The curse of Nicolas Cage continues in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a movie so uninspired and disjointed that it makes its crummy predecessor look like The Dark Knight in comparison.
Although the original film scared up a strong box office over Valentine’s Day weekend in 2007, Sony seems to have been hesitant in bankrolling a sequel. That reluctance has resulted in a thinner budget, shoddier production values and a jettison of the cast and crew from the first go-round.
The only man left standing is Nic Cage, reprising his role as the hell-bound biker Johnny Blaze, whose alter-ego is the Devil’s bounty hunter, the flame-brained Ghost Rider. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the bargain bundle directing team who produce manic slop like the Crank films and Gamer, take over as headliners but don’t invest much energy in the wafer-thin premise. Fans of the frantic, video-game amorality of Crank will be likewise disappointed to learn that this one has more in common with that other dead-on-arrival comic-book flick, Jonah Hex which the duo also scripted.
The story is of no real consequence, just another obligatory mission that tempts Blaze with the possibility of regaining his immortal soul. The Devil—played with a kind of confused bluster by the usually terrific Ciarian Hinds—has sired a child and now he’s coming to collect the kid unless Johnny and a badass warrior priest named Moreau (Elba) can take him down.
For a brief time it looks like Spirit of Vengeance might triumphantly shrug off its pedigree and become a fun, goofy b-movie with the likes of Ciaran Hinds., Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth and Christopher Lambert playing hammy second fiddle to the burned-out husk masquerading as Nicolas Cage. The craggy desolation of a Romanian countryside and nifty dream sequences that suggest Blaze’s brimstone-paved trajectory add a bit of charm, but they are promptly crushed under the boot of poor scripting, dodgy direction and overheated visual effects that look llike someone playing X-Box at a rave.
The artists and writers that have contributed to the comic iteration of Ghost Rider over the years have, most of them, understood the character and played by the rules that his creators have set up for him. Neveldine and Taylor have no such interest or commitment and they bungle even the mildest of comic-book through-lines. This is a slapdash film that hastily introduces some characters, inexplicably sidelines others, and never explains the motivations that accompany the action.
That action also misses the mark; it’s just a relentless snarl of incoherent smoke and noise. Comic-book artists build movement and body language into their character’s DNA and their undervalued craft should be studied by more would-be filmmakers looking to lift franchises off the inked page and up onto the cinema screen.
In between Idris Elba trying to smirk his way into our hearts and Hinds stumbling over his demonic motivation, there’s the Neveldine/Taylor shout-outs to frat-boy comedy and fan-boy pandering, including scenes of molten piss and vomit being evacuated from Ghost Rider’s phantasmal internal organs. None of this matters really, as any volunteer patrons this thing gets will be there to see the latest chapter in the Nicolas Cage supernatural horror sweepstakes.
Cage himself can only take it so far, though, and what should be sublime insanity reflected in Nic’s gaze is replaced by an old, tired actor who seems to remember vaguely that a few years ago he played a character named Ghost Rider. The serious nature of the production needs him to lighten up a bit, and he threatens to make Blaze a compelling train-wreck; wild-eyed, repentant but not reformed, and constantly staring out at the invisible gates of Hell wondering how he failed so miserably at guarding his own soul. Neveldine and Taylor only treat him like a carnival attraction, but end up highlighting a crucial fact of nature; you can’t cage the Cage and expect to see his majesty in captivity. He needs to be free and wild (at heart).
Alas, that never happens and he and the Ghost Rider find themselves steam-rolled by a big, clunky disaster of a movie that only further sullies the reputation of the second-tier Marvel movie characters. At this point even the Punisher is starting to feel better about himself.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (PG-13) Running time: 95 minutes
Directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor Cast: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Ciáran Hinds, Violante Placido, Ferfus Riordan, Johnny Whitworth, Anthony Head, Christopher Lambert
Find other Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance reviews here:
Check your local showtimes at: www.hollywood.com
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 10%