People seem to either love or hate 2007′s “Ghost Rider”. Personally, I don’t get the love/hate. It was entertaining, but it certainly wasn’t great by a long shot. It was what it was, and for what it was, well, it wasn’t the end of the world or anything. And so it’s with that, “Eh, whatever” shrug that I approached the sequel, 2012′s “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”. Is it a movie that I necessarily have to see? Not really, no. Okay, not at all. But is it a movie that I am completely averse to seeing? Nope. Not in the slightest. It probably comes as no surprise to hear that I found “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” to fall completely in line with expectations. Not great, but not the scourge of cinema, either.
Nicolas Cage returns as Johnny Blaze, former motorcycle stunt rider turned the avatar of an avenging demon spirit known as The Ghost Rider. (Or as he’s commonly referred to in the movie, The Rider.) Ol Johnny has traveled halfway across the world in order to get away from the deadly Rider, which is kind of silly, since the Rider resides, well, within ol Johnny. But whatever, Johnny is now hiding out in Europe, and that’s where our story picks up. It’s here that the mother and son duo of Nadia (Violante Placido) and Danny (Fergus Riordan) are on the run from Danny’s dear old dad, who also happens to be the Devil incarnate (Ciarin Hinds, so earning a paycheck). The Devil is feeling a little weak, and conceived the kid as his latest and greatest vessel. The end of the world, we presume, would follow if Mr. Devil is able to transfer himself into the lad.
Trying to stop this totally not cool deal is warrior monk Moreau, played by Idris Elba with an exaggerated (re: ridiculous) French accent. Moreau drinks his way through the movie, presumably because playing second fiddle to a guy with a flaming skull is still not routine to Elba yet, big paycheck or not. As a result, Elba is hilarious throughout, but unfortunately his warrior monk (riding a not-all-that-impressive bike, natch) goes missing for long stretches in the middle. Before he goes AWOL, though, Moreau recruits Johnny Blaze to save little Danny and his mum. Blaze, hiding out in a shabby warehouse, sees no point, but warms to the notion when Moreau promises a cure to his “problem”. How exactly does Moreau find Blaze? Why does Nadia instantly accept the idea that Blaze can transform into a dude with a flaming skull that can take a rocket propelled grenade at close range and not die? And why is the Devil so powerful and yet so lame at the same time? All good questions, laddie. The answer is: cause.
Basically a series of chase scenes, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” is really just one big excuse for daredevil directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor to torch the European countryside with their brand of pyrotechnic mayhem. Nary 5 minutes go by in the film that doesn’t involve someone getting burned alive, turning into ashes, or risk getting various limbs severed from the rest of their body. Fortunately for all involved, the Devil and his contract bad guy (played by Johnny Whitworth) have a neverending supply of faceless henchmen to supply the Ghost Rider with target practice. It’s all very well done, if overly chaotic for those not used to Neveldine and Taylor’s methods. Moviegoers weaned on the boys’ “Crank” films or “Gamer” won’t have too much trouble following the trail of bodies, though.
It goes without saying that “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” barely has much of a narrative thread with which to string together a coherent movie. Not that you’ll mind too much, especially when Cage flips out (or threatens to flip out) and turns into the Ghost Rider every other 10 minutes. Cage is on full-tilt crazy here, whether he’s twitching his way through some ridiculous dramatic scene as Johnny Blaze or stalking victims as the fella with the burning head of fire in one of the movie’s many rock soundtrack-heavy action sequences. Whereas the first movie featured a mostly expressionless Ghost Rider on the screen, the sequel actually features a Ghost Rider that feels like it’s Cage playing the role underneath all that CG fire. Props to the actor, because honestly, he’s going out on such a limb here that you just have to admire the guy’s commitment.
“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” is as simple as they come: bad guys chase boy; good guys flee bad guys; bad guys capture boy; good guys chase bad guys to retrieve boy. Repeat as needed. That really is all there is to the film, and honestly, in a movie where the hero turns into a ridiculous looking comic book character with CG burning head, expecting anything more than that is just, well, crazy. Neveldine and Taylor, with their ADD-afflicted sense of style and over-the-top for the sake of over-the-top gags, were born to direct films like this. “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” is the kind of movie you don’t take mom and dad to go see; the loud soundtrack alone might blow out their eardrums. But it’s certainly not a bad excuse to hit the theaters with some buddies and a six-pack. Or two.
Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor (director) / Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer (screenplay)
CAST: Nicolas Cage … Johnny Blaze / Ghost Rider
Violante Placido … Nadya
Ciarán Hinds … Roarke
Idris Elba … Moreau
Johnny Whitworth … Ray Carrigan
Fergus Riordan … Danny
Spencer Wilding … Grannik