THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE"
Ghost Rider was a box office hit, although no one really seemed to like it very much. Given that he's one of Marvel Comics' edgier characters, his debut movie was unexpectedly tame. When I heard the sequel would be directed by Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor, the filmmaking duo behind the Crank pictures, I was optimistic. Their “let's do as much crazy shit as possible” attitude seemed like just the right thing to invigorate the series. Hard as it is to believe, though, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is actually worse than its predecessor.
Nicolas Cage returns as Johnny Blaze, a.k.a. Ghost Rider. Having once made a deal with the devil, he now periodically bursts into the form of a flaming skeleton who rides a motorcycle. Blaze is called upon by an old friend named Moreau (Idris Elba) to rescue a young boy from the clutches of the devil (Ciaran Hinds) himself. The boy is actually the devil's earth-bound son, and he plans to use his offspring to permanently take on human form. This, of course, would be a total bummer.
I won't go into any more detail. The movie doesn't care about plot, so why should I? Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance feels more like a demo reel of conceptual ideas than an actual story. A story would make some sense, or have some sort of point. Somewhat astoundingly despite all the frenetic energy up on screen, there's not a drop of suspense here. You never feel that anything is at stake. The film ambles from one thing to another without rhyme or reason, other than to revel in its own over-the-topness. The inane screenplay, credited to Scott Gimple and Seth Hoffman, doesn't create any sort of structure that would engage us. Every single character is one-dimensional, so we never develop rooting interest in any of them. I really didn't care who won the good-versus-evil fight because everyone on both sides was equally boring.
Without a solid base from which to work, Neveldine/Taylor – never great storytellers to begin with - have little choice but to overindulge their every whim. And believe me, they do. With its visual gimmickry, attention-seeking camerawork, and in-your-face special effects, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance spends so much time trying to be badass that it forgets to be good. This really isn't filmmaking; it's cinematic posturing. Every frame seems intended to draw notice to itself, as though surface-level “awesomeness” equals worthiness. If you're twelve, perhaps it does. If not, the approach is empty. I actually felt worn down by it all after a while. The flash only calls attention to how little else there is in the picture.
This is another bomb for Nicolas Cage, coming as it does on the heels of the execrable Season of the Witch and the even more repellant Drive Angry. Cage does what he always does when given weak material: he delivers madness. I find this sad to watch. Overacting does not compensate for poor writing. I have discovered that there's a contingent of people who find Cage's madness fun to watch. I do not; he's far too talented to have his career turned into a joke. At one point, Cage rides on a motorcycle, his head leaning excessively toward the camera. To illustrate the transformation into Ghost Rider, he makes a bunch of demented faces, none of them subtle, all of them bombastic. Here's an actor who won an Oscar for a brave performance in Leaving Las Vegas, and has done equally fine work in many other films. Now he's reduced to, essentially, mugging at the camera. I really hope he can get himself back on track soon. Choosing better scripts would be a great start.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is one of those movies where you sit there constantly asking yourself, “What am I watching?” It's so unfocused, so manic, and so completely without substance that you wonder how anyone ever thought it was a good idea. I didn't like the original Ghost Rider, but this sequel made me yearn for the mere mediocrity of it.
( out of four)
Note: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is showing in both 3D and 2D formats. I saw it in 2D. There isn't much that inherently requires an extra dimension, and the few things that are clearly designed with 3D in mind rely on standard coming-at-you tricks. Is it worth the upgrade? Probably not.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
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