Nicolas Cage never ceases to amaze. Just when I thought he had reached the full extent of his crazy, he manages to ascend to some new level of insanity. To me, that is the appeal of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Whereas the first film was both boring and insulting to fans of the source material, the sequel gleefully embraces its stupidity. The result is a train wreck of unfathomable proportions. It’s so bad, it’s good.
The film opens with a 2D animation explaining how stuntman Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) became ‘The Rider’, a flame-skulled demon who hunts the wicked. (He made a deal with the Devil, called ‘Roarke’ on Earth, to save his father. Things did not go as planned.)
We cut to the present as a drunken priest named Moreau (Idris Elba) arrives to a monastery to warn the inhabitants that they may be in danger. Soon, the building is under siege from Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) and his mercenaries, who have been sent by Roarke (Ciarán Hinds) to retrieve a young boy named Danny (Fergus Riordan), who has managed to escape the monastery with his mother, Nadya (Violante Placido).
Moreau seeks out Johnny Blaze in the hopes that The Rider can help him find Danny before Roarke does. In exchange for his help, Monreau agrees to lift Johnny’s curse. Of course, it isn’t quite that easy: Roarke intends to claim Danny as his new vessel, and if he takes possession of the boy, he will have unlimited power and create a new hell on Earth. It is up to Johnny and his new allies to stop him.
The acting is uniformly over the top. I actually kind of like it. Whitworth gets resurrected as a supernatural being who rots everything he touches, and he doesn’t feel obliged to take this character arc too seriously. Half the time, Idris Elba sounds like a drunk Pepé Le Pew. There are cameos from Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Anthony Head and Highlander’s Christopher Lambert. And then there is Nicolas Cage.
Cage pulls out all the stops here. In fact, he pulls out some things that may not even be stops, delivering some of the most outrageous dialogue ever written with relish. It’s fun.
The effects are phenomenal. Unlike in the first movie, The Rider looks as gritty as possible: his skull, when on fire, is completely charred, and you can see his leathers bubbling. Being able to see these little details in full HD is one of the few treats of watching this movie. No matter what vehicle he takes possession of, be it a truck or a giant construction machine, the effects used to turn it into a hell-possessed device of carnage are amazing.
The Blu-ray features a few deleted scenes: mostly extensions of ones that are already in the movie, although there are a few new ones, none of them very enticing. But the behind-the-scenes features are plentiful and actually very good, providing a lot of insight into the challenges the team faced while filming in Romania. (The buildings they scouted kept getting bulldozed. I like to think that Romania just didn’t want another Ghost Rider movie to get made.) Shooting in stereo on short production schedule never helps anyone’s stress levels, either, and Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s directors’ commentary is pretty hilarious.
The final verdict
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not good. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. To say that it’s an improvement on the first movie isn’t saying much, but it is a much grittier, although still flawed, recreation of the original Marvel Comics character. The action is well shot – sometimes you actually forget the terrible movie you are watching – and the extra features provide a lot of insight into its difficult gestation process. Throw in the jaw-dropping effects and some of the most laughable Nicolas Cage moments yet committed to film, and I can’t actually say you shouldn’t watch this movie. Just don’t get your expectations up too high before you do.
Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance is available on Sony DVD, Blu-Ray, and VOD in North America from 12 June and in Europe later in the month.