Saturday, February 18, 2012
Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance (Movie Review)
Although I'm not a regular reader of the Ghost Rider comic, the concept has intrigued me over the years and I've got 20 or so back issues from two different incarnations of the series. I'm also one of the few people I know who really enjoyed the first movie, which struck me as a great improvement for director Mark Steven Johnson, compared to his earlier superhero flick, Daredevil.
I thought Nicholas Cage was an unusual choice to play Johnny Blaze, but found that his quirky sensibilities fit into the story well enough. And since I'm not a die-hard fan of the comics, I was content to see him make the role his own.
When I heard the news that a sequel would be made, I found it a little surprising, given that most I've talked to didn't seem to like the first one. But I was certainly up for another ride with Johnny Blaze, and so have looked forward to "Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance" with interest, if not rabid anticipation.
The movie picks up an undefined number of years after the first movie. Blaze had hoped to use the curse of the Ghost Rider to fight the Devil and his servants. But his plan hasn't worked out, and The Rider continues to take control of him, bringing judgment or death to nearly all he encounters.
To avoid hurting those he cares about, Blaze traveled to Europe (sorry Europe!) and is living in attempted seclusion when a monk from a mysterious order finds him and offers to remove his curse if he will protect the life of a boy named Danny, whom the Devil is tracking down for nefarious purposes.
One of the first things I noticed about this movie is the re-writing of Blaze's "origin story", which alters details for almost no reason. This proved to be an omen of things to come, as much of the script feels thrown together without purpose, as though they skipped the editing process altogether.
Dialogue is sometimes strange or confusing and numerous details seem without purpose and beg for explanation. It almost felt as if this was the sequel to an entirely different version of the first film that no one ever saw.
The editing itself also comes across as a "rush job", with "stuttering" shots attempting to add production value to a sequel with a reduced budget, and countless scenes that seem to be put together using only the first takes, before any of the actors had a chance to get into their groove.
Oddly, the script also doesn't even seem to be about the Ghost Rider, but about Danny, the boy he is trying to protect. Because Danny shares the first name of the second character to become the Ghost Rider in the comics, it may be that in a future film Johnny Blaze will hand the bike over to Danny to continue the franchise, but in the meantime the focus taken from Johnny Blaze and his dilemma is an odd storytelling decision.
The tone of the movie also waffles between dark (even edgier than the first) and foolishly ludicrous. Sometimes contrasting elements work great together, but I don't think this was one of those times.
The sum of all this strangeness is a movie that feels like the Ghost Rider taking a vacation in a foreign/independent film. Not one of those cool, cutting edge, freaky foreign films, but one of those weird ones that you can't make sense of. And one in which he is a glorified guest star.
There were some things I really liked about the movie. The rock music score fit the material well in most cases, with hard shredding guitar accompanying the mayhem The Rider brings with him.
The visual effects were cool and the costume and make-up design may even have been an improvement. Instead of a clean looking skull and leather jacket that are coated in fire, The Rider now has a charred skull and a flaking and bubbling jacket being perpetually damaged, though never destroyed by the heat.
In general the look of the film has more grit than the first, and though I missed some of the more "fantasy" visual elements of the first film, the change of pace was still nice and a great alternate interpretation of the material.
Unfortunately, these few positive elements aren't near enough to save this film.
As with any move that uses "the church" and its more archaic elements in the story, this movie has potential to leave one thinking about spiritual matters. Even more so given the demonic nature of The Rider and Blaze's quest for a kind of redemption.
There's a brief reference to a character being one of "God's children", which made me think about how that concept has been misunderstood and misrepresented in popular culture. There was a scene in which Johnny takes some form of "communion" and confesses his sin and unworthiness, but even the characters made light of this moment and treated it as a sort of empty part of the cleansing ritual that just has to be done for it to work. There's another moment where Johnny Blaze expresses the opinion that the evil powers inside of himself and Danny do not make them bad people by definition. And in the opening of the movie, the inherent evil present in all humans (even though we may think little of it) is exposed as Johnny Blaze narrates, saying that everyone has "something they don't want The Rider to see".
But each of these moments is just a blip on the radar that quickly vanishes, swallowed by the odd experience of watching the rest of the movie. You're very unlikely to have any meaningful thoughts triggered as you leave the theater.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language.
For information on my scoring system, visit spiritblade.net/reviewscores
Listen to this review this weekend at spiritblade.net/podcast