We’re now more than a decade into the modern superhero movie era, folks. At this point, we’ve just crossed the threshold of the “reboot phase,” in which studios have either been forced or decided to re-imagine some of the 2000‘s major superhero properties. We saw “X-Men: First Class” successfully relaunch the “X-Men” franchise last summer and Sony is hoping to do the same in July with “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Even the critical and/or financial flops of the 2000s, such as “Daredevil,” “Fantastic Four” and both “Hulk” films have reboots in the planning stages.
And then there’s “Ghost Rider.” After the first film met a rough reception from critics and audiences in 2007 and a few years passed without a sequel, it seemed that the story of demon-possessed daredevil Johnny Blaze would get a full makeover. Apparently not.
Five years later we get “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” which puts Nicolas Cage in the seat of the Ghost Rider once again, but cleans the slate from the first film aside from a brisk debriefing on how Johnny received his curse. With the directors of “Crank” (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) assigned to add a boost of adrenaline, this could be considered at least a dedication to improvement, right?
Nope. Although the action could be described as better and the visual depiction of the Ghost Rider improved and more fully realized, “Spirit of Vengeance” suffers from the same plot inanity as its predecessor, if not worse. It’s an exercise in obnoxious filmmaking and warrants a label as the blathering mental patient of all superhero movies.
Johnny Blaze is hiding out in Eastern Europe when a wine-slugging frenchman named Moreau (Idris Elba) comes knocking. He offers to rid Johnny of his curse if he’ll track down and protect a 13-year-old boy being hunted by the devil (Ciaran Hinds) for a specific purpose. Johnny finds the boy and his protective mother (Violante Placido), who also made a deal with the devil in her life, and you don’t need to know anything that happens after that.
When there’s no movement or kinetic energy to this “Ghost Rider,” it falls completely apart. Neveldine and Taylor only seem comfortable when cars go fast, and there’s not nearly enough of that in this script. The tone of the rest of the scenes, ones in which conversations and generic character interactions take place is a complete schizophrenic mess. You never know if Cage will deliver a trademark snarky comment or have a psychotic break. I’d say he hasn’t been this bad in a long time, but snarky/psychotic is Cage’s career in a nutshell.
The film possesses that mad-dog insanity of the “Crank” franchise, but being outlandish and lacking self-seriousness requires a full commitment. “Spirit of Vengeance” tries to be serious on too many occasions that whenever it tries to be crazy nut-job funny, it fails. A scene involving a Twinkie offers the only nugget of humor, but in the context of the film it’s completely useless. The dark, rough and devilish vibe of “Ghost Rider” does not gel with this sense of humor at all. It could, but the story is so horribly bland that it doesn’t matter. Remember that pissing fire scene from the trailer? It makes even less sense in the movie.
I will, however, give one ounce of credit to the depiction of the Ghost Rider. In addition to being more grisly and realistic thanks to improved CGI, he’s truly menacing. Too bad he doesn’t get enough of a spotlight; the real curse is when he turns back into Cage. The idea of Johnny trying to contain the Rider and keeping it from taking over him creates an intriguing “Incredible Hulk”-like dynamic that could’ve worked well in the story, but it only impacts one scene and Cage hams it up so badly that he ruins it.
From a pure entertainment standpoint, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” is only good when it’s on wheels, the fleeting moments when the kinetic style of its directors can be effective. Hinds gives a nice performance as a crazy Satan, but the rest of the film fails to commit to the same level of delightful lunacy, and everyone knows you don’t go half-lunatic.
Fox’s blind trust in “The Dark Knight” co-writer David S. Goyer and the others who helped on this script clearly didn’t work out. Keeping the original film’s director, Mark Steven Johnson, on as executive producer doesn’t make much sense either. Their film comes off as a careless effort meant for nothing but to keep the rights to “Ghost Rider” from reverting back to Marvel, where they’d be in much better hands.
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Written by Scott M. Gimple and Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Violante Placido, Ciarán Hinds