It was more than fifteen years ago when I heard about plans for a Superman reboot – and that Nicolas Cage was attached to play the title character. As a longtime Marvel fan I was actually kind of relieved. Cage had made it known he was desperate to play a superhero, and the “Man of Steel” was a sacrifice I was willing to make. But the project died a slow and painful death, putting Cage back on the market with his superhero ambitions left unfulfilled. It wasn’t long before his name was being mentioned in connection with other comic book adaptations, and I was thinking to myself, “by all that’s unholy, please, please don’t give him Ghost Rider.”
Ghost Rider was my favorite comic as a kid – a character possessed by a demon, who rides a motorcycle, and can transform into a flaming skeleton. A badass like that deserves a lot better than Nic Cage, but the universe has a wicked sense of humor, so that’s what we got. When the first movie came out in 2007 it actually exceeded my expectations – I knew it would be bad, but in fact it was horrible.
So it was with more than a little dread that I walked into the theater to see Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 3D. My feeling was that the first movie was so bad, the second installment had nowhere to go but up. On the other hand, you can never underestimate Nic Cage’s nearly supernatural ability to stink up a joint. [minor spoilers ahead]
It turns out, Spirit of Vengeance is a better movie than the first, but it’s an incremental improvement. The Ghost Rider is rendered a little better, his flaming skull is a little creepier, and his motorcycle isn’t as cartoony as before. Johnny Blaze has a new base of operations in Eastern Europe, so the cheesy southwestern cowboy vibe is long gone.
In one particularly memorable scene, Ghost Rider pisses fire like a demonic flame thrower (I swear it’s true). In another, he uses his ability to transform any vehicle into a fire breathing conveyance from hell, and applies it to a piece of giant mining machinery the size of a city block.
Those are some of the highlights, but at the end of the day, it’s still Nicolas Cage up there on the screen, with his creepy Chucky Doll hair and constant sneering. His capacity to act full-on bat shit crazy is on full display, and more than once I found myself slack-jawed, mouthing the words “what the fuck is he doing?” (He seemed to be having a lot more fun this time around, so I guess that’s something.)
Unfortunately, the plot is too thin and the characters are too underdeveloped to really care much about. The basic premise is that the would-be son of Satan is on the run from two opposing factions: his dad’s hired goons on one side, and a bunch of tattoo-faced monks led by Christopher Lambert (Highlander, 1986) on the other. Ghost Rider is recruited by a young priest to protect the boy and his mother until Satan’s window of opportunity closes to pass on his legacy.
The paint-by-numbers screenplay feels a little like a Terminator 2 ripoff, and doesn’t offer much in the way of twists or surprises – the one notable exception being the transformation of Satan’s top henchman into comic book bad-guy Blackout. Blackout has the ability to project a light-cancelling field of darkness and anything he touches (including people) immediately begins to decay. That ability provides one of the more clever scenes in the movie, when Blackout discovers that food goes bad as soon as he touches it, and the only thing he can eat is a Twinkie because it refuses to spoil.
Other than that the movie is just some loosely strung-together action scenes, and at 40 minutes in I found myself wishing I was at home on the couch, watching Hellboy on DVD for the 200th time.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about the 3D yet, and that’s because there really isn’t much to say. Maybe you could argue that the 3D is done so well it just blends seamlessly with the visuals. I would argue that Spirit of Vengeance is a total waste of the effect. If you’ve been waiting to see Ghost Rider’s hell-forged chains zooming off the screen and into your face, you’re gonna have to keep waiting. The movie does feature some beautifully rendered comic book art & animations that look amazing in 3D, (including a disembodied skull with twin beams of light projecting from the eye sockets). Beyond that, the only time the 3D was particularly noticeable was in the film’s liberal (and annoying) use of artificial lens flare.
All in all, while Ghost Rider 2 is better than the first, its good parts just don’t outweigh the bad. Unless you’re a hardcore fan of comic book movies, I would wait for Redbox. And if you do feel compelled to see this one on the big screen, you can rest assured that you won’t be missing a damn thing by pocketing the extra 3 or 4 bucks and skipping the 3D version.
Dave_P studied fine arts and film history and is a graphic and web designer, and a diehard movie fan. David has been involved with a variety film festivals including the Cinephile Film Festival, the PRIDE Film festival, and the Manhattan Short Film festival, and is currently the director of the Dark Carnival Film Fest in Bloomington, Indiana. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)