Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance"

Directed by Neveldine/Taylor, written by Scott M. Gimple & Seth Hoffman, and David S. Goyer, starring Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, and Ciaran Hinds - Rated PG-13

This movie had the Evil Kurgan at "soul-eating flaming skull biker."

Full disclosure: I am an unapologetic fan of crappy Nicolas Cage movies.  Don’t get me wrong, the guy can turn in genuinely good performances (he’s an Oscar winner for a reason), but lately his career has become a joke of endless films, many of them considered garbage by most.  I kind of love each of his movies, though.  Strangely enough, I found the first Ghost Rider to be too boring to be enjoyable on even a crappy level.  So why would I even want to watch a sequel?  A shot in the arm from the directors of the Crank series (Neveldine and Taylor) can change a person’s mind.  And it turns out that’s exactly what Ghost Rider needed, though if you’re not on the same wavelength as the filmmakers, then you’re going to find this awful.  I was definitely along for the ride and, despite a few faults, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a ridiculous, stupid, but ultimately fun time.

The first Ghost Rider made the cardinal sin of being a boring, unforgettable film.  That seems impossible since the character of Ghost Rider is a hellish skeletal biker who is constantly on fire.  The images alone should have been interesting enough to carry the film, but no amount of flame could spice that movie up.  Still, the idea of the Rider as this soul-eating creature is compelling enough to give it another chance.  This time around, the craziness of the Rider’s image is handled in a visually interesting way and the story, action, and humor is enough to make this worth your time. 

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance finds Johnny Blaze on the run from himself as he hides out in some nondescript Eastern European country.  He soon gets dragged into a plot concerning the son of the evil, demonic Roarke, who may be the devil himself, though it was unclear to me because if he’s the devil, he’s really quite weak.  Anyway, if Roarke can get his hands on the boy, the world will be plunged into darkness.  So it’s up to the Rider to stop him and possibly reverse the curse that Roarke has put on him as well. 

The story isn’t too ridiculous and has enough going on to keep things moving and a movie like this needs to stay in motion.  As long as Cage gets to crazy it up here and there it’s fine.  There are a number of odd scenes in which Cage gets to chew the scenery, but this isn’t The Wicker Man or anything.  Although one scene in which he threatens someone while trying to hold back the Rider is absolutely fantastic in its absurdity.  You don’t want to see a constant Cage cacophony, anyway.  Ghost Rider is about action.

The action is certainly better this time around, though it still has some issues.  First off, Neveldine/Taylor’s hyper style of filmmaking fits the Rider well.  The intensity is pitch-perfect.  The problem is the Rider just stands there and stares at people too often.  Sure, he does plenty of cool stuff in this movie (he pees fire! He tosses cars around like nothing!), but there are multiple scenes in which he shows up, ignores the major threats around him, and just slowly stares into a bad guy’s soul.  That sounds cool, but it doesn’t work in an action scene.  But when he does let loose, it looks pretty cool.

The visuals of the movie are fine, but the use of 3D is suspect.  The 3D does make the flames and smoke pop and it actually added to my enjoyment of the film, but too much of it was flat and some of it was just plain chaotic to the point of messiness.  For example, the Rider takes over some crane-type machine and turns it into a giant flaming chainsaw and the screen erupts in a blur of flames, smoke, and darkness.  I am waiting on the DVD to see what actually happened during that sequence because, in the theatre, it made my eyeballs sick.

Neveldine and Taylor aren’t necessarily suited for 3D.  They are a bit too frenetic for it.  They were the right directors for Ghost Rider because of their edgy, crazy violence in films like Crank.  Unfortunately, they were not given the R rating to do what the character truly needed.  But Spirit of Vengeance is still a step in the right direction.  Here’s hoping for an unrated cut on DVD. 

Despite the missteps and limitations, Ghost Rider still stands out as a ridiculous good time thanks to the sometimes too goofy humor and the cast.  Cage is obviously onboard, and Idris Elba has a lot of fun as a wine swilling French monk.  Johnny Whitworth hams it up gloriously as the Rider’s main competition.  Ciaran Hinds is decent as the villain.  The kid, Fergus Riordan, is tolerable.  And Christopher Lambert shows up and his presence alone is awesome. 

If you’ve read this far and you’ve been nodding along with everything, then this one is probably for you.  If what you’ve been reading sounds stupid and too weird, then you should probably skip it.  In fact, most of the general population should skip this one.  It takes a certain, idiotic mentality to truly enjoy Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  I know I’m not alone out there, though.  So if you want a few Cage freak outs and some overall goofy fun in a comic book movie, then give this one a shot.  It really is better than the first, even if that’s not saying much.

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