GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
** (out of 5)
February 17, 2012
Nicolas Cage as JOHNNY BLAZE
Violante Placido as NADYA
Ciarán Hinds as ROARKE
Idris Elba as MOREAU
Johnny Whitworth as RAY CARRIGAN
Fergus Riordan as DANNY
Directed by: Neveldine/Taylor
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Looking at their careers, Nicolas Cage reminds me of William Shatner. While Shatner never won an Oscar, he is notorious for his ability to overact to a comedic level. The funniest part about Shatner’s career is that sometime in the 70s, he was in on the joke. (I don’t think he was actually aware of his overacting in the 60s, but with age, he became cognizant of what he did.) Now, he’s as much a comic actor as he ever was a dramatic one.
When Cage came on the scene in the 80s, he was a straightforward actor. But over the years, after he won an Academy Award for “Leaving Las Vegas,” he became a caricature of himself. Somewhere in the late 90s, he became aware of his ability to go full Cage in his films, and it was when he went full Cage that he became a bit of a tongue-in-cheek legend. (In this respect, I don’t think he meant to go full Cage in films like “The Rock” and “Snake Eyes,” but by the time he was doing “The Wicker Man,” he was totally in on the joke.)
In the first “Ghost Rider” film, Nicolas Cage had fun with the role. In “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” he makes the role his bitch, going full Cage at least four times. Most of these moments are relatively brief, but there’s one in which he cranks the Cage meter past Nigel Tufnel’s 11 on a scale of 1-to-10. So if you’re seeing this film to watch this marginally insane actor do his shtick, you’ll get what you paid for.
Similarly, if you’re seeing it for the frenetic, in-your-face filmmaking of directing team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, or for the ramped up visual effects that look far better than the first film, or if you just want to see some over-the-top action, you should be happy.
Everyone else, stay home.
“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” isn’t as good as the first film. Not by a mile. So that means if you hated the first film, this one is a travesty. If you thought the first film was entertaining, this is a sour disappointment.
Personally, I liked the first “Ghost Rider,” probably because I never read the comics, so there was no mythology to destroy in the adaptation process. I thought Cage gave a fun performance, and it was an entertaining foray into a second-tier Marvel hero’s story.
Unfortunately, under the hand of Neveldine/Taylor, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” loses a lot of the fun silliness of the first film for basic crass over-the-top stupidity found in almost every other movie made by these guys. It’s clear after watching this that Neveldine/Taylor had more to do with the weak structure of “Jonah Hex” than they’d like to admit, because this movie falls into many of the same traps.
In the same vein, it’s clear that Neveldine/Taylor can do nonsensical over-the-top action movies. We’ve seen that with “Crank” and “Crank 2.” All “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” shows is that they can’t do much else.
The narrative is disjoined and choppy, mixing random voice-overs with comic-book scribbling, flashing back to what actually took place in the first film but making it look nothing like the first film. It seemed as if Neveldine and Taylor wanted to brag about distancing themselves from “Ghost Rider” but ended up falling into bigger traps.
The basic story follows Cage as Johnny Blaze, a demonically possessed stunt rider whose face turns into a flaming skull when he must avenge evil. You know… another “based on a true story” piece. Blaze is approached to help some monks find the potential antichrist and keep him from the Devil until after a prophecy is fulfilled.
The high points of the film come when Blaze becomes the Rider, featuring some slick special effects and hard PG-13 action. Though these scenes are tainted with silliness like the Rider dancing to no music (causing painful flashbacks to C. Michael Hall in “Gamer”) and needless crass moments like the Rider vomiting hot bullets or urinating fire.
There are mild attempts to bring some character to Blaze, but with no consistency. In the beginning, he’s eating pain killers like he did jelly beans in the first film. Then half-way through, he’s chugging ice water at a diner. Neither of these things happen again in any other scene, leaving these character quirks to become throwaway moments of nothing.
Finally, the 3D in this movie looks good, except for the fact that Neveldine and Taylor didn’t adjust their frenetic shooting style to fit the gimmick. Too many scenes are hard to focus on, and you might get a headache, at least in the first half.
In the end, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” looks neat, but you need more than that for a good movie. Had it been released straight to DVD, it might have been forgivable, but as a big release, it’s just a hot mess.