The century of comic book movies continues with the latest installment Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor and based on the Marvel Comics character. This is a pseudo sequel to 2007's Ghost Rider in that while Nic Cage reprises the title role of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, the main elements and back story have been modified to convey the same basic story while omitting every unique (and many would say painful) aspect related to the first movie. This was done most recently with The Incredible Hulk starring Ed Norton, which picked up from where Ang Lee's Hulk left off, but the brief recap altered the origin to more closely resemble that of the 1970s TV show with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.
The premise is that Johnny Blaze has fled overseas to get away from his curse, and ends up recruited in a holy quest by Moreau (Idris Elba) to save a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from the devil (Ciarán Hinds) and his minions. What this movie does differently from the first is give Ghost Rider a more gritty visual feel than before, with black smoke billowing out, a darker skull, and his suit and bike taking on an almost melted appearance when transformed. The Rider's actions are given an almost horror-like quality which fits the character, and which is woefully underutilized in most representations of him as he is, basically, a creature out of someone's nightmares.
|Scalp itch, the silent killer.|
The visual effects, for the most part, were impressive, including expanding an ability given to Ghost Rider at the end of the first movie. One instance was one of the more exciting moments in the film. Missing, though, was the Rider's penance stare effects from the first film, replaced by invisible soul-sucking that, if not explained beforehand, audiences would have no clue what was going on. Also gone is the ease in which the Rider dispatched foes with his chain, although still seen briefly. However, this did lead to contrived means in which ordinary human foes gave the Rider a bit of a hard time. But, there were some unique fight scenes that made good use of the Rider's supernatural origins. And, speaking of his origins, the film made use of the continually changing and increasingly complex origin given to the character over the last decade of the comic book. Blackout's "blackout" effect left a little to be desired, as instead of being a fully-realized special effect it was done with a mere camera filtering trick that would surely leave casual movie-goers scratching their heads as to what was supposed to be happening.
The story itself, penned by Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, and veteran comic movie writer David S. Goyer, wasn't very deep, but effective, capitalizing on many elements of the devil we've seen in both comics and film over the years. Little nods to the previous movie persisted, such as Blaze needing massive amounts of water after a transformation, keeping some sense of continuity within the franchise. There were semi-animated cut scenes here and there to help illustrate moments of exposition when Blaze narrated the backgrounds of certain things. While nicely rendered, they didn't really match the overall tone of the movie. Yes, it's a comic book movie, but comic book elements beyond characters and story are often unwelcomed additions. There were also moments of comedy in the film, some intentional, some not. The infamous "pissing fire" scene seen in most of the trailers makes the final cut of the film, but it's not as serious or gratuitous as most might believe. The other moments either had no place in the film, or were just hilariously bad.
|Ghost Rider demonstrates the consequences of unsafe sex. No glove, no love!|
|The devil specializes in albinos.|
As for Nic Cage, he once again played Nic Cage playing another character. Cage reported added snake-like elements to his portrayal of the Rider this time. Why that was even necessary remains a mystery. Cage's shows that despite Blaze's promise to own the curse from the last film, the curse has won him over, leading to some random bursts of insanity from Blaze that only Cage can convey. Cage's performance is a double-edged sword, cutting both ways on the good and bad scale. At moments, his Cage-ness helps the character shine, while at others it holds the character back.
|Insane in the membrane.|
Overall, the film was a slightly better attempt at capturing and depicting the character. The dark, gritty, horrific elements were welcomed additions, while some good elements from the first movie were left on the wayside, such as the penance stare and the demonic voice manipulation. The one failing in having a powerful supernatural character fighting against ordinary humans is there's very little leeway in how easily said character can take them out and how seriously they can hold said character at bay to keep the story going. The film attempts to provide a rationale for that, but getting to that point meant some contrivances.
This was a fun popcorn flick, nothing more, nothing less. It won't reinvent the wheel or even hold much of a candle to some of the major blockbusters past or coming, but it will keep you entertained for its run. If you were among the few that liked the first movie, you're bound to like this one. If you're one of the many that hated the first, this may offer some redemption for the character and franchise for you.
|Ghost Rider then.|
|Ghost Rider now.|