Nicolas Cage ignites Ghost Rider… really!
There’s a scene in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance where a character named Moreau (Idris Elba) dives off a cliff, turns in mid-air and shoots at the vehicle chasing him on a winding European road… in slow motion, of course. You’ve probably seen this scene; it was in the trailer. It’s quite thrilling and, when I saw it the first time, it made me think the entire movie might not be bad.
Sure enough, the first third of the movie resembles this one scene: non-stop action, kinetic camera work, slo-mo in all the right places. It’s very entertaining! But then it has to mess around and try to tell a story. That’s fine; how many times do we complain about movies that have no plots? It’s just that all the action is conveyed better than the story, so I’d prefer to watch only that. And it’s not necessarily that the story is terrible, it’s that the movie grinds to a halt for the next two-thirds and can’t quite recover in its climax.
Actually, I’m not embarrassed to say there’s a lot I enjoyed about Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. I don’t remember the first Ghost Rider from 2007, so I’m not going to compare the two. In this one, though, I must say the character of Ghost Rider is pretty awesome! I mean, who doesn’t like a flaming skeleton, dressed in leather, who can turn any machine he rides into a mobile inferno?
One of the villains is awesome, also. Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) is defeated midway through the movie; however, is resurrected as Blackout, a creature who can cause anything he touches to decay. (I think “Decay” would have been a better name, but it’s already taken by Marvel’s competitor, DC Comics.) There’s a very funny scene where he tries to eat. Sandwich? Crumbles to black dust in his hands. Apple? Rots away quickly. Twinkie? NOTHING can cause one of those to decay.
Now let’s talk about Nicolas Cage. That guy has gotten a bad rap. Yeah, some of his movie choices are questionable, but you have to admit, at one time he was considered a good actor. And Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance really lets him shine. For example, there’s a scene where he’s trying to keep from transforming into “The Rider” while he interrogates a bad guy. Between the special effects and all of Cage’s craziness, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role. That scene, and several others, are just plain fun because of Cage.
The gist of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is that if Johnny Blaze (Cage) can protect a young boy, his curse will be lifted. I was afraid that a movie featuring a child would turn it into a family-friendly affair, but that is not the case. There are no sweet bonding or “Awww…” moments. And the dreaded scene of Ghost Rider urinating fire isn’t awful, either; it’s an imagined scene when the kid asks Cage what The Rider does when he has to use the bathroom.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (credited as Neveldine/Taylor), the men behind the two Crank movies and Gamer. I haven’t seen any of those movies, but their trailers suggest the same gonzo cinematic style as the first third of this one. The screenplay is by David S. Goyer, veteran writer of comic book movies for both Marvel and DC, and Scott M. Gimple and Seth Hoffman, veteran writers of TV shows Prison Break, FlashForward and The Walking Dead. With that talent, I suppose it’s the reason I’m a little disappointed in the story.
At risk of seriously damaging my reputation, I’m going to take a deep breath and confess to liking Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. I’m even going to recommend it! Why not cast aside your preconceived notions and give it a try? It’s not great cinema, but it is entertaining. In the literary world, I’d compare it to a summer book at the beach: a quick read that serves its purpose, yet is instantly disposable.