Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Nic Cage returns as ol' flameskull in this frenetic 3D sequel

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

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Directed by Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor. Starring Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, Fergus Riordan, Spencer Wilding, Sorin Tofan, Jacek Koman, Anthony Head, Cristian Iacob, Christopher Lambert, Jai Stefan, Vincent Regan. Written by Scott M. Gimple & Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer, from the Marvel comic books.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance doesn’t have much to live up to – the widely-mocked (but half-decent) 2007 film from Daredevil director Mark Steven Johnson – but even by those standards, this one comes up short. The expectedly frenetic film by Crank directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor has its moments, but a protracted, hellishly long conclusion drains away any fun.

For a while, though, this is enjoyable trash. Some plusses: improved character design (the Rider is less goofy and CGI plastic, and appropriately gritty), stylish animated flashbacks, good stuntwork during chase sequences, and the expected half-loony Nic Cage performance, who is at his wig-out best when trying to control the demon within.

The script, however, is sorely lacking. Johnny Blaze (Cage) has relocated to ‘Eastern Europe’ (the film was shot in Romania and Turkey), living in isolation while trying to cope with his deal with the devil (in the presence of evil, Blaze turns into the titular leather-clad, motorcycle riding flaming skull).

Nadya (Violante Placido) has also made a deal with the devil: her son Danny (Fergus Riordan) is set to become the next Antichrist, a process that will be finalized during a ceremony on his thirteenth birthday. The Devil (Ciarán Hinds) has employed gun runner Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) to track the boy down; French priest Moreau (Idris Elba), meanwhile, recruits Blaze to help protect Danny.

Within this framework, Spirit of Vengeance becomes a disappointingly straightforward feature, and all the hyped-up stylings of the filmmakers can’t save it. It’s watchable most of the way, providing the same kind of bad-movie thrills as the Cage-starring Drive Angry did last year, but once all the pieces are in place (around the time Christopher Lambert’s tattooed priest shows up) it becomes a real slog to sit through.

Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor previously made the two Crank films, which I enjoyed for their B-movie simplicity and kinetic plot-driven energy, and then the incomprehensible Gamer. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance falls somewhere in-between. Part of the problem is that the rules are never defined; we spend an inordinate amount of time watching effects-driven battles and satanic rituals with no frame of reference for how the heroes can “win”, other than the whims of the screenwriters.

Cage is occasionally fun here (with a few choice lines that are sure to elicit laughs), but like the previous film, he only gets to give half a performance; the other half of the time, his character is a special effect. The supporting cast tries to make up for it, however, by going completely over-the-top; especially Whitworth, whose character becomes the villain Blackout (though his powers of ‘decay’ seem to have been lifted from the Spider-Man villain Carrion) and Hinds, as the Devil, who really hams it up during the climax.

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was post-converted to 3D, and is screening in Prague in both 2D and 3D versions. While never overtly distracting, the 3D here is utterly unmemorable, and only serves to make an already-dark film even darker.

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