Directed by: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Premise: A sequel to the 2007 film. Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) must rescue a boy who is intended to be used as a vessel for the reincarnation of the devil.
What Works: Spirit of Vengeance is a notable improvement over the original Ghost Rider picture. The sequel does away with many of the lame jokes of the previous film while still retaining a sense of humor. This is a film about a motorcyclist who turns into a flaming skeleton and the filmmakers recognize the silliness of the premise and have some fun with the character and with the storytelling, using some creative cutaways. The special effects are also improved, especially the effects that create the title character. The flaming skeleton of the first film looked really terrible but in the sequel Ghost Rider has some spooky personality in the bone structure of the skull and the visual texture of the flames and the charred bones gives the character a grittier and more credible look.
What Doesn’t: Although Spirit of Vengeance is a better film than its predecessor it still is not a very good one. The picture was co-directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who had previously directed Crank, Crank: High Voltage, and Gamer. Those films were hard-R exercises in sensory overload but despite their frantic storytelling style and almost sociopathic sense of reality, the pair’s previous films did tell mostly coherent stories and in the case of Gamer they managed to turn an absurd premise into a reasonably intelligent piece of satire. But that’s not the case in Spirit of Vengeance. Perhaps in an effort to ensure a PG-13 rating, Neveldine and Taylor hold back in this film and many of the action scenes lack a sense of rhythm and the picture as a whole does not have an underlying narrative drive. Although this is a road movie, it is never clear where the characters are going or why and the whole production feels lifeless and halfhearted. Part of the problem for this is in the script. As an occult film, the picture needs to create a sense of cosmic importance and concretely establish what the consequences will be if the hero fails. In short, the viewer needs to know what is at stake. Spirit of Vengeance does not do that and when the film reaches its climax, the film features one of the most uninspired, unimaginative and plainly ridiculous looking Satanic rites ever seen in an occult film. Aside from fumbling the supernatural elements, the Ghost Rider sequel also has a lot of basic problems with its story. There are too many characters and the screenwriters don’t know what to do with them, so many of the characters randomly enter and exit the action with little reason or service to the story. The picture also struggles with basic exposition. The film goes too long before it explains just what the devil wants with the boy and there is no compelling motivation for Johnny Blaze to get involved. Nicolas Cage again plays Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider and it is another phoned in performance by Cage. Some of this may be due to flaws of the script since there isn’t much for Cage to do in the film but the actor does not help matters with an uneven and at many times slack performance.
Bottom Line: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not a very good film. Although it attempts to shake up the comic book genre with some filmmaking bravado, it really isn’t much better than Fantastic Four or The Punisher: War Zone.
Episode: #377 (February 26, 2012)