Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Review)
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is what many would classify as “bad”, but it’s so shamelessly, intentionally ridiculous that it ends up being extremely entertaining in the process: bad on purpose, and a blast as a result.
Score: * * * * (out of 5)
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language.
I love bad movies. Not just movies that are no good, but abysmal, trashy, terrible films that probably should not see the light of day. It is this type of movie from which I derive a strange pleasure, if only because being able to point and laugh, shake my head in shock, or rip apart in a review can be so much fun. Sometimes, however, the filmmakers are in on the joke. If they could, they could sit right next to me and laugh along with me. That’s when the bad movie truly becomes something special, and that’s exactly what the directors of the Crank films, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (known professionally as Neveldine/Taylor), have done.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not really a sequel, and not really a reboot. It’s more of just another chapter in the saga of the character, although it completely ignores the original film. In this one, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) has retreated to Europe as a recluse in an attempt to keep the demon Ghost Rider living inside him from breaking out. He must call on the Rider again to assist a woman named Nadya (Violante Placido), whose son is sought after by the Devil (Ciaran Hinds), who seeks a new host body. Blaze is aided by Moreau (Idris Elba), a gunslinging, wine-chugging priest.
So, honestly, this movie is kind of bad. The plot is thin, the characters shallow, and the dialogue is some of the corniest I’ve heard in a theatrical action flick in a long time. But it’s all on purpose. Neveldine/Taylor know they’re delivering some utterly ridiculous nonsense, and they do so with a palpable sense of glee. It’s not a slapstick comedy, but it knows how to have fun, with ludicrous one-liners, crazy action, and cutaway gags involving fiery urination. The mentality that seems to drive these two filmmakers is that if they have an idea that sounds fun, they throw it into the movie because why the hell not. In this case, it works enormously well to the film’s benefit.
At the center of it all is Nicolas Cage, completely unhinged in an utterly demented performance that calls back to his most insane roles from his early years of acting. For those (like myself) that are fans of Cage, we love him mainly for what is known as “the Nic Cage freakout”, a special segment in the movie when Cage completely loses his shit, screaming, laughing, or generally just acting in a manner that would attract unfavorable attention. It’s extremely easy to imagine that the directors let Cage do whatever he wanted with the performance, with the condition that he not act normal at all except for the maybe minute and a half of combined dramatic moments Cage has in the entire film. As Johnny Blaze, Cage has little ticks and weird touches to his performance. His line delivery is nothing short of sublime, placing weird emphasis on certain words and giving whole lines in ways that you wouldn’t imagine a normal performance having. It’s difficult to describe, but suffice it to say that this is the weirdest and most entertaining performance Cage has given in many years. As the Rider, Cage is a revelation; he moves oddly, occasionally stands in place while moving his head slowly back and forth, and strikes weird poses after defeating an enemy. Seeing this for the first time was a little jarring, but once I started going along with it it turned into a bizarrely delightful spectacle.
As campy as the move is, however, it’s far from being poorly made. Neveldine/Taylor have a very unique style of filmmaking that involves rapid editing, unique and creative camera angles, and completely frenetic cinematography. It turns out this style really works for a trashy, absurd superhero movie. Nearly everything that doesn’t involve a piece of dialogue in this movie is focused on one thing: delivering complete and utter sensory overload. The rapid-fire parade of wild cinematography is almost too much to handle, but it never ceases to be entertaining, in the same way that the pair’s Crank movies were such stupid fun. The action sequences are particular are really great; Ghost Rider possesses vehicles and lays waste to expendable bad guys with his fiery chain, and the car chase finale was legitimately awesome and very memorable.
The CGI on display here is pretty great. The character of Ghost Rider has been redesigned for the better, nixing the clean white skull and spotless leather jacket in favor of a charred skull and melting clothing. This re-imagining of the character is genuinely creepy and extremely menacing, a far cry from the likeable protagonist that the first movie turned Ghost Rider into. This character is a demon without a conscience that eats souls, and this film makes him into the terror that he should be. He even throws out a couple of truly, hilariously horrible one-liners that completely sold him as a campy, hellish antihero.
The 3D barely needs mentioning at all; there were some parts where it looked really neat but for the most part was not very noticeable. Some wide angle shots looked neat for the depth of the image, but these were not terribly common and you won’t be missing much by seeing the movie in 2D. On the other hand, the 3D was not offensively bad or headache-inducing, so seeing it in the format still works if it’s your only option.
The movie is already doing poorly in theaters, which is very sad. Movies like these are a lot of fun and are passed off as being simply “bad” with no entertainment value at all. That said, this movie will be a special treat for those looking for a trashy, noisy action flick. It’s loud, violent, and extremely funny. Cage fans, you hero has returned.