About midway through Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance I began to think it wasn’t made purely for monetary reasons (which it obviously was). Instead it appeared as if director duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor were actually trying to see how many stupid things they could get Nicolas Cage to do before he caught on to their prank. While they may not have verbalized their intentions, I can only imagine in their heads they were chanting, “Dance monkey dance!” as Cage twitched around the set as the titular Ghost Rider and screamed in a high pitched squeal, “Scraping at the door!” in a scene that must have been nearly impossible to keep a straight face while filming.
For whatever reason it was made, here it is, the sequel to 2007’s Ghost Rider. The film no one asked for and yet, somehow, we got it. Taking its existence into consideration, it’s only logical to assume a studio would green light a sequel to a previously loathed first installment if they felt they had something good on their hands. Or at least reasonably decent. Yet, if you made that assumption you would be dead wrong.
I’m not sure what you would call Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, but a film it is not. Screenwriters Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman and David Goyer may have put a few words on paper and called it a screenplay, but if there’s a story here I sure missed it.
For those unfamiliar with the first film, or have chosen to forget it, the opening moments offer a brief re-introduction following a sequence where we learn the fate of a young boy will be serving as the centerpiece to this “story.” Yes, Cage is already treading the same territory he essentially walked in Drive Angry, a film not too dissimilar from what you get here. But at least that film, as awful as it was, had a beginning, middle and end whereas Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance essentially begins with the first 75% of the story dismissed.
Returning to the lead role, Cage plays Johnny Blaze, a one-time stunt cyclist that made a deal with the Devil (Ciaran Hinds) to save his father’s life. The deal went bad, and now Blaze is relegated to becoming the demonic, flaming skull that stalks the night known as the Ghost Rider. Since we last left him, however, Blaze has gone into hiding where he is found by Moreau (Idris Elba), a messenger of sorts for a secret society that hopes to keep the boy safe from the Devil.
You see, the Devil can’t do much while he’s on Earth in human form or his body just tends to waste away into something of a melted Marlon Brando circa-Godfather appearance. For this reason, he recruits people such as politicians, business executives and even Jerry Springer to do his bidding. This little problem, however, can be solved should he be able to get his hands on this boy, a boy we learn is actually his son (shocker, I know) and being half-human, half-Devil(?) he can apparently handle the power once given to him. I think we are supposed to just assume his son will take that power and become a bad guy, but what do I know?
So, in short, the Devil, or Roarke as he’s referred to here, wants to find his son and give him his power. Blaze is recruited by Moreau to protect the kid (and by association his mother) and the chase goes on for about 95 minutes and the film ends. Oh, and should he get the job done, Blaze’s curse will be lifted. There’s that too. So that’s your story, and you can guess what happens along the way — the kid is on the run with his mother, he’s found by the bad guys, saved by Blaze, taken by the bad guys, found by Blaze, tug-of-war, slap-and-tickle, duck-duck-goose and Bob’s your uncle. The fact they managed to weasel 95 minutes out of this nothingness is impressive, but absolutely none of it is of any interest.
Neveldine and Taylor are best known for their work on the hyper-kinetic Crank franchise and they bring quite a bit of that frenzy to this film, but that only works if your film is meant to exist within that environment. This just isn’t that kind of story so it’s one redundant set piece after another with random bits tossed in and the only entertainment along the way being a chance to watch Cage perform in strung out fits of constipated performance. To that point, I’m not exactly sure what to call what Cage is doing nowadays in films, but it’s like he’s become so self-aware that he’s almost mimicking the mimic.
Meant to distract you from realizing there is no story, the effects work turning Cage into a flaming skull is actually quite impressive, as he’s engulfed in flames and black smoke. That being said, there’s a climactic car chase that borders on amateur as it’s impossible to mix Neveldine and Taylor’s in-the-thick-of-things shooting style with CG cars flipping over into animated dust clouds that look like they are straight out of Looney Tunes.
All things considered, I can’t see any way this franchise continues after this. Perhaps this is a character that’s unfilmable or perhaps the idea of telling the story of a flaming skull that kills people just isn’t meant for the big screen, or at least not as a PG-13 feature. I’ve never read the comics so I have no idea what these books have to offer, but if this film is any indication I have to believe what’s on screen isn’t indicative of what’s on the page. Neveldine and Taylor have managed to present something of a comic book style of framing each scene, but their ability to move from one panel to the next is nonexistent.