Years after being merged with the demon Zarathos in a deal with the Devil, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is trying to lose himself in Eastern Europe when he encounters a gypsy named Nadya (Violante Placido) and her young son Danny (Fergus Riordan) being chased by a group of mercenaries led by Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), who is acting as the right hand man of someone named Rourke (Ciaran Hinds), who just happens to be The Devil who turned Blaze into Ghost Rider in the first place.
To some, this follow-up to 2007’s Ghost Rider, one of the pre-Dark Knight pre-Iron Man guard of bad superhero movies, may fall into the “why did they make this?” realm of unwarranted sequels, not that we would ever want to fully throw the two-headed directing team of Neveldine/Taylor under the bus, as they’ve proven themselves to be quite clever at times, the type of ballsy and daring filmmakers Hollywood desperately needs.
Sadly, they seem out of their depth this time with many of their coolest ideas never being quite fulfilled as if they’re trying to reinvent the wheel without having all of the pieces needed to actually make it turn. You see, good films begin and end with a good script, which is why this one probably should have been ended before it began, since it’s so obvious it was rushed through development in order to get a movie out for Sony to keep the license to the character (for whatever reason that may be).
After a neat animated segment introducing newbies to the concept of Ghost Rider and his origin, we’re thrust right into the story, a fairly simple plot involving the Devil (Hinds) trying to find his spawn, birthed through a similar deal made with Johnny Blaze, so that the boy can be used as his new host body. Blaze agrees to help an eccentric monk named Moreau (Idris Elba) get the boy and his mother to a safe haven in exchange for help ridding himself of the Ghost Rider.
For something so simple, it’s surprising how convoluted this film gets, introducing a number of groups trying to get their hands on the boy, many who only seem to be introduced to be hellfire fodder for one of supernatural character or another. Being a chase movie does allow Neveldine and Taylor to do what they do best, which is frenetically fast-paced action sequences with a number of great set pieces including a fight between a group of mercenaries and Ghost Rider where we really get to see the full scope of Zarathos’ powers. Their Ghost Rider looks so much better than anything in the first movie, primal and visceral with a flaming black skull spewing black smoke that may remind some of the enormous demon faced by Gandalf in the first “Lord of the Rings.” It’s a fearsome entity portrayed by Cage with jerky animalistic movements using very few words, a true demon walking (or riding) the earth rather than feeling like a man with a flaming skull.
The problem is that the film is shot just like their Crank movies, something which looks cool in a behind-the-scenes featurette but makes for a pretty funky-looking movie with weird poorly framed shots and shaky rollerblade camerawork that may force movie theaters to offer their patrons motion sickness bags. The 3D doesn’t do much to help matters, but it’s not even close to the most offensive conversion job we’ve seen either.
As might be expected from such an erratic film, Cage’s performance is equally all over the place, Blaze’s medicated state allowing him to spend much of the film in “Crazy Nic” mode, although it’s much preferable seeing him as the Ghost Rider because it means we get a break from listening to the absolutely horrendous dialogue.
One of the film’s few saving graces is Idris Elba’s Moreau, though he often seems to be trying to keep up with Cage and bring more humor to the situations. Neither of them are responsible for the worst scenery-chewing performance of the movie, as that dubious honor goes to Johnny Whitworth as the mercenary Carrigan who halfway through the film is given the powers to rot anything he touches. A cool power, sure, but one that’s spoiled by Whitworth’s inability to sell it and the odd dimension the character keeps being transported into.
It’s even hard to fully enjoy the mostly-great Ciaran Hinds as the Devil, a role he should be perfectly suited for. Unlike everyone else, he’s obviously trying to hold back and not look ridiculous, but that’s also tough considering how poorly his dialogue is written. Similarly, young Fergus Riordan may not be quite as annoying as Thomas Horn, but he introduces the same issues any kid character does when brought into a movie geared towards adults. Violante Placido does a perfectly fine job looking fine, making it plainly obvious that she’s basically another poorly-developed female character thrown into a male-driven action movie with very little actual purpose.
Although there’s lots of cool visual ideas, everything happens so fast you don’t even get a moment to breathe and appreciate any of it. And then the movie is over, quite suddenly, and you’re left scratching your head about what you just watched and whether it’s better than the previous movie. Just the fact you can’t answer that question with a resounding “yes” confirms that Ghost Rider may never be a Marvel Comics character that translates well to the big screen.
Some fans may enjoy this take on Marvel’s hell-spawned cyclist, but there’s a fine line between jarring and unwatchable that Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance gleefully straddles which might make one wonder who exactly was meant to enjoy this experience.