4 August 2012

Movie Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance


Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
2012, 93mins, 12
Director (s): Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor 
Writer (s): Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer 
Cast includes: Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, Violante Placido 
UK Release Date: 17th February 2012

The recent career of Nicolas Cage isn’t an enviable one; in fact even making that statement seems like a hackneyed move within the context of a review, or any piece of film journalism for that matter. I’ll cut straight to the chase then. “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” does little to elevate the actor’s form, the picture a woefully directed blockbuster that trades largely on spastic camera movements and lethargic storytelling. Cage gets a few chances to let his freak flag fly (easily the film’s most rewarding component), but the rest is absolute dross. I thought it would be tougher to make a film worse than 2007’s original “Ghost Rider” than to render something palatable, but film-makers Neveldine/Taylor are more than up for the challenge presented by such a statement. “Spirit of Vengeance” going as far to be completely unwatchable at times.

Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) has left the USA for Eastern Europe, hiding out to protect the world from the demon he harbours within himself. Approached by a religious figure named Moreau (Idris Elba, ensuring that “Prometheus” can’t be classified as his most misguided project of 2012), Johnny is recruited to save a youngster named Danny (Fergus Riordan, another static child actor for the ranks), a boy who contains a power that could allow Lucifer (Ciaran Hinds) to attain maximum evil on earth. Danny and his mother (Violante Placido) are being hunted by an agent of the Devil named Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth, incredibly grating and never menacing), requiring Johnny’s specific set of skills as The Ghost Rider to get them to safety.

Cage gets to go absolutely nuts in a few small places. The sight of the thespian losing his cool so energetically onscreen never fails to enthral, directors Neveldine/Taylor sharing a similarly unhinged artistic vibe, complimenting the actor nicely in this arena. So there you have it. “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” provides roughly 4 minutes of fun cinematic thrills, all deriving from its leading man’s debatable sanity. Now let’s us move onto the rest of this grandiose folly.

Remember back to 2006. Neveldine/Taylor burst onto the scene with “Crank”, a juiced up and incredibly frantic actioner starring Jason Statham. That film was a modest joy, but everything the duo have attempted since has stunk to high heaven. 2009’s “Gamer” was a satire with virtually no edge. In the same year they produced a sequel to “Crank” named “High Voltage”, a picture I still maintain as one of the most offensively poor thrillers of the 21st century thus far. They also have the prestigious honour of a writing credit on the ignobly famed “Jonah Hex”, an awful feature that also has the distinction of ranking amongst Hollywood’s least profitable summer event movies. Ever. So even before viewing “Spirit of Vengeance” the kudos earned from the initial “Crank” feature was all but completely drained. This sequel isn’t their worst work (“High Voltage” is a tough nadir to dethrone) but their incompetence as both storytellers and pyromaniacs is shockingly evident none the less. The action beats are mostly just basic standoffs between the Rider and packs of goons, Neveldine/Taylor cutting it together so speedily and aggressively that it becomes virtually impossible to invest in the set-pieces at all. Yes, the sight of a man being beaten by fiery chains is cool once, maybe at a push twice. However yanking the visual trick out at every turn is just lazy. For film-makers with such a crazed aesthetic, “Spirit of Vengeance” proves them to be most unimaginative.

The finale is a road chase that falters on the back of some weird and cheap visual touches (what’s with the black backgrounds guys?), “Spirit of Vengeance” regularly emanating an ugly photographic eye. The frame is plastered with greys and bleached out European landscapes, relegating potentially nice scenery into the realm of ugly canvas filler. The film-makers themselves probably don’t even have the balls to pretend they tried to instil the work with any sort of emotional heft. The dynamic between Palcido and Cage sinks because the actress is boring, and in terms of bonding between Rider and boy what do we get? A quick selection of shots showing them goofing off on a motorbike. A careful dissection of human relationships this is not.

Neither Hinds nor Whitworth (looking like a reject from a Guillermo Del Toro film during the final act) injects any sustained threat into proceedings, the finale a forgone conclusion. I haven’t yet alluded to the character’s comic-cook origins, and will do so by informing you that this production was overseen by Marvel. Yes Marvel, the same studio behind “Iron Man”, “Captain America” and this summer’s excellent “The Avengers”. I guess they must have been putting all their creative scrutiny into that picture, because how they felt this tripe was worth releasing theatrically is beyond me. Avoid “Spirit of Vengeance”. If you need your Cage going crazy fix try the 80s giggle-fest “Vampire’s Kiss” or to see him crushing it on the highways last year’s superior “Drive Angry”. This second (and mostly likely last) outing for the “Ghost Rider” brand is just insultingly bad. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012


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