Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

What a disappointment – where do I begin? After the mediocrity of the first Ghost Rider movie, arriving after much anticipation for decades as to what a Ghost Rider movie would look like, I expected a sequel with different people at the helm to feel refreshed, expanded and go-for-broke fun. What we have here feels shackled down, claustrophobic and suffocated. The story: Johnny Blaze is hiding in Europe for some reason while a cult is after a child that the devil himself wants to insert his essence into. Blaze teams up with some French dude and the boy’s mother to stop this. Along the way, Blaze tries to rid himself of the Ghost Rider once and for all. Sprinkle in three scenes where Ghost Rider appears and there’s your movie.

The motivations of the villains are sort of pointless. The child that the devil seeks is supposed to be half-devil, so if the devil put himself in the boy’s body, he’d be super evil (as opposed to just evil) and somewhat immortal or something. The film establishes that the devil is always on earth in a human host’s body anyway, so I’m not sure what having a human body that merely lives longer is supposed to prove. This devil-man already has powers, so having more powers doesn’t seem to me to make a difference. If it seems like I’m nitpicking, I am – and there’s a good reason for that. Lots of movies have thin stories and are still amazing (1989’s Batman comes to mind). I shouldn’t be thinking of the crux of this movie at all, and I wouldn’t if the rest of the film weren’t so dull as to coerce my mind into wandering off and contemplating its stupidity.

Much of the film has Nicolas Cage traipsing around and acting … well … Nicolas Cagey. He way overacts a lot of scenes and ends up embarrassing himself. All of the reasons why people make fun of Nicolas Cage, his face, his mannerisms, etc. are all there on the big screen in this movie for all to see. Even when he’s motion-captured as Ghost Rider, his jerky neck-and-head movements are etched onto the Ghost Rider’s visage, making the character appear awkward and goofy. It’s pretty wince-inducing.

There are some neat ideas, like the notion that anything that Ghost Rider drives turns into a flaming monstrosity like his bike. This happens in spectacular fashion when the Rider commandeers a giant crane/conveyer-belt thing and smashes a bunch of goons with it – but this is done with a lot of close-up shots and jerky camera movements which mute the effect a great deal. This film was directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the same two guys that directed the Crank films. After seeing this movie, I now realize that these two aren’t creative at all. The Crank films went far because their “creativity” was in the form of shock: Jason Statham shagging a woman in public, boobs on the screen, racism, etc. That’s dirt simple to do. Heck, anyone can put images like eating poo, cutting a person’s face, pissing on a baby, etc. on a screen and genuinely tell you that it’s something that you’ve never seen before. They would be right. But it’s not creative, it’s merely impulsive. I’m sure Neveldine and Taylor would tell you that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance looks shackled because they were tied down by the PG-13 rating. Oh, boo hoo. You can still go for broke without swearing or showing nudity or blood. At the end of the movie, Ghost Rider dispatches the human-form devil by smacking him to the ground with a chain (you might have seen this in the ads). At that point, the human-form devil is seen falling to hell. I thought, as probably anyone watching this movie thought, that the devil would rise out of the hole as a giant monster that Ghost Rider has to fight. That doesn’t happen – the movie just ends (yes, I gave away the ending – but are you surprised by the outcome?). At one point, the devil gives a punk the power to decay things. Sure, he does it in music video visuals where everything is black except for him and his victim, but even so, this guy’s power is kind of hum-drum (yeah, he’s sort of like Blackout, even in appearance, but he’s not). This is a big budget movie backed by a major studio. Ghost Rider couldn’t face off against something more spectacular? Like maybe three firey spirits, each with his/her own personality who track down the Rider? Or maybe an anti-Rider – like Teminus Rex or Zarathos with Blaze taking another Ghost Rider demon’s form. Sure, there’s the budget to consider, but there aren’t many effects in this film, and I don’t see photo-real fire as being a huge undertaking anymore – maybe in the 90’s, but not in 2011/2012. The effect of Ghost Rider and his bike could not have cost that much when Supernatural does this kind of thing on TV every week, so they could have had a more spectacular villain for Rider to face off against.

Anyway, everything in this movie seemed like a misstep. And, yes, there is some goofy humour – but honestly, I forgot that stuff as soon as it left the screen. I guess the reason why I did, and the reason why I felt the goofiness lingered in the first movie, is that this movie has an overall tone of being gritty and dark, with its down to earth men-with-guns villains (for the most part) and stark lighting. The humour just doesn’t fit and feels so misplaced that it not only does not induce any laughter, but is quickly forgotten. There’s just no room for it.

As a kid, I always thought a Ghost Rider movie should start like Ghost Rider vol. 2, issue #68 of the comics, with Johnny Blaze confessing his sins, telling his origin, then revealing that he knows the priest he’s confessing to is a murdering fraud who killed the real priest and donned his clothes to escape the authorities who are hunting him down for an armed robbery he committed “The Rider lead me here to where innocent blood was spilled – by you!” The Ghost Rider appears and gives the crook the penitence stare. Then the rest can be like Ghost Rider vol. 2, #71 from the comics, where Blaze goes to a town where, one-by-one, authority figures disappear. Blaze is compelled to stay, drawn by the Rider to nullify the threat to the innocent people of the town. The threat turns out to be Null, The Living Darkness, a Lovecraftian, tentacled, multi-eyed monstrosity born of the desires of a doomed race for revenge against all authority in the universe. So, take the introduction from issue 68 and main story from issue 71 – and I guess that’s my problem: I actually read the comics.

This is a 3 if you're watching it on TV two years from now, and a 2 if you're undertaking the hassle of going to a theatre and paying money to see this thing.

Nope, this guy ain't in this movie.


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