I think everyone had the urge to run outside and kick the ugliest puppy in their neighborhood when it was announced a second Ghost Rider movie was going into production starring a returning Nicolas Cage. The director of the original Ghost Rider (Mark Steven Johnson) was out and the directors of Crank (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) were in. Now that it's been released it's been getting nothing but a barrage of negative reviews pretty much anywhere you can think of. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is practically a reboot and could serve as a full on reset of the franchise if Cage wasn't attached. With everything working against this requel (that's reboot + sequel combined) and every entertainment site on the planet practically guaranteeing its atrocity, I seem to be one of the few critics in existence who was actually entertained by this movie.
Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) has gone into seclusion in Eastern Europe. Johnny fights not only the urge to become The Rider, but fights to stay hidden from those who are hunting for him. That is until a man named Moreau (Idris Elba) shows up on his doorstep offering Johnny a second chance and a way to lift his curse. The offer gives Johnny a chance for revenge against Roarke (Ciarán Hinds) who's Lucifer himself in human form and the man Blaze made a deal with to become The Rider in the first place. The one catch is Johnny has to guard and protect a boy that Roarke is searching for to fulfill the prophecy of becoming the antichrist.
The main attraction to this movie was how it looked. There's this featurette that highlights just how camera oriented Neveldine and Taylor are when they come to shooting their movies. Seeing Neveldine basically risk his life rollerblading on the back of a motorcycle or hanging off of a wire along with the stuntman just to get the shot was incredibly intriguing to me. Unique perspective and fascinating camera work is something I look for in movies and Spirit of Vengeance let you know it had that in the trailers. The flaw in this method though is that even though it gets you up close and personal with the action it also feels really shaky at times. It seems very rough in comparison to dolly tracks or tripods being used. The camera work also involves those slight zoom-ins at random intervals to make it seem like the camera wasn't in the right place when they started shooting.
I'm hearing a lot of people complain about the special effects, but those are another high point. Ghost Rider's appearance is more charred in comparison to how he looked in the first movie. His skull looks scorched, his leather clothes are melted, and the steel on his motorcycle is noticeably red hot and altered thanks to his transformation. The fire looks pretty fantastic all around and there's plenty of it. Everything The Rider drives becomes engulfed in flames and the special effects crew has a ton of fun with that. Maybe it looks terrible in 3D? I was going to recommend seeing it in 2D anyway. Johnny Blaze's transformations into Ghost Rider are pretty sweet, too. Seeing his eyes sink in for the first time is a bit unsettling, but it becomes a trademark. As he holds off The Rider the majority of the movie, his eyes are the first thing to show the transformation. It was a bit reminiscent of the T-1000 being shot in the face in the steel mill at the end of Terminator 2.
Nicolas Cage is exactly what you expect him to be here. The issue is that like always he's way too over the top during intense moments and not emotional enough during the quieter ones. The best example is when Johnny Blaze and Nadya (Violante Placido) are trying to catch up with the men who took Danny (Fergus Riordan) who's Nadya's son and the boy who's set to become the antichrist. Johnny and Nadya are interrogating a man named Vasil. Notice how twitchy Cage becomes here and how crazy he becomes during his "bad man" and "scraping at the door" speech. It's pretty insane in this so bad it's good kind of way. Cage's performance seems to evolve throughout the movie and he almost seems sincere by the end of it. Cage also modeled The Rider's movements off of his pet cobra and it's blatantly obvious. His performance as The Rider is full of rigid movements, swaying motions, and quick cuts. It's very bizarre, especially when it gets to the scene where The Rider is floating around in circles on his back as if he's duplicating Trent Reznor in the Nine Inch Nails video for "Closer."
You'll wish Idris Elba's wine-loving Moreau had more screen time than he actually does as the Moreau character is generally pretty interesting, but doesn't really get a chance to shine. He does have a few really memorable scenes though. This will make more sense after you see it, but the "decay vision" gets a little bothersome. It's like looking at the action through a giant peephole or fishbowl. The evolution of the Carrigan character (played by Johnny Whitworth) is pretty awesome though.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not as bad as people are making it out to be or maybe it is and it's just really entertaining anyway. The dialogue does get really cheesy at times ("You're the devil's baby mama."), but the story and part of the screenplay were written by David S. Goyer so that should give you a little bit of hope. The special effects are fantastic, Cage's performance eventually grows on you, and Spirit of Vengeance is a huge step up from the original movie overall. In the end, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is explosively entertaining and just the type of brainless fun you need to forget about a hectic week.
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