Cinema Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

audience member at screening

DIR: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor • WRI: Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer • PRO: Ashok Amritraj, Ari Arad, Avi Arad, Michael De Luca, Steven Paul • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Brian Berdan • DES: Kevin Phipps • Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba, Violante Placido

The first clever decision made by the makers of Marvel’s latest superhero movie Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is to assume that you didn’t see 2007’s Ghost Rider – to which this film is to some degrees a sequel – because, let’s face it, you didn’t. (Although that film made more than $200m around the world, so surely someone did…)

The film opens with a crudely animated rehashing of the more important elements of the first film; motorbike stuntman Johnny Blaze made a dodgy deal with the Devil, who turned him into a skull-faced, soul-reaping monster who rides a flaming chopper. But now he uses those powers against the minions of Satan, in an attempt to earn back the soul he has sold. In the first film, the Rider could only come out at night, but this film happily does away with that requirement as it doesn’t fit the plot, which requires one daylight action scene. Sure, why not?

In fact, the only continuity here is that Blaze is once more played by Nic Cage, but to complicate matters, this is the ‘other’ Nicolas Cage – while the first Ghost Rider made use of the slightly spaced-out, dull Cage of Knowing and National Treasure, Spirit of Vengeance unleashes the off-his-face whacked-out lunatic of Face/Off and Bad Lieutenant.

The plot follows the trippy Blaze – driven as mad as Nic Cage by guilt over selling his soul, apparently – hiding out in Eastern Europe, because it is cheaper to film there. Seeking redemption, the Ghost Rider teams up with a drunken, shotgun-wielding monk (played by The Wire’s Idris Elba, with a Moroccan-French accent) to save a young boy the Devil has a little too much interest in.

Ciarán Hinds, rapidly gaining ground on Brendan Gleeson to become Ireland’s answer to Samuel L. Jackson (he’s in everything), takes on the role of the Devil, and chews an unfortunate amount of scenery for a film also featuring Nic Cage. There’s only so much growling you can do to try and make a script this lazy work, and it doesn’t help that his ‘evil’ makeup includes one gratuitously bloodshot eye.

The demented duo of directors known as Neveldine/Taylor, the pair behind the ludicrous but undeniably inspired Crank movies, give the film a sort of flair and show a talent for controlling Cage’s uncaged mania that only Werner Herzog has managed in recent years. But the material is all wrong. With PG-13 deaths resulting in offed villains bursting into CGI embers (think the Phoenix deaths in X-Men 3, only slightly less pixelly), and a child actor so dull he drains the energy from the screen, there’s simply nothing Crank going on here. One can only hope Neveldine and Taylor will work with Cage again in future but on more… eccentric fare.

While the film is almost worth seeing for the unleashing of Cage at his craziest – a scene where he repeatedly pops little blue pills feels all too real – the sloppy writing, confusing action scenes and the generally cheap appearance of this $75 million production make this film well worth keeping your distance from. It’s almost an added insult that the story is by David S. Goyer, who gave us The Dark Knight.

If you must catch it, be sure to avoid the unconscionably poor 3D, which is the worst retro-fitting since Clash of the Titans, and barely works for a moment with Neveldine/Taylor’s Tourettes-like camerawork.

David Neary

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is released on 17th February 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance  – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgvBmvF1RB8&feature=fvst

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