Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance review

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)  - 877465

We may never know the truth behind the scenes of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, but it probably goes something like this: The mad directorial wizards behind the Crank films, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, receive the script for the film and almost immediately throw up their hands in defeat.

The script, written and re-written by the hands of David S. Goyer, Seth Hoffman, and Scott M. Gimple, is actively uninteresting. A boy — let's call him MacGuffin — is on the run from some bad men. Those bad men are led by Roarke (Ciarán Hinds), a.k.a. The Devil in human form. The church wants to protect MacGuffin, so they send Moreau (Idris Elba) to find the Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage, of course).

For some reason, the only one who can save this boy is a man possessed by a demon that generally tries to kill everyone around him. Of all the heroes in the Marvel universe, the Rider is probably not the best for the job, yet the writers forcefully shove this dark anti-hero into the task anyway. They add some nonsense about the Rider once being an angel — something that may or may not be part of the comic mythology, but it seems enormously convenient either way.

It's a premise that leaves very little for directors Neveldine and Taylor to work with, and even less for Nicolas Cage to chew on. They try, boy do they try, and it's a genuine effort that makes some scenes in the film kind of wonderful, but for the most part, Spirit of Vengeance is a dry, soulless, by-the-numbers comic adaptation.

Left to their own devices, Neveldine and Taylor have made some wildly entertaining films in the past. Crank, Crank 2, and even Gamer all have a manic, deviant brilliance to them that I adore. Combine that with a comic book antihero and Nicolas mother-f'ing Cage, and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Spirit of Vengeance would be an unhinged masterpiece.

The unfortunate truth is that the directorial duo seem to be sailing at half-mast. These guys are fueled by their own energetic premises, and Ghost Rider's premise is anything but high-energy. Even the moments they seemed entirely responsible for (the crazy stuff), fell flat. The Ghost Rider character is well-equipped for some kinetic action sequences, but he spends more time standing around menacingly or driving flaming vehicles. It's just boring.

Then there's Nicolas Cage. Sometimes he's just the best, and sometimes he's phoning it in like this is the worst B-movie he's ever been in. Cage is brilliant in the right hands (such as Werner Herzog's in Bad Lieutenant), but Neveldine and Taylor don't always get the best performance out of him. There are moments that are so good I started to think the film had gotten into its groove, but it always managed to fall back into the relentlessly boring plot.

Things happen in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, but very little of it is worth discussing. There are other characters, but most of them don't seem worth the mention. MacGuffin's mother (Violante Placido) is a primary character, but she spends almost the entire movie flailing around in the dirt, being helpless and attractive.

The only character of note beyond Ghost Rider himself is Carrigan (played by Kurt Russell look-a-like Johnny Whitworth). He is Roarke's top goon, and with that responsibility comes unfortunate fate. Roarke turns Carrigan into Ghost Rider comic-villain Blackout, capable of shrouding your perception and rapidly decaying everything around him (except Twinkies) with the touch of a finger.

His abilities lead to some impressive and creepy special effects, but as the only character with enough power to actually take on the Ghost Rider, he doesn't actually get much of a workout. Nothing is a match for the Ghost Rider, and he seems to know this, so he doesn't really put a lot of effort into killing all the bad guys. There's no oomph to the action, it's just kind of weird and dull.

I really wanted to like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. The first film was a bad omen, but the promise of the directorial team combined with Nicolas Cage got me thinking this may have been a second shot for the comic anti-hero. The result wasn't even close, and it's probably for the best if the Rider stays bottled up for a long time to come.


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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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