The Marvel comic-book character that just can’t seem to get a break is back on the back screen, but this time with crazy boys Neveldine/Taylor backing him up. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a lot like Punisher: War Zone in the sense that it’s almost a completely different movie, not really acting like a sequel, but acting more like its own entity. That however, isn’t to say that it’s as good. Crank directors Neveldine/Taylor make Spirit of Vengeance a visually chaotic film, full of some weird-ass filming techniques and sequences of events, but the script is cold. It feels like it was written in crayon while Nic Cage was consuming massive amounts of cocaine. That makes the movie both incredibly fun and entertaining and severely flawed on the basic level of actually being a “good” movie. It doesn’t really have any rhyme or reason; it just does its own thing for about an hour and a half, until Nic Cage gets bored and halts the film to an end.
Former professional motorcycle stunt expert Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is hiding out in Eastern Europe. After making a deal with the devil in exchange for his father’s life; he’s been given a curse that turns him into a flaming skulled warrior that sucks the souls out of anyone who has done something bad. When the Ghost Rider takes control of Blaze he becomes lost in the shuffle, not being able to control it or stop it. He’s dangerous and unpredictable, which is why he’s seeking a way to rid himself of it once and for all.
Moreau (Idris Elba) is a monk type character who rides around on a motorcycle, searching for a chosen boy. This boy is named Danny (Fergus Riordan) and he’s the offspring of the devil. When his mother Nadya (Violante Placido) was younger she made a deal with the devil for her life. In exchange she was to carry his child. Danny is reaching the specific age for the devil, Roarke (Ciarán Hinds), to take human form. Moreau seeks out Blaze and offers a new deal; if Blaze helps save the kid then Moreau will help lift the curse that haunts him.
When you’re rebooting/loosely sequelizing a film like Ghost Rider, there honestly is no better of a team to hire than Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. The two have made a name for themselves previously directing the completely insane Crank series along with the kind-of-crazy Gamer film. Their only real piece of work that didn’t click was the script they wrote for Jonah Hex, but that ended up getting passed on to someone else to direct and apparently they butchered the script and cut out all the “good” stuff to make the PG-13 rating, so you can’t fault Neveldine/Taylor for that.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is very much a Neveldine/Taylor film. The opening credits quickly establish the tone they’re going for, which is mostly over-the-top comedy, with brief mixtures of that bad-ass violence we’ve all grown to love. They throw out most of the important character elements that were probably more present in the script in exchange for some truly weird laughs and awkward line delivery by Nicolas Cage. Finally, another pair of directors that know exactly how to channel Nic Cage.
They harness some of the most bizarre dialogue that has ever fallen out of Cage’s mouth. He makes comments about pouring 2000 year old wine on a salad and when he’s battling with the demon inside him, trying his best not to transform into the Ghost Rider, he randomly screams Merry Christmas. It’s uh, different.
Most people will find this kind of stuff to be really stupid or pointless, but for the few that get a kick out of Cage and his off-the-charts performances, Ghost Rider: Spirit of a Vengeance will be a real treat. Cage’s accent bounces around, picking up all sorts of frequencies while Idris Elba continues to try too hard in supporting roles that aren’t supposed to be all that important. At the end of the day I honestly didn’t see the point in Elba’s role, but it was great seeing him make it into his own.
But really, Cage is the star and Neveldine/Taylor are the supporting characters. Their crazy filmmaking techniques that include some near-death camera shots and constant scene transitioning help make Spirit of a Vengeance something of a visual pleasure. It’s a lot more grounded than Crank and Gamer and I think that’s because of the 3D element. I was worried that I was going to get sick watching one of their films in 3D (post-converted), but there is a lot of extended shots that keep the camera steady and relaxed (for their standards). They never go full extreme, but they do walk that line very delicately.
And that’s where the film gets a bit scrambled. With Crank and Gamer they fully embrace the wild side and throw caution out the window. There’s scenes in those films that I still can’t explain why they’re present, but it’s Neveldine/Taylor and they tend to do some random shit. With Ghost Rider there are enough of those silly scenes to get you laughing and scratching your head, but then the film comes down from that high and you’re left kind of bored during specific moments.
They never properly match the payoff to the buildup for the Ghost Rider character. They build up his appearance for what seems like 20 minutes, full of his shadowy and fiery figure, but then when he finally is revealed he kills a few bad guys only to get stopped by something miniscule like a rocket launcher. Yes, a rocket launcher is a small setback for a guy that can eat souls while constantly on fire. It feels like the true potential of the Ghost Rider is never fully on display. We get brief scenes of him waging an all-out war with a dozen or so bad guys, but he never reaches that full bad ass potential.
At least in Punisher: War Zone we were able to see Frank Castle literally kill 50+ men in a matter of minutes. He kicks a chair into a dudes face, hangs from a chandelier with machine guns and still has time to fix a broken nose with a pencil. You’d think Ghost Rider would be just as insane, especially with the Crank guys at the helm, but something about the whole film feels held back.
I initially wanted to blame the PG-13 rating, but they work around that very well. Most of his kills are done with fire and ash, so there isn’t really any need for blood. The film is dark and violent; it’s just not all that coherent. It’s one visual highlight reel followed by another, with some of the best Nic Cage line delivery thrown in for good measure. The action scenes feel too short and they lack exposure. I’m not sure if that is for budgetary reasons or if Neveldine/Taylor blew their creative load on everything else and forgot how to give the fans a proper action fix.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not a good film by any measurable means, but it’s an entertaining one for sure. It’s miles better than the first film, but it’s not quite up to the level of Crank, Gamer or even Punisher: War Zone. It sort of skids below that bar, barely registering as a full-on Neveldine/Taylor film. Their stamp is definitely all over the film, but you can tell they didn’t write the film, because it feels a little too setback and not fully willing or able to become completely unhinged.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – 7/10