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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (2012)

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Violante Placido, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, Fergus Riordan, Christopher Lambert

Written By: Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer (also story)

Directed By: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor

The Short Version

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is one of those sequels that just doesn’t live up to its predecessor.

The best scene in the entire movie involves the lead character taking a leak.  What’s that tell you?

If you didn’t see the original, this one makes little sense; if you did see it, this one makes little sense in different ways.

Apparently, the crew forgot to pack the bag marked “fun” when they took the flight to Eastern Europe.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is the very definition of wasted potential.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

GRILLED CHEESE, BURNT.

It had the potential to be tasty, but someone who didn’t know how to cook from even the simplest of recipes ruined it.


Pairs Well With...

RUINED WINE.

Just because the bottle has a hefty price tag, that doesn’t mean it’s yummy.  “This would go good on a salad.”

“What if you have to pee while you’re on fire?”


Ever since discovering a certain wonderful movie theatre with an “adults only after dark” policy and an attached bar that lets you bring your beer into the show with you (and no, I won’t tell you where it is; it’s also quiet), I have been a happy and grateful customer.  With that said, few first-run flicks have ever made me so thankful to have that beer along as Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Trust me: even if you’re only having one (it was, after all, the 11:30am showing), the movie goes down much easier that way.

I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece by any means, but I’ll admit it: despite the naysaying buzz surrounding the film’s opening, I had some pretty decent hopes for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  After all, I’d thoroughly enjoyed the original Ghost Rider, and with Nic Cage coming back to play a role that seems tailor made for him along with a supporting cast that includes Christopher Lambert (there can be only one!) and Ciaran Hinds, surely the results must be at least “pretty cool” with a side order of “fun and entertaining.”  Right?

Ten minutes into the movie, and I was already having flashbacks to my recent experience with Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms.  By the time the end credits rolled, I was thinking of the Rollerball remake, which, like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, cost over $70 million and which also had lots of negative vibes tossed at it before opening day.

I suspect that you don’t even have to click the links to guess that these are not movies that the producers of this one want their baby to be bundled with, but hey, they can’t always get what they want, right?  I know I didn’t, and all I was asking for was an hour and a half of fun.

Instead…

Our story begins with Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage, National Treasure) informing the audience that after the events of the original Ghost Rider, he escaped to Eastern Europe, where the cops aren’t looking for him and where it’s cheaper to make movies than it is in North America.  He then goes on to completely contradict several key points of the first film, most notably the fact that at the end of it, he chose to remain cursed.  In this version, he’s wanted to get rid of his curse as the Rider since Day One, and when we get a quick flashback to the moment of his deal with the Devil… it’s been reshot, cheaply, using the current cast (despite the fact that this film is built on the idea that the Devil hops bodies).  You don’t see this trick done often, folks, and it’s rarely a good sign.  And if you want to know the details of Johnny’s Curse, by the way, good luck; you’re left to piece that together for yourself if you didn’t see Ghost Rider beforehand.  Not that it technically matters, I suppose, because all that stuff about being the Devil’s bounty hunter seems to have gone by the wayside for this one.

But anyway, it turns out that roughly thirteen years before this film’s present day, the Devil – here referred to for some inexplicable reason as Roarke (Ciaran Hinds, Miami Vice) – made a deal with someone else.  It seems that a Gypsy by the name of Nadya (Violante Placido, The American) was about to die back then, so Roarke agreed to save her life in exchange for the itty bitty favor of getting her pregnant.  Not only does this make him a cad, but… come on folks.  You know that the Devil’s son turning thirteen just can’t be a good thing for the rest of the world.

Unless, of course, the Ghost Rider can get a hold of his emo self long enough to stop the Devil from turning the poor kid (Fergus Riordan, I Want To Be A Soldier) into the AntiChrist, with a little help from some crazy new friends…

$75,000,000.  (US Funds.)

That’s the estimated budget for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  I can only conclude that the accounting was done by the same folks who spend $1000 on toilet seats for the United States government, or maybe even by Bernie Madoff, because there certainly isn’t $75,000,000 worth of anything up on that screen.  This makes me sad, because I really wanted all of that money to be up there, and I wanted to see that it had paid for something cool: something like the original Ghost Rider, which I still love and consider to be vastly underappreciated by the population at large.

Instead, I saw something that made Batman Forever look like art.  When the best scene in the movie involves the main character urinating – and when the people involved seem aware enough of this fact that they actually replay the image again later to reawaken the glory (and then go on to make said image the loading screen on the film’s official website) – it’s just not a good sign.  One could try to argue that this is instead a hint to just wink and smile and not take the movie seriously, but unfortunately, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance doesn’t afford the audience that kind of latitude.  There’s just nothing fun here to latch on to, even if you desperately want there to be.  All of the wacky coolness that permeated the first film got left behind when the planes took off for Eastern Europe.

