Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance FILM REVIEW

Crashes and burns

Nicolas Cage plays fiery motorcyclist Ghost Rider.

That's his no claims bonus gone for a burton.

Release Date: 17 February 2012
12A | 95 minutes
Distributor: E1 Films
Directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Ciáran Hinds, Violante Placido, Ferfus Riordan, Johnny Whitworth, Anthony Head, Christopher Lambert.

Yes, it’s true. In Spirit Of Vengeance, Ghost Rider pees fire. Ol’ flame head hasn’t added the ultimate superhero ability to his skill set, though – turns out the scene is less about a stream of fiery justice splashing in the faces of the Rider’s guilty targets, and more a throwaway gag, but the mere act symbolises the impact lunatic Crank directors Neveldine and Taylor have had on the direction of the hitherto mishandled series.

At a time when the Marvel-verse is becoming increasingly formulaic on the big screen (not necessarily a bad thing, merely an observation) their influence is the film’s one trump card. Spirit Of Vengeance is madder than a line of designer guinea pig pyjamas and possesses the energy of a pre-schooler on a diet of candy floss and insulin shots. Despite this, the pair are prevented from elevating Johnny Blaze and his toasty noggin to the big leagues by a woefully lacklustre script and, more fundamentally, a character that simply doesn’t work on film.

Let’s start with that script. A guilt-ridden Blaze (Nicolas Cage and his magnificent wig) is on the run, living the life of a leather-clad hermit in abandoned shacks around some dusty, nondescript Eastern European wasteland. The Devil is back, this time in the guise of a gurning Ciáran Hinds, and on the hunt for a special child he can possess without fear of his meatsuit falling apart. Blaze, or rather the Rider, is tasked with stopping him by a boozy French warrior-monk (Idris Elba) on the promise that his curse will be lifted.

As the preamble to a bigger adventure it gets the job done perfectly well. The problem is that the remainder of the “story” amounts to nothing more than that very set-up on a loop for 90 minutes: boy gets kidnapped, Ghost Rider gets him back, boy gets kidnapped, Ghost Rider gets him back… Only a brief trip to cult leader Christopher Lambert’s oddball sanctuary and the occasional fiery set-piece break up the tedium. With the origin story summarised (and corrected – Blaze now makes a conscious decision to sign his pact with the Devil rather than being tricked into it) in the opening titles, the film quickly runs out of gas.

The character of Ghost Rider also proves to be an impassable roadblock. He’s less problematic than the Rider of the first film – at least here he’s played by Cage rather than a stunt double, and has some personality as a result. But this doesn’t compensate for the fact that on film the Rider’s not so much a character as a striking image – a series of rock video poses edited into a performance. He rides a bike and occasionally gets off to swing his chain around and immolate nameless goons. Also, if he’s causing this much trouble for the Devil why doesn’t Big Red take the Rider’s abilities away from him? Speaking of Blaze, he doesn’t fare much better, with the moral quandary at the heart of his curse never explored in any meaningful way. There are interesting things to be done with the character, but Spirit Of Vengeance doesn’t achieve any of them.

Rather than take the action movie route of the first film, Neveldine and Taylor have turned their Rider into a horror movie nasty, giving him a flickering, staccato movement reminiscent of Ring’s ghostly Sadako and having him scream in people’s faces. A lot. There are scares to be had from a man with a charred skull for a head, but the only tool in Neveldine and Taylor’s directorial box o’ tricks when it comes to inspiring fear is VERY LOUD MUSIC. Relentless industrial metal that overwhelms every single dialogue-less sequence without. The overall effect is numbing. It’s more likely to make you cover your ears than your eyes.

That said, one look at the film and you’ll want to avert your eyes too. There are understandable narrative (and, more likely, financial) reasons for the move to Eastern Europe, and the new setting couldn’t look more different to the urban cityscapes most comic book adaptations deal in, which is admirable. However it’s incredibly brown. Depressingly brown. And bland. Only two locations will stick in the mind beyond the walk to the cinema car park, and they’re brown too! For a film with such a striking image at its centre the backdrop couldn’t be more uninspiring.

Idris Elba aside (fantastically entertaining throughout, despite his comedy cockney-cum-French accent) the rest of the cast are uniformly wasted and/or forgettable, particularly Johnny Whitworth’s Blackout – the Devil’s lackey and a filler villain so different from his comic-book namesake it makes you wonder why they bothered. Cage turns his whack-a-doodle dial up to 11, particularly during the scenes where Blaze is resisting the transformation via outbursts of psychotic laughter. To an extent he feels like a completely different character to the one from the first film, one we’re much more entertained by, though not necessarily more invested in.

It’s got several crippling problems but Spirit Of Vengeance is gleefully unhinged and a definite improvement on the first film – at least we’d pee on this one if it was on fire.

Jordan Farley

Read our interview with Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.

Win an “ultimate adrenaline experience day” (no, not a trip to the SFX office during deadline week) in our Ghost Rider competition.

Watch a clip from Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance.