‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10Hell hath no fury like a good comic book character scorned.
If you were expecting Ghost Rider to receive a more dignified cinematic treatment the second time around, well… you got played. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance isn't as big a fiasco as say, Punisher: War Zone, but it's within a long chain's throw of it. A needlessly complicated story with senseless swerves, campy dialogue and some hammed-up acting by Nicolas Cage all combine to make for an experience that feels much longer than the 95-minute running time.
Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the directing team behind Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, has sworn up and down for the past year at every event with "Con" at the end of its name, that this new movie would have zero to do with the first movie. No references to that story, no returning characters (except Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze/The Rider, natch), nothing.
The first movie should be relieved.
Spirit of Vengeance is a great big, herky-jerky camera, grey-paletted hot mess. All that talk of a scarier, darker take on the Marvel character wound up being empty boasts disguised as B-movie schlock that borders on camp. A typically ineffective 3D transfer only adds to the misery.
This time the action takes place in Eastern Europe. The film begins with a shot of a motorcycle on the open highway in Romania. A rebel monk named Moreau is pedaling back to his monastery, which is more of a fortress than a house of worship filled with the least pacifistic monks you'll ever meet. We find out rather quickly that Moreau has a) a thing for wine, and b) some seriously sparkly eyes.
He arrives there to protect a gypsy named Nadya (Violante Placido) and her young child Danny (Fergus Riordan), who are being chased by a slew of mostly faceless thugs. Shockingly, they don't really trust a guy wearing a leather trench coat that they've never met who shows up in the middle of a kidnapping, claiming to want to help them. A shootout ensues, the mother and child escape, and Moreau survives in rather ridiculous fashion, courtesy of a patented Neveldine/Taylor action set up.
Moreau then tracks down the "Rider" to an abandoned warehouse. How Johnny Blaze winds up in Eastern Europe is anyone's guess. Thanks to the voiceover narration at the beginning of the movie, we assume this is all happening a number of years after Zarathos has taken possession of his soul.
Another mystery is how Moreau, who seems to have no supernatural powers and has never met the Rider before, is able to track him down in no time.
At this point, Blaze is living a Bruce Banner-type existence. Moving from city to city, finding shelter wherever he can, as he tries to keep the Rider from coming out for his missions of vengeance. But Moreau makes him an offer he can't refuse: Help him save the boy and he'll lift his curse.
Blaze, always a sucker for a good deal, quickly flames on and goes after Nadya and Danny. (And while I assume the kid is Danny Ketch, his last name is never mentioned in the film.)
Blaze feels an instant connection with the boy, because the same guy who convinced Blaze to sell his soul to the devil, is after him.
You see, Danny is the Devil's spawn. Years ago, Beelzebub took on the flesh and blood form of a dapper gentleman named Roarke, to run his scams on Earth. As a backup plan, he had a son. With his human form decaying in rapid fashion, he's had to put his backup plan into action. But he has to get the boy to a specific place at a specific time to make the transfer of power, if you will.
While that seems like a fairly straightforward plot, the screenplay is so cluttered with supernatural hoo-hah that you're zoning out midway through scenes. Cage, for all the flops he's made recently, is a deeply fascinating guy to watch on screen when the material's right.
Here though, he's flying blind, and the tone of the movie suffers. During one scene where he's strong-arming a drug dealer for information, he launches into full-on Cage Crazy. Instead of being terrifying, it turns into unintentional comedy, because the audience isn't seeing Johnny Blaze anymore. They just see Nic being Nic.
Cage is again placed into a father-figure role in a comic book movie. But unlike in Kick-Ass, the dynamic is anything but. Whenever the Ghost Rider isn't onscreen, the movie grinds to a halt. None of the human characters are very interesting. Not even Elba, one of the most compelling actors around, can make Moreau anything more than not-quite comic relief.
One thing Neveldine/Taylor did get right is the transformation — similar to the Hulk, when Blaze changes into Ghost Rider, it's a slow, painful process. It's actually very cool and unsettling. The aesthetic design of the Rider is also outstanding. The CGI flames on his head look much better than the first film, and his outfit and Hell Cycle have a charred look, which makes sense, since the dude is on Hellfire.
Some of the action sequences are impressive, primarily a highway chase scene and an early showdown in a quarry. The location scout for the film deserves major props for finding incredible locations in Romania and Turkey. The monastery at the film's start is awe-inspiring, as are the rock formations and caves in Turkey that serve as the home of a cult of tattooed monks, led by Christopher Lambert (don't ask).
The bad guys also stand out. Hinds, who spends much of the film in creepy makeup designed to reflect his character's decaying state, smartly resists the obvious temptation to chew it up as the personification of evil.
As Roarke's main henchman Carrigan, Johnny Whitworth certainly lives up (down?) to the role. He's transformed midway through the film into Blackout, who has the power of decay. There's a clever gag involving a Twinkie, but even that amusing scene underscores the laziness of the screenplay. If everything Blackout touches turns to dust, how's he able to drive a truck? Wouldn't the steering wheel decay?
The Ghost Rider's power set is also inconsistent. Blaze almost dies after getting hit by a grenade launcher. However, when he's blasted by a much larger weapon later on, he shrugs it off. C'mon fellas, this shouldn't be that hard.
The climactic showdown between Ghost Rider, Blackout and Roarke is remarkably… unremarkable. This moment is what Neveldine/Taylor were hired for, one would imagine. To stir up the soup and serve up an insanely inspired supernatural battle royale. They even have an ancient Roman amphitheater as a backdrop, with a gaggle of hooded lackeys chanting as Roarke prepares to Satanize little Danny. Like much of the movie, it falls well short.
There's no denying a lot of effort went into this movie. Neveldine/Taylor offer up their usual complement of dizzying camera shots, done by rollerblades, high-wire acts and other less traditional directing methods. And Cage's devotion to the role is unquestioned. He put on special makeup and wore special contacts to black out his eyes when he was doing his scenes as Ghost Rider, to stay in character.
But the attempt to take the franchise in the direction of horror doesn't work. It's tough being scared when you're fighting back chuckles. Plus, we don't see much of Ghost Rider, the Devil's Bounty Hunter. Mostly, what we get is Johnny Blazer, Supernatural surrogate father. And truth be told, Mr. Cage, that leather jacket is looking a bit, ahem, snug on you these days.
We can only hope Sony shows some mercy, and decides we've been punished enough by this franchise.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!