Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Review
The first Ghost Rider movie had a lot of problems with it. It had two lead actors who had almost no chemistry with each other (probably because one of them was Nicolas Cage), they never had anything for the Ghost Rider himself to really do and the supposed big confrontation with the leader of the dark forces here on earth was over in seconds and left me really bored with the whole thing. But that has mostly changed with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It’s actually kind of alright.
Much like Marvel Knights other film, Punisher: War Zone, Spirit of Vengeance throws away most of the story from the first movie and only keeps the bare bones. That being Johnny Blaze was once a daredevil, working with his dad at a travelling circus. One day his dad gets sick so he contacts the Devil and signs a deal with him to save his dad’s life. It works. His dad gets better but the next day dies in a stunt gone wrong. So his dad’s dead and the Devil owns his soul. To make matters worse the Devil puts a demon in him which turns him into a flaming skeleton whenever he is around evil. It’s a very cool premise that I think works much better in this movie. The first time around he changes once around a normal dude and every other time was when he was around actually physical embodiments of pure evil. This time he has to fight off changes around who are just kind of assholes. For most of the movie Blaze is travelling with a woman who was knocked up by the Devil (as well as some other not great things) and there are a few moments where the Rider has someone else square in his sights and is about to kill them when he just stops to try to kill this lady.
After whatever happened in this movie’s version of the first movie, Blaze runs off to eastern Europe. While there a drunk, gun-toting priest named Moreau finds him and tells him of a way to free himself of the Ghost Rider demon: help him track down the son of Satan and take him to a monastery so that the Devil won’t take over his body and destroy the world.
There are quite a few things that are better with this movie than the last one. First and foremost, Nic Cage. In the first movie you just had Cage being his usual serious self, speaking in monotone and just sounding so goddamned bored. He just talks at you the entire time, barely ever emoting. Even during the so-called romantic portions of the film he is so flat it takes everything out of the movie. While he is still like that for chunks of the movie there are just some great moments of him flipping the fuck out and being the Nic Cage I know and love. One scene near the middle where Blaze and his lady friend are talking to an older acquaintance of hers who may know where her kid is particularly good. Cage just grabs the guy and starts laughing hysterically and occasionally screaming at him. It is helped out with some CG work on his face to show the Rider trying to come out and it looks really cool.
Since Cage amps up the crazy so does the Rider. In the first one he was the badass. Didn’t say much, just stood there and looked tough in his leather jacket. This time around he seems to be having some fun doing what he is doing. In one of the first really big fight scenes he shows up and stares at one guy. That guys unloads a clip into his mouth and the Rider just stands there taking it and screaming at him. When the clip is empty he pukes fire on to the guy then proceeds to murder everyone around him with his chain and one of the huge motorized wheel with scoop things on it that he sets on fire because it’s awesome. He also seems to be much more of a ghost now. During that same fight scene there are a few times where he does something ghostly, like float in slow motion or disappear and reappear closer to someone when they are looking at him through a digital display (not on a camera, though. On a Stinger missile).
The look of the Rider and his bike has changed a bit as well. While in the first movie when he turned into a flaming skeleton his clothes stayed the exact same as they were before, now when he changes his clothes kind of change as well. Since he only wears one thing throughout this entire movie, whenever he changes his shirt, leather jacket and matching leather pants get charred to fuck. Almost like they had been set on fire. With his bike, the filmmakers from the first one tried to make it look more badass and they ended up with something that would look badass to a 12 year old (which may explain why I wanted one). Now his bike is whatever he happens to riding at the time but on fire. At one point the kid he is trying to keep safe what would happen if he tried driving something other than his motor bike while he was the Rider and we get to see what happens. That vehicle catches fire and looks awesome.
The second strong point for this movie is the addition of Idris Elba as Moreau. I’ve liked Elba in just about everything I’ve seen him in. He seems to know that his character is kind of stupid and has fun with the role. He is an armed, alcoholic priest and he likes it. There is one great bit near the end where he has to break into some place and cause a diversion and does this using a bottle of wine. Then he just goes in there, shouting some bullshit in French and unloading his clip everywhere he can. Moreau is a fun character and I liked him.
Another new addition that adds some goodness to the film is Johnny Whitworth as Ray Carrigan who eventually is turned into the supervillain Blackout. I have never actually read any of the Dan Ketch Ghost Rider stuff (which is apparently where this guy is from) but from research it looks like this Blackout is a much different character than the comic Blackout. In the comics Blackout was a vampire that could manipulate light, creating dark spots that were used to sneak up on and surprise his victims. This Blackout, while he does still have the ability to create dark spots, has the ability to decay anything he touches. At the monastery there is a scene where he rots all the monks there to death and it looks pretty awesome. Like Elba with Moreau, Whitworth looks like he is having fun with. And really, who wouldn’t? You would be playing a gun runner who ends working for the Devil and using grenade launchers and fucking Stinger missiles to fight a flaming skeleton riding a flaming motorcycle.
Aside from Nic Cage being the sane Nic Cage, Ciaran Hinds is the low light of this film. He is playing Rourke, who is the Devil in human form. He doesn’t really have anything to do in the movie. When they do show him he is supposed to be this menacing presence, pulling the strings of Blackout and everyone else to get his hands on the boy but he comes across as an asshole. He never does anything Devil-ish expect for making Blackout and even then it’s not that impressive. If they had made this movie more about Rourke versus the Rider and less about Blackout versus the Rider he might have been better but the rest of the movie might have suffered for it.
There was one aspect of the movie that I’m not sure if I liked or not. Every once in a while the movie will switch to this still frame animation style and Cage will explain something to the audience, like the origin of the Rider or how he got fucked over by Rourke or something. It does keep the movie from having stupid expository dialogue hammered into a conversation but it has a weird disconnected feel from everything else that has been going. It just stops the movie dead in its tracks and says “Here’s some information and pretty pictures.” I liked the art in these sections but they felt out of place and completely unnecessary.
Obviously this movie was released in 3D because what isn’t released in 3D these days, and for the most part it’s all right. Since it was converted in post it doesn’t look great, with some instances where there are lots of dudes running around resulting in some of ghosting and image splitting, but when it works it looks pretty cool.
Handing over this movie to Marvel Knights and the Crank guys was probably the best decision Marvel could have made. The people at Marvel Knights know how to make a comic book movie the right kind of dark for the source material and the Crank know how to make a movie awesome and stupid at the same time, and that is what Spirit of Vengeance is. It’s got some awesome action with the improved Rider, Blackout and Elba and some really stupid stuff like Nic Cage acting seriously, Rourke not being so much evil as he is just a dick and the relationship that I can’t really understand between Blaze, the kid and the kid’s mom (not sure if the kid sees Blaze as a brother kind of guy or wants him to be his dad or if the mom likes him or if he likes the mom), but in the end it’s fun. It’s not a great movie but it’s entertaining and awesome and if you don’t have anything else to watch, give Spirit of Vengeance a shot.
Final Score: 3.5/5