Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It’s been a long time coming, as this is a sequel to 2007’s original Ghost Rider starring Nic Cage and Eva Mendes. Ghost Rider is one of the more obscure Marvel heroes (?) and the movie didn’t really get much attention, though it was watchable and fairly enjoyable. So when it was announced that a sequel was being made, it was a little surprising. Nicolas Cage has been pretty transparent about the need to pay off some huge debts, so it looks like this movie is a way for him to attempt to make some moolah.
But regardless of the intention, is this a movie you should watch?
Let’s start with the premise. Johnny Blaze (yes, really) is a former motorcycle performer who made a deal with the devil to save his father’s life. The deal involved letting a demon reside in his body. The demon is that of the (Ghost) Rider, who thirsts for vengeance, striking down anyone that is guilty of misdoings. In an effort to curb the demon’s appetite, we find Johnny in eastern Europe at the beginning of our film, hiding away.
And then things get confusing. Some sort of secret society is hiding this boy and his mother and their base is attacked, and the boy and mother flee (aren’t they being protected though?). They are followed by lone warrior Moreau (who also rides a motorcycle). For the first probably half hour, I couldn’t figure out if he was a good guy or bad guy (and not in an intentional/suspenseful way). Once Moreau starts talking, you find out that he wants to take the boy to another cult/religion/secret society, one that’s kind of different(?). It seemed like a few extra ingredients were added to the mix that unnecessarily confused things.
So who’s chasing this boy down? And what do they want from him? Satan, basically. Satan has taken corporeal form and wants the boy. Satan also has some lackeys. There’s one henchman that was fairly believable, but who is given the power of decay. I don’t have a problem with the supernatural powers, but when he’s given this power, he also gets this horrible-looking white wig which looks like loose dreadlocks covered in flour. Kind of reminded me of the albino twins from the second Matrix movie. I’m not sure why they made this choice. The guy was menacing enough without these cheap visual aids.
So what’s good?
I found the movie pretty enjoyable. Some parts were downright bad, but sometimes you love bad movies, so I’m a little conflicted. Nicolas Cage is funny but often because of the ridiculous of the situation. Do we need to see the Ghost Rider pee fire? No. But it happens. The movie is over the top in a stylistic way that I can only imagine is intentional. Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (together credited as Neveldine/Taylor) are known for fast-paced and often grossly ridiculous films like Crank, Crank: High Voltage, and Gamer. They’re also set to direct a movie version of the Playstation franchise Twisted Metal. I appreciated the style. Although the movie tried to be dark and gritty, the style gave it a very fresh and lively vibe (which I appreciated about the Crank films as well).
The special effects were also (usually) pretty amazing. They’ve done a lot of work on the actual character of the Ghost Rider. As smoke and fire surrounds his skull, you can see wisps seeping from every crack. The action scenes (although less frequent than I expected) were pretty intense. My only complaint is that the Rider just hits someone with his magic chain and they burst into flames. That makes it hard to have a decent fight scene when they just erupt and disappear. The battle with the Decay villain is pretty cool but it’s too little and too late in the movie.
So what didn’t work?
The only way this movie could succeed is if it’s so ridiculous that people love every minute. It is pretty ridiculous, but it’s in short bursts and then the movie starts to feel the weight of trying to carry too much on the story and its characters, which are all pretty weak. If we just got to watch the Rider tear people apart, we wouldn’t be able to think about what’s happening. Unfortunately, the action slows down quite often and that is when we start thinking “what is going on?” or “wait, who is this?” And with a movie like this, with weak characters and a convoluted story, that’s not good.
Again, don’t get me wrong, some scenes are mind-blowing… but they’re rare. We don’t care about this kid, we don’t care about his mom, and we definitely don’t care about these various factions/sects/societies. We care about the Rider (not even Johnny Blaze as much). And he takes a backseat for most of the movie.
Now… sometimes the Rider is the main character on the screen, usually as he’s kicking ass and taking names. The visual effects team did a few weird things or maybe the director(s) made a few strange decisions… There was more than one instance where the Rider was kind of… looking around. Or floating. Or falling asleep. I could never quite tell. He doesn’t have eyes, so you can’t see what he’s looking at but there would be awkward moments where he’s just… kind of standing. Or spinning in mid-air (that one really sticks out). Like… what is going on? I appreciated some other aspects of characterizing the Rider (the sound effects/voice for the Rider were creepy as hell) but other moments take you completely out of it.
Don’t expect Shakespeare. Expect a few really cool action scenes and some decent puns by Nicolas Cage. Everyone else is pretty forgettable, which is a shame considering the supporting cast included Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy) and Christopher Lambert (Mortal Kombat, Highlander). But if you expect very little and just want to kind of let your brain take a rest, you might find some entertaining and redeemable qualities. Not horrible, but this shouldn’t be your top pick at the movies right now.