There’s a line in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance that perfectly encapsulates my thoughts about the film: “So, that happened.” In the movie, it’s used by Nicolas Cage as a way of playing off something that did, indeed, just happen, as he describes a story to some people. I use it because I’m still not entirely sure what just happened, but I’m almost positive I didn’t dream it up. If I did, however, that’s one weird dream and I believe a lengthy stay at the psych ward might just be in order.
Technically a sequel to Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance picks up eight years later, partially modifies the way in which Johnny Blaze (Cage) becomes the titular hero, and then proceeds to completely ignore the film. If I were tasked with creating a Ghost Rider movie, I’d aim to draw as much attention away from the 2007 installment, too. That one, for those who are able to remember it, was an overlong and dull mess of a movie, one that had almost no redeeming factors. And, for a movie that came out in 2007, it looked awful, with some of the worst CGI I had ever seen coming out of Hollywood. All that for $110 million.
Apparently that film made enough money to warrant a sequel, so Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the collective genius behind the over-the-top (and cheap) Crank films were brought in. Nic Cage returned, too, presumably because he still needs the money, but also possibly because he genuinely likes the character. Either way, Cage and the Rider are basically the only connections to the previous film, while this one was only given about half the budget.
It feels to me like it’s taking the James Bond approach, meaning that the character is just going on a singular mission, not one that directly relates to any of the events that previously took place. You know the character, sure, but he almost starts off as a blank slate each time, and just gets to go on another adventure. Blaze begins the film hiding out in Europe, staying away from everyone possible because if he does that, he thinks he’ll be able to keep the Rider at bay.
That doesn’t work so well with these types of characters, because we’re watching the movie to see them, not some mopey human, so, soon enough, Blaze is given one last job: Rescue a child, Danny (Fergus Riordan), bring him to the church, and he’ll have the Devil’s curse taken away for good. Mr. Blaze can then live a relatively normal life, and if he succeeds and doesn’t want to keep his powers, it means we, the audience, won’t have to sit through another Ghost Rider movie. Everybody wins!
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has actors that are too talented to be in it, a script that gives us a reason for action scenes and nothing much more, and a committed, insane performance by Nicolas Cage.
What results is a bunch of action scenes involving Blaze, Danny’s mother, Nadya (Violante Placido), and a man who will eventually become Blackout (Johnny Whitworth). Oh, the Devil himself (Ciarán Hinds) gets involved, too, for reasons that go into spoiler territory, but mostly because we need a bigger bad guy to give Blackout his powers. Idris Elba gives Blaze his mission, and winds up playing a larger role later on. It’s mostly Nic Cage’s film, though, as he plays the antihero of the title.
I’m happy to say that, at the very least, this Ghost Rider looks better than the previous one. While the budget was trimmed in half, it quickly becomes clear why the team of Neveldine and Taylor were hired. They make good looking films on a budget. This time around, Ghost Rider actually looks like he’s not made of PS1 quality graphics. If nothing else, it looks like a movie that could be released in 2012. The CGI is, on the whole, not bad, and a lot of detail went into it. The directors’ signature style is here, too, so you’re going to get a lot of odd camera angles and frenetic editing.
That doesn’t really make it good, but at least it’s not dull, which is pretty much the same thing you could say about both Cranks. It tells a much more simple story, introduces basic, archetypal characters, and is composed mostly of action scenes, and is campy as all get-out. It even gets in about three Nic Cage freakout scenes, which are almost worth the time commitment—which is only around 90 minutes, instead of the 110 of the last film—alone.
Honestly, I don’t expect a whole lot more than this—especially after the earlier installment—so I can’t exactly say I was disappointed by Spirit of Vengeance. I did have fun, and if that’s all you’re looking for, you should have a decent time here. How many films have Nic Cage awkwardly trying to be a father figure to the antichrist (spoilers!) in one scene, and then have him in an insane interrogation scene in the next? This one does, and that interrogation is absolutely hilarious and something that you must see. Someone will eventually post it on YouTube in a Nic Cage compilation (if they haven’t already) and even if you don’t want to watch the movie, find that scene.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has actors that are too talented to be in it (I’m thinking of Elba and Placido here), a script that gives us a reason for action scenes and nothing much more, and a committed, insane performance by Nicolas Cage. It’s a campy, fun movie given to us cheaply by a tag-team of directors who know how to have a good time at the movies. It’s not really good, but it’s enjoyable and it looks pretty good, so if you want to see what an enjoyable Ghost Rider film could look like, this is the one you should pick. “So, that happened.” Indeed, it did, and I’m actually kind of glad that it did, crazy at it is.
Conclusion: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is better than its predecessor.
Recommendation: If you want an over-the-top action movie featuring Ghost Rider, well, this is that.