Review: 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' Proves that Hell is Boring
by Jeremy Kirk
February 17, 2012
Like a flash fire, the excitement in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance burns out just as quickly as it appears. Maybe faster. Before Nicolas Cage's Johnny Blaze or even his flame-headed alter ego show, we're given an action sequence followed by a chase. Neither bring with them even the slightest idea of weight. In fact, Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor, who are taking over from Mark Steven Johnson, rely so heavily on CGI and non-stop camera shaking there's little room for anything else. The loud, fake energy is not only indicative of everything wrong with Spirit of Vengeance, it's becoming the duo's calling card. Not one to be proud of, either.
Playing out like a Ghost Rider one-off, Spirit of Vengeance picks elements from other, better horror films, throws them together in some kind of order that looks and feels like a story, and lets horrible direction and Cage going as self-mockingly insane as he's gone before. This time around Blaze is somewhere in Eastern Europe, where, as luck would have it, a boy is being chased by the devil himself. With the help of a secret order of the church, Blaze works to protect the child from the forces of darkness with a promise that the Ghost Rider curse can and will be lifted once his job is done.
The Ghost Rider franchise didn't seem like it could go anywhere but up. After the abysmally puerile original, it seemed like we'd be in store for something even goofier when Neveldine & Taylor came aboard to direct. As with the first Crank, though, that could have given us a ridiculous but energetic comic book movie that didn't even know boundaries existed. It could have been something akin to Punisher: War Zone, not a phenomenal piece of cinema but something so bat-shit insane that you can't help but enjoy the ambitious train wreck of it all. Neveldine & Taylor seem to be holding back for much of Spirit of Vengeance.
The insanity is there, dropping in now and again just to let you know that, yes, you could enjoy this movie if it weren't so numbingly dull. Everything screeches to a halt once they feel the need to make it exciting. They do so by shaking the camera as much as possible, zooming in and out rapidly, and never seeming to even try to get anything interesting in front of the camera. Some of the cooler moments in the film are completely lost by the camera shifting to the side or bouncing up and down for no apparent reason. It becomes a game where Neveldine & Taylor appear to be hiding their budget or lack thereof. It doesn't help when they throw in ridiculous cutaways either because they think it's cool or they think it's funny. They about 0 for 500 when it comes to hitting either of those.
But outside of Cage's facial contortions, wide eyes, and inability to control himself from laughing maniacally, Spirit of Vengeance is chock full of boredom. It's the kind of movie where the more interesting moments, moments that would probably work best in a trailer for the film, were obviously designed to appear in a trailer for the film. Ghost Rider pees flame like a flamethrower. It's a moment we not only get once but twice in the film. Both times are head-slapping in how obviously they are shoehorned in there. When Ghost Rider takes control of any vehicle, not just his motorcycle, it turns into a flaming vehicle of hellish justice. Sure, sounds interesting on paper, and the design work isn't bad. It would help if the directors used this concept to any level of satisfaction. They don't.
Sure, Nicolas Cage loses it here and there. What else is to be expected? A particular interrogation moment has the audience wondering if the person being questioned was more afraid of the Ghost Rider or Cage himself. There's even a deliberate - This isn't confirmed, but it has to be deliberate. That's the only explanation - call-back to The Wicker Man, one of Cage's more ironically lauded performances in the past 10 years. He's insane in Spirit of Vengeance, but he doesn't even seem to know any better these days. He's become the old man who's still trying to dress "like the kids". You just smile and look how cute he's being, maybe even give his hair a tussle.
It's the other actors in Spirit of Vengeance, though, that you really have to feel sorry for. Ciarán Hinds plays Roarke, the human embodiment of Satan who is trying to bring about the end of the world - isn't he always? Hinds, generally a solid performer, gives the best impression of Angus Scrimm ever put on cinema. Christopher Lambert shows up for about 10 minutes, but that says more about the level of work put into this film than it does the aging, B-movie actor. Idris Elba is just as cool as he's ever been, and he almost seems to be trying to instill some kind of serious tone here. He doesn't hold up well against the combined forces of Neveldine, Taylor, and Cage, though, and the only emotion you ever really feel for him is the sympathy that he didn't get paid to be in something else.
He's the only one really. Everyone else seems to fit right in with Spirit of Vengeance's absurdity and overall chintz. A bargain-basement comic book movie with no sense of fun about it whatsoever, the film makes you yearn for they days of... well, Ghost Rider 2007. Mark Steven Johnson's Ghost Rider was ridiculous and stupid. It wasn't very interesting, either. This isn't to say that Spirit of Vengeance makes the first Ghost Rider a good movie. It just proves that hell can be an insufferable, and, more often than not, the worst kind of excruciation is boredom. That's the kind of experience that will make you sell your soul to the devil you want it to end so badly.
Jeremy's Rating: 2.5 out of 10 (extra .5 goes to the full Cage on display in this)