Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

For the last fourteen years, Hollywood has been cranking out movie after movie based on the superheroes that call Marvel Comics home. Some have been insanely successful blockbusters, but others were met with less-positive receptions. One of the Marvel movies that wasn't greeted very warmly was Ghost Rider, which performed well at the box office yet received a ton of negative reviews when it was released in 2007. I liked it in spite of its flaws, but the critical backlash against it seemed to be such that it took Columbia Pictures forever to greenlight a second movie starring Ghost Rider.

But as time passed and the film rights got closer to reverting back to Marvel, Columbia figured that they might as well hurry up and make that sequel so they could keep Ghost Rider under their umbrella. With Nicolas Cage reprising the role he played in 2007 and the guys behind Jason Statham's Crank movies directing it, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was released five years to the week after its predecessor. It's cheesy, goofy, dumb, and pretty doggone fun.

It's been years since Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) made his Faustian deal that cursed him to become the Ghost Rider. He's spent that time hiding out in a remote part of eastern Europe, trying to avoid letting the Ghost Rider come to the surface as he searches for a way to end the curse that's plagued him for so long. Johnny's hideout is discovered, however, by Moreau (Idris Elba), an old acquaintance who approaches him on behalf of a secret religious sect.

Moreau has sought out Johnny to tell him that the Ghost Rider's presence is needed to protect a young boy named Danny (Fergus Riordan). Danny and his mother, Nadya (Violante Placido), are being hunted by Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), a vile weasel of a man chasing them at the behest of Roarke (Ciarán Hinds), the actual devil himself. If he can get his hands on Danny, Rourke will use him to perform a ritual that would give him ultimate power on Earth. Promised that the monks Moreau represents will find a way to end his curse if he can protect Danny, Johnny must once again unleash the power of the Ghost Rider and send Rourke back to Hell.

I honestly can't say that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a good movie. But what I can say that I thought it was a hell of a lot of dumb, silly, utterly goofy fun. There's no way to take the movie seriously, but then it doesn't take itself seriously either, it makes it easier to get over how stupid Spirit of Vengeance is. It's the kind of stupid movie that I love, and even though I probably shouldn't, I really enjoyed it.

Spirit of Vengeance was directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who previously brought us the Crank movies and Gerard Butler's Gamer. Neveldine and Taylor are no strangers to bad movies based on comic books, having written the tremendously awful Jonah Hex a couple of years ago. Their direction is actually pretty good, with some particularly great camerawork courtesy of cinematographer Brandon Trost. Neveldine and Taylor also do a great job of keeping things moving and never letting the movie get boring. Even the scenes whose characters are just sitting around talking have an energy to them that prevents these moments from slowing the movie down.

I also thought the action scenes were actually very well done. Neveldine and Taylor bring the same frenetic excitement that fueled the Crank movies to Spirit of Vengeance's action scenes, and it makes them a lot more awesome than they probably would have been otherwise. The movie's use of 3D makes the action a lot cooler too. While the 3D doesn't add a lot of depth to some of the slower scenes, it actually punches up the action scenes. Most movies that go through a conversion from 2D to 3D in post-production don't really turn out that well, but Spirit of Vengeance's conversion wasn't bad at all.

What was bad, though, was the script. Credited to Scott Gimple, Seth Hoffman, and David S. Goyer (yes, the same David Goyer that co-wrote Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy), the script is about as weak as you can get. The dialogue is poor, the story isn't really much to speak of, and the characters aren't worth a lot. The movie is definitely more spectacle than story, but that doesn't mean that Gimple, Hoffman, and Goyer had to half-ass the whole thing.

It also seems like they couldn't decide if they wanted the movie to be a sequel or a reboot. With Nicolas Cage returning to the lead role, it makes it hard to tell if any inconsistencies between the two Ghost Rider movies are just simple retcons, continuity errors, or if Spirit of Vengeance is a full-blown reboot. It doesn't really matter in the long run, but it's one of those things one would wonder about.

The last thing left to touch on is the cast, the majority of whom is forgettable. Violante Placido isn't very impressive, especially considering her character has practically nothing to do, whole Ciarán Hinds is just boring. Johnny Whitworth and Fergus Riordan at least put forth some effort, but they don't quite stand out either. I will say, though, that I liked Idris Elba and Christopher Lambert (who has a cameo as a monk), so it isn't all bad.

But the supporting cast isn't helped by the fact that they're in a movie with Nicolas Cage, who in recent years has built up a reputation as one of Hollywood's hammiest overactors. And I'm not kidding when I say that Cage's over-the-top performance here puts to shame his notoriously silly work in the remake of The Wicker Man. The scene where he's interrogating some goon and goes of on some wild tirade about how the Ghost Rider is itching to be let loose has to be seen to be believed. Cage is screaming at the top of his lungs, thrashing his head around like he's trying to snap it off, acting like he's completely lost his damn mind. It's some of the most gloriously cheesy acting I've ever seen. I really get a kick out of Cage when he's acting like this, and he definitely doesn't let me down here. He goes beyond chewing the scenery; he swallows it whole.

I can't say I really had very high expectations going into the movie, but it definitely left an impression. The phrase "so bad, it's good" doesn't quite apply; it's more like "so bad, it's freaking awesome." I know that the reviews for the movie have been really bad, but I can an honestly say that I enjoyed it a lot. And although the movie probably doesn't quite deserve it, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance gets three stars from me. I do kinda wish, though, that the Ghost Rider film rights had reverted back to Marvel, just to see if they would have tried squeezing him into the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" they've created. He doesn't have to be in The Avengers or anything, but still, it could have been cool to see.

Final Rating: ***

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