Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Review
In an age of prequels, sequels, and reboots, stale storylines involving comic book characters have been resurrected by noted directors, such as Christopher Nolan (the “Batman” trilogy) and Zack Snyder (the upcoming Superman reboot, “Man of Steel”). The original film, “Ghost Rider,” was panned by critics and scoffed by fans of the Marvel Comics character. In an effort to resuscitate the demonic rider, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor wrote and directed the sequel, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” The directors have displayed an aptitude for bringing outrageous characters and narratives to the screen, displayed in their quirky, frenetic, R-rated “Crank” films. This change in direction provided hope for those who thought the original film wasn’t dark and violent enough. Sadly, in a desire to appeal to a mass audience, the film comes off as confused, hammy, and low-budget.
The storyline is simple enough: Johnny Blaze, played by Nicolas Cage, is a former motorcycle stuntman who made a deal with the devil to save his ailing father. In the midnight hours, he transforms into Ghost Rider, a motorcycle-driving, flaming-skulled vengeance demon that delivers guilty souls to Hell. That’s all you need to know. The narrative thumps along at such a slow pace that it’s hard to care about the characters or the plot. In addition, the film can’t decide whether it wants to be a quirky, crazy action film or meaningful character investigation, both of which it fails to achieve. If the directors had decided to make a simple, dumb action flick, like “The Losers” or “Red” (both based on comic books), it may have been watchable. Unfortunately, in a film that’s 95 minutes long, relevant action sequences only account for about 15 minutes. These scenes are rather interesting, displaying the same type of frenetic energy reminiscent of “Crank.” In fact, Ghost Rider’s new ability to invest machines with his Hell powers made me smile. Yet these sequences are too brief and feel strangled by the film’s PG-13 rating and low budget.
These fleeting moments of fun are interspersed with one-note characters, over-explanation of the plot, cheesy puns and Nicolas Cage. Cage’s acting skill ranges from his monotone delivery of dialogue, insane shouting when he’s trying to contain the demon inside, and maniacal laughing when he’s. … well, when the directors decided the film was getting boring.Cage is surrounded by talented actors, including Idris Elba (“The Wire,” “Thor”) and Cirián Hinds (“Rome,” “Munich”). Sadly, both seem to be delivering the worst performances of their careers, possibly advised to refrain from overshadowing Cage. Elba plays the stereotypical wine-drinking Frenchman who’s only point in the film is to provide fortune-cookie wisdom, while Hinds plays the “devious” Devil, whose part could have been played by cardboard. Maybe I shouldn’t judge Elba and Hinds harshly, as their performance is most likely due to an underdeveloped script, written by directors who hoped the CGI would save their film. The CGI is all right, but doesn’t deserve the sloppy, converted 3-D treatment.
Unfortunately, the character of Ghost Rider, like “The Punisher,” seems destined to remain in the comic book medium. Use the $10 to buy a Ghost Rider graphic novel; go to the source material, and stay away from this tedious mess of a film.