Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
Directed by: Brian Taylor, Mark Neveldine
Written by: David S Goyer, Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, Nicolas Cage
GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
DIRECTED BY: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
WRITTEN BY: Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David Goyer
STARRING: Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Violante Placido,Idris Alba
RUNNING TIME: 95 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY: Columbia Pictures
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Somewhere in Eastern Europe, a monastery sheltering Nadya and her young son Danny, is attacked by some troops led by Ray Carrigan, a bounty hunter and Nadya’s ex-boyfriend. They narrowly escape with their lives, aided by a priest called Moreau who goes off to get help. This potential ‘help’ is Johnny Blaze, immortal and able to turn into a demon in the presence of evil because of a deal with the Devil, and in hiding, tiring of his curse. Meanwhile Nadya and Danny are attacked and almost killed when Blaze turns up and rescues them, but not before Danny has been kidnapped. It seems that Carrigan is working for a guy called Roarke, who is actually the Devil, and he is Danny’s father. Blaze, Nadya and Moreau set out to rescue the boy…………
Near the beginning of Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, our hero, in the guise of Nicolas Cage, says “let’s just say good judgement is not my forte”, and the comment is very apt, because, with the notable exception of Knowing, Cage’s judgement of late concerning roles has really been very poor indeed. His 2007 outing as Ghost Rider had potential – come on, the idea of a motorbike-driving anti-hero with a flaming skull for a face is a very cool one and such a great image that you would think it would be hard to a film to totally botch it up with some a protagonist – but that potential was not realised. Still, it passed the time as entertainment and had some fun action. This follow-up doesn’t succeed as entertainment at all and nor does it have any fun action. It’s a stupid, ugly, soulless mess that all involved with should be ashamed with.
Initial word of this sequel hinted that this would be a much darker movie than the first, and, let’s face it, the subject matter, with its skeletal anti-hero, Devil, Faustian pacts etc., is really far more suited to a more adult rating than the ‘PG-13’ / ‘12’ ratings they decided to aim for again with this sequel. So again we have a movie that seems like it’s constantly chickening out of embracing many of its elements which a higher rating would have allowed. The much lower budget, as well the directorial involvement of the duo behind the Crank movies, should have enabled the studio or whatever idiot decided on the certificate to have more freedom and go further, but sadly it just isn’t the case here. Of course I am not saying every film has to have an ‘R’ or an ‘18’, I just think a Ghost Rider film would be much better served by one. Maybe next time, though I would imagine after this stinker there won’t be another one.
So what you basically have here is a frenzied mix of stupid plotting and incoherent action, all centred around Cage doing his usual tiresome screaming and face pulling, a set of tics which seems to be all he can do now, in lieu of an actual portrayal of a character. There is a tragic element to the Ghost Rider character which admittedly the script doesn’t do much with, but a decent actor would have shown some of this through his performance. Some scenes just have Cage literally yelling for ages, something I’m sure he loved doing but I wished I was in the film and had a gun so I could shut him up permanently. The story is basically one of those ‘Devil’s Second Coming’ storylines which have been done to death, but could have still worked [at least End Of Days was fun] somewhat if the writing had been okay, but no, the script, which shamefully David Goyer had a hand in, is incredibly clumsy and almost incoherent, and not in an enjoyable way! The storytelling is abysmal – an early scene shows the priest Moreau visiting Blaze to ask for his help, and what he asks him is for his help in taking Nadya and her strange son to a secret monastery in return for his curse being lifter, but we don’t see this. Only much later, over half way through, do we see the group approach a monastery, which gives the impression that it was just around the corner and we don’t know why they are there, and we then learn of the agreement between Moreau and Blaze.
The action, as you might expect from the Crank helmers, is filmed with the camera shaking all over the place and lots of quick and often unusual shots, but what may have worked for those movies if you consider the subject matter [though I still dislike this style] does not suit this one so well, especially the shakycam which is incredibly irritating. Its employment means that the action just cannot be seen properly, and it meant that, as with many recent movies such as The Grey to Intruders, I was actually dreading the action scenes. If any filmmakers are reading this; please guys, unless you are Paul Greengrass [who seems to know how to make it work] or making a ‘found footage’ film, we are sick of this excuse for just plain bad filmmaking. Just go off and learn how to shoot scenes properly. There’s a scene in Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, where Blaze starts doing stuff with a crane about, but you just can’t tell what he is really doing. The idea here was obviously to do a more down to earth, gritty Ghost Rider film, but the meagre gun fights and scenes of Blaze smashing opponents into a million molecules that comprise most of the action are instantly forgettable. You don’t even get to see a proper transformation scene, while the Ghost Rider has been stupidly redesigned so you can barely see his skull amidst all the smoke.
Occasionally a directorial quirk works okay, such as the idea of staging one scene and short portions of other scenes in a totally black background. Sometimes we are told information amidst bright red and yellow where characters almost look they are animated; there’s a great bit where we are shown various incarnations of the Devil over the years such as Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler and, um, Jerry Springer! Half way through someone becomes a cool supervillain who causes things to decay with his hands and provides a few strong images. There are also a few laughs, though it’s hard to tell if they are intentional or not, like when Danny says to Blaze, just after seeing him in his demonic form;“he’s far cooler than the guys mum normally hangs out with with”. Violante Placido, who I enjoyed in The American, is a sexy, sparkling heroine, and Ciaran Hinds, who seems to be everywhere these days, is a great Devil, really giving an impression of pure evil and making that great frown of his look rather terrifying. He’s acting in a good film, but it’s a different one from Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, which overall is a very poor movie indeed, and by the way, the 3D is rubbish, but you expected that didn’t you? There is a brief scene about half way through where we see Blaze riding furiously on his bike, racing towards the audience as the camera moves backwards extremely fast and sometimes jumps furiously back a great many feet, all while Cage, of course, screams his head off. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the movie; annoying as hell, excruciatingly dumb, and you just want to get out of the way.