Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (United States/UAE, 2012)

February 18, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Poster

A few random thoughts about Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance... A single viewing makes it obvious why Marvel Enterprises would move forward with the sequel to a feature whose box office performance was underwhelming. By making this film, they are reminding us what a bad comic book movie is really like, thereby elevating the relative quality of their recent stretch of mediocre efforts and lowering the bar for Marvel's big summer twosome: The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man. Also, I know Nic Cage is in financial distress and has to film pretty much every screenplay with which he is presented, but doesn't the law of averages demand that somewhere along the way, if only by accident, he would stumble upon a good movie?

In some circles, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has been referred to as more of a "reboot" than a "sequel," although I'm not aware of any reboots that have featured the same actor in the lead role. Admittedly, pretty much everyone else, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, has been jettisoned, leaving minimal traces of the first Ghost Rider. The new directors, Neveldine & Taylor, are the Crank guys and the screenplay is credited to two TV writers (Scott M. Gimple & Seth Hoffman) and one of the men behind Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy (David S. Goyer, who at some point probably tried desperately to get his name removed). Columbia Pictures showed admirable restraint in not selling Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance as being "from the writer of The Dark Knight," although that would have been technically accurate.

A certain amount of cheese is acceptable, even desirable, in a movie such as this. Some of the most entertaining action/adventure movies layer it on like a pizza. In the case of Ghost Rider: Sprit of Vengeance, Neveldine & Taylor turn the "campiness" dial to 11 with as much limburger as they can gather, but they forget a key element - the "action/adventure" one. This is a boring movie. The over-the-top outlandishness can't disguise that the whole 95 minutes represent one big snooze-fest. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is essentially a mixture of nonsensical story elements, bad special effects, and endless exposition. People talk and talk and talk like they're stuck in a parody of a Dan Brown novel, and they simply won't shut up.

It can be a little difficult to decipher the plot because the screenplay reads like a comic book with a bunch of pages ripped out. I don't know whether a lot of material was removed from the final cut or whether it never made sense from the beginning. I suppose when you start with the premise that the lead character has a righteous demon trapped inside that causes him to burst into flame at inopportune moments, anything goes. The starting point is that Johnny Blaze (Cage), hiding out in Eastern Europe where it's cheaper to film, desperately wants to be rid of the curse that changes him into Ghost Rider. Enter Moreau (Idris Elba), who claims to belong to a sect of ascetic monks who can rid him of the Rider. As payment for this, Johnny has to escort sulky pre-teen Danny (Fergus Riordan) and his hot mother, Nadya (Violante Placido), to a monastery while being pursued by Satan a.k.a. Mr. Roarke (Ciaran Hinds, who never once utters the line "Welcome to Fantasy Island") and his henchman, Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth).

For some reason, Cage seems trapped in movies about demons and devils: the first Ghost Rider, Season of the Witch, Drive Angry, and now this one. Neveldine & Taylor should have used Drive Angry as a template - it recognized what it was and never tried to be anything more. The chief problem with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is that it never embraces its utter awfulness. As a result, it's impossible to enjoy on any level. It's a complete mess.

For acting to be this bad in movie not directed by Michael Bay or George Lucas, it has to be intentional. Nicolas Cage cackles like a constipated chicken and Ciaran Hinds interprets Satan as a twisted imitation of Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life with a bad case of pink eye. Violante Placido sounds like she's speaking English phonetically and Johnny Whitworth tries desperately to chew scenery with more gusto than Cage, but finds himself overmatched. Still, even though everyone seems on board in this attempt to earn an ensemble cast Razzie, it's less enjoyable than it should be - well, most of the time.

I won't spend much time on the 3-D because what's the point? In the ever-growing collection of 3-D offerings, this is among the most ill-conceived of selections. It's not the worst 3-D I have seen (in fact, it avoids a lot of the most common 3-D sins), but it adds absolutely nothing except a $3 surcharge. I'm not going to recommend seeking out a 2-D version, however, since the only iteration of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance worth exploring is one in 0-D.

Comic book movies, no matter how disappointing, generally manage to deliver at least halfway competent action scenes, but that's not the case here. It could have something to do with the shoestring budget that makes Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance appear to have been shot using a maxed out credit card with a low limit. In this production, "Action" typically refers to a silly skeleton looking like a neighborhood haunted house reject twirling a fiery chain that immolates everything it touches. Exciting, no? "Anticlimactic" doesn't even begin to describe the ending, although it features something no other movie to-date can boast: a car chase with Satan.

I'll admit to having laughed a few times during Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, although I have no idea if the things that caused me to chortle were intended to be funny or not. It's that kind of movie. Even if the whole thing was intended as a send-up of comic books, it doesn't work. Parodies should be engaging, not sleep-inducing. This is one of those production disasters that offers little to bad movie aficionados and less to those who want to experience a coherent narrative. Limburger cheese is often referred to as stinking like dirty feet and that's a kind way to describe the stench given off by this film.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (United States/UAE, 2012)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2012-02-17
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1