Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

(2012, Dir. by Neveldine/Taylor.)

In a sequel almost nobody – save Nic Cage and some dudes at Marvel who like money – wanted, Johnny Blaze returns to the big screen for another fiery ride.  This time it’s called Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and it’s a sequel that wants nothing to do with its big budget predecessor.  It brings back Cage – mostly because Cage is the biggest Ghost Rider fan alive AND likes money because he has to pay for his burial pyramid – but cuts all other ties to Mark Steven Johnson’s bland film.

This time the skullfire-on-wheels action is framed by the duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who previously brought their hyperactive flair to the Crank films and the muddled, yet strangely captivating Gamer (don’t hate, I dig it!).   The filmmakers left their mark on those films by featuring “balls-to-the-wall” action that feature no restraint, which made nudity, blood, random psychedelic cutscenes, and other acts of depravity the norm in their worlds.  A lot of people didn’t like that about them, but I thought it was a blast – their films are basically video games that were filmed instead of rendered – which makes it slightly frustrating when you realize that Ghost Rider 2 has been edited down for a PG-13 rating.

Without the ability to go all the way, Neveldine/Taylor’s film feels a little neutered.  It’s particularly baffling too, as this is the second film released under the Marvel Knights banner that previously accompanied the uberviolent, R-rated Punisher: War Zone – a film that featured more arterial spray than most horror movies made in the new millennium.  This Marvel Knights production features a lot more dark moments than the first film did, but there are moments when the film cuts away from what could have been a brutal moment.  Perhaps the studio was worried that the first film pandered to children – which is a strange truth despite the devil-based plot – but I don’t think this sequel will sell as well to the young crowd.

There’s certainly more grit to this film, as the Rider looks a bit darker and a lot less cartoon-y than he did in the 2007 film.  The action takes on a supernatural tone again – especially when that Ciaran Hinds dude turns one of the bad guys into a creepy undead thing who’s supposed to find a kid that might become the Antichrist – and there’s plenty of night time battling with the flaming headed antihero doing his thing.  Oh yeah, and you get to see Ghost Rider urinating a stream of flame – if you’re in to that kind of thing.

If there’s a reason to see Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, it’s certainly the star.  A lot of people are down on the overdramatic Mr. Cage, but he’s pretty much my favorite thing Hollywood could do to any movie.  Heck, I once kind of defended that piece of excrement Wicker Man remake because of Cage’s overacting.  Truthfully, I was a little disappointed by the lack of Cage Rage in this film.  There was one glorious mid-film scene that allowed Cage to go fully crazy, but there weren’t enough moments like it.  In fact, I kinda thought the film was a little backward – the early part of the film featured a lot of Rider and not enough Cage, while the final scenes feature a ton of subdued Cage and not enough Rider.

With the directors’ hands tied and Cage somewhat restrained, the whole movie just seems kinda pointless.  It was a fun ride – I’ll watch it again before I watch the first Ghost Rider film again – but it doesn’t have much going for it outside of the good-looking Eastern European setting and a decent cast (Idris Elba is a fun addition in a pivotal side role, and Violante Placido is nice to look at).  I’m not sure if it will please fans of the comic – I know next to nothing about Ghost Rider, except that Cage loves him – but it’s little more than a passable diversion in what is generally blockbuster cinema’s offseason.  You shouldn’t waste your money on a 3D ticket price, but if you’re interested you might have fun with the film as a rental if you really dig Cage Rage.  Even then, you’re probably better off watching the more violent and more ballistic Drive Angry anyway.

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