Theatrical Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Johnny Blaze is literally on the run from himself, or more precisely the demon inside him known as the Ghost Rider.  He’s found himself in seclusion in a non-descript area of Eastern Europe,  Simultaneously, a religious order is under attack by a group of men seeking to take a young boy from them who’s under their protection.  As the attack occurs, the boy, Danny, and his mother Nadya go on the run and manage to escape their pursuers.  Moreau, a member of the order, tries to find them but has little luck.  One thing that Moreau is aware of is the fact that the Rider is near by and he knows he could persuade Johnny Blaze to search for Danny and Nadya.

Moreau finds Blaze and explains why the boy is so valuable, and with the offer of being able to release Blaze from his curse, Johnny Blaze soon joins the pursuit.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is the second film to use Marvel Comics’ superhero/supernatural character and all it has in common with the first movie is Nicolas Cage playing Blaze and the broadest of aspects of the character’s origin.  It’s both a sequel and a re-boot, which of course for most are already two strikes against it.  But under the able directorial team of Neveldine/Taylor (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor who have previously made the Crank movies and more recently Gamer with Gerard Butler), there’s a lot of new life here, but it’s hard for me to say if it will be embraced. For myself though, I had a ball with this.

Neveldine/Taylor and Cage are basically embracing all of the “B” movie aspects of the Ghost Rider and just playing them to the hilt.  Just about every part of the film is over-the-top fun.  Neveldine/Taylor’s hyper-kinetic shooting style just fits this thing to a “T.” I’ve already read complaints of the style for this film from others as being too fast and shaky, and it is fast and shaky, but honestly I just didn’t have any trouble following the action in the slightest.  I think the choice of setting this in a non-descript area of Easter Europe was on point.  The locations are both bleak and beautiful and add a bit of surreality that for me harkens back to such horror movies as Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes or Robert Fuest’s The Devil’s Rain.

The attention to detail is terrific and really on focus with the background settings and in the re-design of The Ghost Rider himself.  The new look of the Rider is evident in his skull visage and close-shots of the leathers he wears which are both charred and boiling due to the intense heat caused by the Rider.  Neveldine/Taylor are directors who were made for 3D and their use of the effect is extremely entertaining both for it’s immersion and it’s moments of being in-your-face.  One of the better uses of the technology is also one of the more quiet scenes in the film.  This scene is a split screen phone call that takes place between Roarke (the man in pursuit of Danny) and Carrigan (Roarke’s lead in the pursuit).  When the screen is split, it offers up to completely different planes of depth that’s just really fascinating to watch.

Nicolas Cage looks like he’s really having a ball with this one.  In the first movie, I thought his quirks worked a little against the story that was being told (though in general, I like the film), but here, Neveldine/Taylor really play that up to a point where it’s funny to watch, but still entirely suitable to the story.  When Cage is in action as the Ghost Rider, he adds some jerky movements to the character that can imply two things; either Blaze still trying to contain the character or the demon being uncomfortably confined to a human host- either way it works.  I tend to think Cage is at his best when he’s making “B” movie fare and I certainly enjoyed him in movies like Drive Angry and Season of the Witch.  He certainly plays with that here, but there’s also a little bit in common with his work with Werner Herzog in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans as well.

Violante Placido and Fergus Riordan play Nadya and Danny, and they’re the most “normal” parts to the whole film (though Placido is over-the-top gorgeous in her part).  Johnny Whitworth plays Ray Carrigan, who later gets transformed his own self into what should be a worthy opponent to the Ghost Rider, and i general, he’s a fun character.  Idris Elba plays Moreau, and it’s a character that to me certainly has a lot more life to him than others that Elba has played.  Much like Cage, Elba looks like he’s having a ball making this film.

The biggest surprise to me in the cast though was Ciarán Hinds as Roarke.  Hinds has always been one of those guys who for me has always been a little on the stiff side in his parts (though don’t get me wrong, it’s worked for some of those parts as well).  Here, he’s positively animated in a way that could suggest that’s he’s some sort of strange mix of Moe Howard, Shemp Howard, Ernest Borgnine and the Devil Incarnate rolled into one.  Now I know that mentioning two of The Three Stooges here could sound detrimental and it’s not meant that way at all.  There’s something that’s just both fun and funny about Roarke and Hinds looks like he’s lapping it all up and just enjoying every single minute of it.

I suspect I’m going to be a minority on this one, but I just had a terrific time with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  Neveldine/Taylor’s visual style is a perfect fit for the character and their use of 3D is both inventive and immersive.  The performances, in particular from Nicolas Cage and Ciarán Hinds are over-the-top and not meant to be taken seriously at all, and much like the visual style of the film, they fit.  All this really needed to further it’s embracing of “B-movie trash” (and I say that with great love for “B” movie trash) was adding some of the scratched and warped film effects that Robert Rodriguez used in his portion of Grindhouse, Planet Terror.  This was a lot of fun and I look forward to eventually seeing it again down the road.