Judge Mike Rubino is glad Nic Cage continues to drive angry.
"I will eat your stinking soul!"
Facts of the Case
Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) made a deal with the devil so that his dad could live. Turns out that when you sign a contract with Satan, it's got more caveats than buying a timeshare in Orlando. Now, whenever Blaze is around "evil," he transforms into the Ghost Rider—he's like a devil-biker version of The Incredible Hulk.
In Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Blaze is brought out of hiding by Moreau (Idris Elba, Luther), a French bounty hunter who's working for a mysterious sect of the Catholic Church. These monks were protecting a boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan), up until he got kidnapped by some goons…working for the devil (also known as Roarke, played by Ciaran Hinds). Now it's up to Blaze, Moreau, and Nadya (Violante Pacido, The American), a Russian assassin, to traverse the countrysides, deserts, and cult-filled castles of Eastern Europe to stop Satan and save the world.
I'll begin by saying that I haven't seen the first Ghost Rider, a film whose awful trailer was enough to ward me off. Its reception by critics and the movie-going masses reinforced my desire to never, ever watch it. Admittedly, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance showed a lot of promise. It looked darker, grimier, and it was from those Crank guys. The marketing team must have signed a deal with the devil to get a decent trailer.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is one of the most disengaging and awkward comic book movies I have seen. The characters are humorless (despite plenty attempts at wit). The villain is a generic suit flanked by generic goons. The story is bogged down with mythology, technicalities, and artificial drama. Written by superhero screenplay vet David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight, Blade), the script is stuffed with tropes and characters that I cared nothing about—except for maybe Moreau, who's given a great characterization by Elba.
Almost all of the film's problems start with protagonist Johnny Blaze. The character is paper-thin, his motivation is nonexistent, and when he turns into a fiery biker he can't talk or emote. Not helping matters is the simultaneously hilarious and perplexing Nicolas Cage, who clearly loves this whole Johnny Blaze shtick but doesn't bring any depth to the part. At the very least, the Ghost Rider fire effects look cool. If this were a Sega Genesis game, I could stop right there; however, this is a movie and a hero needs more than cool fire effects to win me over.
So with a meandering plot and a nonexistent hero, Neveldine/Taylor had their work cut out for them. In the past they've proven to be capable directors when it comes to chases, explosions, and wildly kinetic fight sequences—again, anything that looks like a videogame. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance doesn't have nearly enough of that stuff; when it's there, and Ghost Rider is whipping around those chains or jumping off of his cycle, the movie is actually enjoyable. Too bad, then, that so much of the runtime (especially in the second act) is a crawl through lengthy stretches of dialogue and exposition. Part road-movie, part Terminator 2: Judgement Day rip-off, Cage and Co. spend so much time talking, strategizing, and evangelizing yet, remarkably, I still never care about their plight. It feels like even Neveldine/Taylor are getting bored as the camera zooms in and out during the film's long-winded takes. It's like they are trying to shake the audience to keep them awake…but if you wait long enough, the Ghost Rider might fire-pee on someone.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance's effects are, like the rest of the
film, a little inconsistent. While the Ghost Rider himself looks subtle and cool
(for a flaming skull head), other effects involving the demon Blackout (Johnny
Whitworth) look unfortunately retro. What's strange is Neveldine/Taylor's use of
cut-away sequences where effects are isolated on an all-black background. While
I'm sure there was a point to these asides, they come across as unfinished tech
demos. For a Marvel super hero flick, the final product feels painfully low
Not even the film's transfer is very good. This standard def 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen image is riddled with edge artifacts, muddy colors, and an overly flat look. Some of the effects shots, especially Blackout's "magical vision" stuff, have an extreme edge enhancement effect that looks like it was rendered in iMovie. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix isn't much better: the dialogue is too quiet in the front channels, and the unpredictably loud action sequences mean you'll be reaching for that volume control fairly often. Rounding out the unimpressive DVD is a set of deleted scenes.
Ghost Rider, like The Punisher and Fantastic Four franchises, can't seem to find the right formula for a successful adaptation. Despite the unsettling enthusiasm of Nicolas Cage, Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider just isn't all that interesting beyond the bike stunts. And if style-over-substance directors Neveldine/Taylor can't make him exciting, then what hope does the franchise have? Probably the same as a snowball in Hell.
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Scales of Justice
• Deleted Scenes
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