Movie Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Pictured Above: What Hollywood did on my dreams of a good Ghost Rider Movie.

Ever had a friend that just kept messing up? They really were your friend but it seems like they just can’t make a good decision to save their life. Maybe you grew up with them and maybe a lot of people generally like them, as they seem like they want to do better but when all is said and done, you really keep hanging out with them because of how they were and how you want them to be, hoping that one day they’ll realize they’ve been screwing up and just better themselves. This is exactly how I feel about Marvel movies. Ghost Rider: SOV is maybe the best example of this feeling.

Spirit of Vengeance is the sequel and/or reboot to 2007’s Ghost Rider which stars Nicholas Cage as Johnny Blaze, a former stuntman who sold his soul to the Devil to save his dad from dying. Not only does the Devil allow his dad to die, but Blaze’s soul isn’t his anymore; it’s now bonded to a leather-wearing, skeleton bodied, motorcycle riding demon, who senses when evil is near and takes over Blaze’s body, looking to exact bloody justice. A couple years after the first movie (I think?), Blaze is running around in Eastern Europe and is asked to help save a boy from becoming the Devil’s next incarnation, all while being chased by the mercenaries who work for him.

So like I said, I wanted to like this movie…but the film makers just weren’t going to let that happen. When I first heard that the directors Neveldine/Taylor of Crank and Gamer where going to be taking over, I was actually a little excited. “Finally, they’re going to give this creepy horror hero his due! And with a story from Dark Knight/ Blade scribe David Goyer? Awesome! I hope Nicholas Cage isn’t back!” Alas, I was deceived. It seems as though nobody making this was any more interested in making a film that went a little deeper than asthetics alone. One of my many issues with the first one was that they seemed to only want to get some cool signature shots in for the trailer, and then fill the rest of the movie with the ABC’s of superhero melodrama. There are two differences that make this film slightly better than the second: One, the movie doens’t rely on a clean, cut and dried ultra-cool superhero look that the first one suffered from throughout. Every scene looked so much like a set it seemed like it was straight out of a sitcom. Ghost Rider himself look like he had been sprayed down with windex. This film denies those pretentions in favor of the dirty, grimy feel that Ghost Rider should have had to begin with. No more fitted leather or even the cheesy monster voice the first one didn’t mind employing. Here we have a creature where “deadly” and “repulsion” are combined.

Secondly, next to some cool effects, the cast has somewhat improved. Idris Elba plays Moreau, a French Wine enthusiast who has been sent by a secret embassary to find “The Rider” hoping he’ll be able to save the boy from the Devil, who’s played by Ciaran Hinds, also in this month’s Woman in Black. He’s quite creepy and for the supporting role he plays, he does it well. Christopher Lambert pops up (if briefly) as a head-to-toe tattooed monk, which was cool. Johnny Whitmore plays the film’s mainstay villain, Blackout. Whitmore’s look and attitude is a much better fit for the main role I thought, as the character of Blaze in the comic is written as a young and cocky, as opposed to Cage, who’s head looks like a balloon filled with helium coming out of his shirt. And this brings me to one of the biggest reasons I can’t like this movie: I cannot take Nicholas Cage seriously.

This is not going to be a rambling of how inaccurate this movie is to the comics. I refuse. And I’m going to give him credit where credit is due. Kick-Ass and Raising Arizona are the first things that come to mind, where a sort of weirdeness can come out of him that other actors are often unwilling to convey. The problem is that Cage is so weird he hangs over the edge of stupidity and it’s just annoying. Ask the actor who played the thug Cage interrogates as he’s trying not to turn into the Rider. It’s a scene of unintended comedy that made me want to yell at the screen “YOU ARE GOING OUT OF YOUR WAY TO BE THIS RETARDED!” Yes, I wanted to yell that. It seems as though Cage is an actor who refuses to just play a part while adding his own unique twist; he has to change the character the way he would have written it. So you know what you need to do then, Nicky? WRITE YOUR OWN MOVIE. You’re helping ruin an awesome, simple character by trying to show off how ka-razy you can be and it’s just embarassing. I kid you not, I was cringing at some of his more supposedly intense moments. If you had looked over at me when he was trying his hardest to get our attention (and he does try), you would’ve thought someone had let out a nasty one right next to me. I’m sure he was having a good time, but I was wasting mine. Though he’s not entirely to blame here. I imagine he’s under contract so even if the directors wanted Whitmore or someone else to play Blaze, it wasn’t going to happen. I don’t blame a dog for crapping in the house when he’s not supposed to be in the house in the first place. Of course a dog wants to come in, but if he’s not trained for it, don’t let him. Once again, my vote would’ve been or Whitmore to play Blaze.

Another big thorn in the side is the ‘bleh’ editing/camerawork. That’s the best word I can use to describe them. It’s as though the directors refuse to expand their horizons and not film a 75 million dollar movie as though it were another low-budget exreme sports documentary. The more epic shots all have a lowdown, streetlevel feel to them, some of them actually being shot while on rollerblades. I admire it to a point but for every one time it looked cool, there were another ten times it didn’t. The dialogue is many times heard as though they were warming up. It just feels sloppy and unprepared, yet not in the sense it was what the filmmakers wanted. At this point, techniques like that don’t feel like techniques at all, but just laziness. I’m not going to mention the story, as it feels they’ve taken not a page, but the entire book of How to Write Anti-Heroes, in the same way Green Lantern took from Super-Heroes.

I don’t mean to  sound hateful, I just have a hard time understanding why people can’t get the simple and awesome characters right. 2008’s Punisher: War Zone reboot and/or sequel was done in similar fashion. They took more from the source material yet didn’t try any harder and what we get is hollowed out garbage that barely pleases even at the surface. Kids might like this, non-critics might be able to get something out of it, but if you want something with teeth to it, with anything that will make you feel like you’ve been taken on a supernatural bizarre ride like an Action/Thriller should make you feel, you might be able to tolerate it.

Stars: Nicholas Cage, Idris Elba, Ciaran Hinds, Johnny Whitmore, Violante Placido

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language, Running Time 95 minutes, Action/Thriller

Plays like: Drive Angry (2011), The Punisher: Warzone (2008)

Grade: D-

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