This isn’t to say that it doesn’t want to be wacky and cool, of course.  I suspect that the directors (yes, plural; rarely good) envision their work as the avant garde retro quirkiness of Quentin Tarantino with a little bit of Trent Reznor thrown in for good measure, and a big nod to the headache-inducing speed freakiness of Michael Bay.  Alas, they fail on the first two counts, and they succeed wildly at the third.  The motion comic inserts just don’t work (especially when they’re bookended by the bleakest locales that the scouts could possibly come up with; come on guys, Romania’s actually a beautiful country if you just look), the random speed switch on the film playback is annoying, and the black backdrop junk for action climaxes is just inane.  Don’t hold your breath on the idea of basic camera control, either.  Instead, imagine Michael Bay as the director of the worst rock video you’ve ever seen, only with cheaper looking pyro.  That’s the look of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Why yes, I did say “cheaper pyro.”

The pyro effects in the original Ghost Rider were nothing short of awesome, especially when it came to the flaming skull of the Rider himself.  Indeed, I still consider the Rider as portrayed in the first film to be one of the best-realized comic book heroes ever put to the screen.  Then this flick came along and ruined everything. 

The overall look of the Rider and everything he touches here is “charred,” which is to say that if you’ve ever burned a sausage black on your backyard grill, you now know exactly what the Rider looks like from neck to toe, and his skull’s not far behind.  The spin may say that it’s about corruption and the effects of being on fire all the time, but what it really amounts to is “blah blah blah a shapeless mass of char is a lot cheaper and easier to render than actual detailed clothing, etc.”  It also happens to look cheap and awful.  And as for that skull, the difference between the first movie and this one is night and day.  Originally, the effect was amazing and didn’t look at all out of place when set against the real world.  In this movie, it’s cartoonish, and while it’s not as bad as recent renditions of the Hulk have been… it’s just doesn’t look good.

As for the bike, it’s not the modded Captain America from Easy Rider anymore; it’s a Yamaha that looks like some high school kid had his way with it, didn’t like the results, and burned it at the scrapyard.  Not that it matters much for this flick, mind.  While Ghost Rider was steeped in biker culture and wrapped up in the notion that the bike and the Rider were in a way one, in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, the bike is just another prop, easily replaced by a truck or mining equipment or whatever.  The “ride to live, live to ride” philosophy obviously didn’t hold sway on this set, and again, the Rider is diminished.

This brings us to the matter of Mr. Cage, whose casting in the first film was nothing short of brilliant, and whose performance therein could easily be described as perfect.  Here, though, he looks like he’s trying to draw blood from a stone the entire time, and given the facial contortions involved, it may just be a kidney stone that he hasn’t quite finished passing yet.  The writers have butchered the character, and whether or not he’s conscious of what’s coming across, something inside Cage knows this and desperately wants to cry.  Oh, he does what he can here – I’m actually amazed he was able to draw as much blood as he does from that stone – but the magic that was there the first time around doesn’t even get a cameo here, and the end result is almost painful to watch, at no fault of the actor’s.

Similarly, the rest of the largely excellent cast gets to pass through varying degrees of thanklessness.  This is too bad, because it’s pretty obvious that Violante Placido could be dynamite if she were given something better to sink her teeth into.  Ditto for Idris Elba (Thor), though both the lady and the gentleman do the best they can with what they’ve got.  Like many people I know, I was beyond thrilled to find out that Christopher Lambert would be on the big screen again, only to be disappointed at how casually he’s wasted in his few minutes of screen time here.  (To show you how clueless the filmmakers are about having a sense of fun, by the way, they don’t even let him cackle.  If you’re a Lambert fan, you know what I mean.)  Ciaran Hinds is an excellent actor, but the directors take no advantage, and following up on Peter Fonda’s performance from before was already unenviable enough.  When Roarke tells Blaze that his deal with him is the “worst fuckin’ deal I ever made,” one can’t help but wonder if Hinds ad-libbed the line and meant something else.

Do I even need to mention that the tired old AntiChrist plot just doesn’t work in a comic book movie, especially one as badly written and directed as this one?  Didn’t think so. So much potential for something greater... but no.

And yet… for all of its disappointments, I guarantee that you’ve seen worse than Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  It may be bad, but it doesn’t quite scrape the barrel, and given a choice between this and Ang Lee’s Hulk, I’d rather watch this.  Maybe it’s because despite being surrounded by garbage, the cast tried anyway.  Maybe it’s the Twinkie.  Or maybe it actually is that damn pissing scene.  Whatever it is, though, this definitely won’t be getting added to my permanent home video collection a few months down the road at anything over a couple bucks.

Bottom line, unless you are an absolute die hard fan of one or more of the cast members, there’s really not much to recommend about Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  Go back and watch the first one instead.  Even with beer in hand, it’s the better deal.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, February, 2012


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