Saturday, February 18, 2012

Film Review -- Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance / Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor, & Nicolas Cage

I'll be upfront about the premise of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  It's an over-the-top, none too well thought out excuse for a dark fantasy action movie.  Don't go into this expecting to see a good adaptation of a comic book hero.  You'll be much better off if you go in expecting a so-so special effects action film with a flimsy pretense at being dark that just happens to be using the somewhat recognizable figure from the Marvel Comics pantheon of heroes.

Billed as a sequel to the 2007 film, also starring Cage, we find that time has not been kind to Johnny Blaze since he decided to use Ghost Rider to continue his personal vendetta against the Devil (played in this film with deadened, ineffectual scowls by Ciaran Hinds).  Hiding out in Europe, Blaze is approached by a wine-loving, motorcycle riding man named Moreau (Idris Elba, playing his second Marvel movies character after Heimdall in last year's Thor), who seeks his help in tracking down and protecting a young boy name Danny, who is apparently intended as a vessel through which the Devil can attain his full powers on Earth--if he can be properly sacrificed and possessed.  Agreeing so that he might be free of the curse of Ghost Rider, Blaze sets out to find and rescue the boy, who, along with his mother Nadya, is a target of the Devil's human agents.

After taking the boy from Carrigan, one of the Devil's men, he heads off to the men for whom Moreau works, a secluded order of monks.  The Devil, meanwhile, does not intend to let Carrigan die, and turns him into Blackout, giving him power over darkness and decay so that he can compete with Ghost Rider on his level.  Moreau, meanwhile, helps Blaze to overcome his curse and soon vanquishes Ghost Rider from his life.  The monks wait until this is done before resolving to sacrifice the boy so that the Devil can't have him, leaving Moreau, Nadya and Blaze powerless to defend him.  Blackout appears, murders the monks, and kidnaps Danny, setting the stage for the final conflict as the three heroes set out to rescue Danny and thwart Blackout along with the Devil's plans for the boy.

To be sure, there is a lot of material in this movie that will have you rolling your eyes in disgust, laughing out loud in derision, or shaking your head at the lack of logic.  There are plenty of plot points that are unexplained or glossed over, character development moments that seem trite and contrived, and moments of over-the-top action or lunacy that will hurt your brain.  But, in spite of all that--and, in some cases, directly because of that--I was thoroughly entertained, albeit in a trashy, guilty pleasures kind of way.

Be prepared to suspend disbelief--a lot.  A vehicle crashes in spectacular, frame-bending fashion with a kid inside?  No problem: he was wearing a seat belt!  Ghost Rider banished from Blaze's body, even though the Devil is in possession of his soul?  I mean, really, what's the explanation there?  He made a deal with the Devil, and signed a contract, and the monks can erase that like some standard curse?  Give me a break!  And ever mind how that particular point is resolved--the pain to your faculties is simply not worth pondering.  Just put your mind to the side, and enjoy the chases and action scenes like good little drones.

Where am I going?!?!  I'm going craaaaaaaazy!!!!!!!!!!!
Nicolas Cage's inspired--and some might say inspiring--craziness is on display in its full glory in this film.  There are at least two scenes where he involuntarily convulses, laughs at inappropriate times, and throws the full-on entirety of the histrionic book at the audience and his fellow actors--sometimes all at the same time.  You can either shift uncomfortably in your seat, or sit back and laugh yourself silly at all the lunacy on display here (I chose the latter, and I stand by my decision).  It's seriously hard to beat these scenes for pure entertainment value.  A friend of mine said that Nicolas Cage isn't playing Ghost Rider, but the reverse: Ghost Rider is playing Nicolas Cage, to a tee.  After you see the scenes I've described, it won't be hard to agree.

The action sequences are fun, though.  Whenever Ghost Rider makes an appearance, you know there's going to be plenty of fun with flames, and this is used to amusing effect when he rides two different vehicles other than his flaming motorcycle at various times.  The penance stare--one of Ghost Rider's trademarked abilities in the comics--is both underused and poorly explained in this film, which is a little sad.  He does use fire, chains, and an extremely superhuman tolerance for pain to make up for it, and it makes for some alternately amusing and bad-ass moments in the story.

I'm laughing at my flaming skeleton hand, lady.  And your
injured kid.  Funny, right?  Stop looking at me like that!!!
Overall, if you're just dying to go see a comic book movie, this might hold you over while you wait for the real feasts for later this year--namely The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises.  Don't go in expecting anything more than a mindless action flick with little more than aspirations of dark fantasy, though.  If you can handle that, then this movie may well entertain you for a couple hours.  If you're expecting a serious, "good" comic book movie, though, you'd best wait for the later stuff.  I'm thinking this film stands a far less chance than they do of satisfying that particular appetite.  Recommended, with reservations.

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