude that tells you that he really doesn't care about whether the movie sucks or not. He seems genuinely happy about getting to be a part of the Marvel Universe and comic book lore (he's a huge comic book fan), so you can't fault him for that. Even if the movie sucked, I'd love to be known as the guy who played Ghost Rider if I were him. As many comic book movies as Hollywood makes these days, you don't really get that opportunity every day, and he's definitely not going to be playing Superman as he once dreamt. He has fun with his character, and that actually adds to a movie that could otherwise fall a little flat.
His co-stars include Ciaran Hinds as the Devil and Idris Elba as Moreau, two actors that should theoretically be above this type of thing. Both performances are a little caricatured, but again, we're talking about a comic book movie, so that should be more or less what you'd expect, especially out of a film that doesn't take itself seriously. Hinds is ridiculously one-dimensional in his evil-ness, but what else would the devil be like? Elba plays a caricatured Frenchman, to the point where it might be a little racist. You'd probably wish he'd do a better job of giving him more depth, but for Elba, whose star is on the rise, it's a big role in a Hollywood film, so we get it. Placido and Whitworth aren't as well known, but they make the most of their opportunities here. Whitworth is especially entertaining as Carrigan/Blackout after his transformation, trying to eat a bunch of foods as they decay in his hands.
The big problem with this movie (again, all things considered) is the directing. Neveldine/Taylor are good at what they do, but then again, Ghost Rider isn't exactly something you'd expect them to do. Sure, there are certain elements that may remind us of their work on Crank or Gamer, but as a whole, I see Ghost Rider using a more "cinematic" style, big set-pieces and effects. Whereas Neveldine/Taylor have always been about grittier, fast-paced, quick-moving shots. Shaky cam doesn't work with Ghost Rider, and it seems like it takes them the better part of the first two acts to figure that out before they switch it up. I just can't picture Nicolas Cage or Idris Elba or Ciaran Hinds in a Crank movie, and when your directors have a specific style associated with them, that becomes a problem, regardless of whether or not they're entitled to break out of a certain typecast. It's not necessarily bad, in terms of directing, but it just doesn't work. But they do decent work with the action sequences. The set pieces are huge, destructive, and generally completely on fire. Hard to really screw that up, but it's worth mentioning.
The film is also riddled with cartoon-drawn flashbacks to fill us in on plot points, and while they did this in the first movie and the mini-comics are well done, it ends up feeling cheap. It worked in the first movie because the directing style was different. Here, it just seems like Crank the cartoon, and that's a problem for me. As is the music, which basically takes turns trying to rip off Hans Zimmer and Led Zeppelin music.
The reviewer in me has to mention these problems. But that doesn't stop me from enjoying Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance for what it is. A fun, over-the-top, ridiculous superhero action film that doesn't take itself seriously and that's generally better than its predecessor. If you're going to be snobby about it, just don't go see it and buy a ticket to The Artist instead. Ghost Rider knows what it is, and what it wants to accomplish, and it benefits from that, as it does from a group of actors that have no trouble having fun with their roles.
Could we have lived without a Ghost Rider sequel? Probably. But my life isn't worse off with it. And I got to see Nicolas Cage's skull on fire, so there's that. There's fun to be had with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and that's why we're giving it 6 blazing motorcycles out of 10.