Review: Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance (12A) / Director: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor / Screenplay: Scott M Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S Goyer / Starring: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Christopher Lambert, Fergus Riordan, Ciaran Hinds, Violante Placido, Anthony Head, Vincent Regan/ Release date: Out now
Despite the critical drubbing it took on its release in 2007, Mark Steven Johnson’s ramshackle adaptation of third-tier Marvel Comics character Ghost Rider, with a typically-eccentric performance from Nicolas Cage, raked in a decent $200 million plus worldwide so a sequel, whilst hardly essential or even much-demanded, was always pretty inevitable.
So here’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance with Johnson passing on directorial duties to the Neveldine/Taylor partnership which gave us Crank (aka The Noisiest Film Ever Made) so hopes haven’t been particularly high. Despite expectations, however, the duo have crafted another workmanlike outing for the burning-skull bike-riding anti-hero which certainly won’t elevate Ghost Rider into the major league of screen superheroes but will at least provide ninety-odd minutes of stylised, energised and often exquisitely insane entertainment.
Some years have passed since stunt rider Johnny Blaze (Cage) entered into a Faustian pact with the Devil in the hope of saving his dying father but which actually left him possessed by the spirit of an avenging demon which, when Blaze is in the presence of evil, turns him into a flaming-skulled, leather-clad, motor-bikin', chain-brandishing lunatic who sucks the evil out of the bad guys. Bad Devil. Johnny’s fled the United States (for purposes entirely unconnected with the movie’s budget, I’m sure) and is in hiding in Eastern Europe, trying to control his inner madman and find a way to vanquish the demon. Unfortunately the Devil in his physically-weak human guise as Roarke (Ciaran Hinds chewing up the scenery with gusto) is up to his old tricks again and has saved the soul of the beautiful Nadya (Placido) in exchange for her bearing him his son Danny (Riordan) who, on attaining the age of thirteen, will become Satan’s new human vessel and all sorts of terrible things are likely to happen… although the film doesn’t do specifics on that one. Blaze meets up with mad monk Moreau (Elba) and his followers who are desperate to save Danny from the clutches of his pursuers and thus, as it happens, save the world.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a curious beast. It’s a bit more thoughtful than the original and there are some decent character beats, not least for Johnny himself (despite the best efforts of Cage who is clearly now slightly-to-the-right-of-barking-mad) and action fans might find themselves glancing at their watches during the slightly saggy middle of the film which seems to go on for an age without anything even remotely approaching an action sequence. Moving the story from the States to Europe gives the film an unusual visual palette and there is, oddly, a whiff of the straight-to-DVD about proceedings, despite some much-improved visual FX and a 3D conversion which is a bit more effective than usual. But the movie really kicks into gear when the Ghost Rider’s in town and the handful of action scenes which punctuate the film are done with style and energy; the car chase finale just pulsates and an encounter in a big industrial wasteland is explosively exciting.
This is a 12A movie in the UK so don’t expect too much gore or swearing - Ciaran Hinds drops the film’s only F-bomb and whilst there’s plenty of violence it’s of the extreme fantasy variety - death by disintegration rather than blood-letting - although I was rather taken by the Devil’s henchman Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) who’s imbued with the power of decay which allows the FX boys to go crazy with the crumbling-body visuals.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a decent little action movie which will disappoint those who thought a second effort would be a little more hardcore than the first - this has been designed to get as many bums-on-seats as possible - but with bigger and better superhero movies lining up for their turn in the spotlight this year, this is one which is likely to be remembered as a warm-up act rather than a headliner.
Expected rating: 6 out of 10