No preview screenings for critics, so we brave the multiplexes to bring you the review they don’t want you to read . . .
STARRING: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Lambert, Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth, Fergus Riordan
2012, 95 minutes, Directed by: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (known less formally as “Neveldine/Taylor”) seem infatuated with the face of their supernatural hero. And why not? It’s about as iconic a mug as has ever been created for comic books: a skull seemingly suspended in midair above a leather-jacketed torso and surrounded by flames.
On the page, it’s, well, cool; in action, there simply isn’t enough mobility offered by a skull by its lonesome—even one surrounded by flame—to give the character much of a personality. Hence, Neveldine and Taylor’s obsession with that blazing visage means a lot of shots in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance of the eponymous man/demon shaking his head, opening his mouth in examination (He has no eyes, you see), and otherwise looking quite ridiculous.
Some of these are lengthy close-ups, too, which give us plenty of time to dwell upon on how silly the sight is. In one, the Ghost Rider gets in uncomfortably close to thug, and the two stare into each other’s eyes—well, the cavernous black spots where the Ghost Rider’s eyes would be. The demonic hero opens and closes his maw in anticipation of something, and the scene cuts back and forth between the Ghost Rider and the goon for such an awkwardly long period of time that, if the Ghost Rider had lips, we would half anticipate a kiss to follow.
Another such scene watches as Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) rides his motorcycle while attempting to hold back the demon within. His eyes disappear, and flames sporadically burst from his collar. A competent director (or editor) would notice how long this half-transformation—with no point in terms of developing the character or furthering the plot and which is, ultimately, anticlimactic, as we never actually see him turn in the moment—drags, but competency is not something this directing team has ever flirted with, let alone mastered.
Instead, the movie is an aurally (A cacophonous guitar score by David Sardy accompanies the Ghost Rider’s antics), visually, and structurally jarring affair. It’s filled with plenty of noise and aggressively choppy storytelling, signifying only those things.
After an interrupted action sequence of a prologue (The resolution comes with a single, unintelligible shot of one of the participants tangled in a mess of green as “La Marseillaise” plays on the soundtrack), we’re granted a recap of the Ghost Rider/Blaze’s story. He was stunt rider who sold his soul to the Devil to save his father’s life. It didn’t turn out well, and now he has a demon living inside him that comes to the surface whenever he’s around evil. The problem is, of course, that everyone sins (“A white lie, an illegal download,” he “jokes”), and the demon doesn’t differentiate—except when he does.
There’s a lot of inconsistency to the Ghost Rider’s powers, like how his chain incinerates one bad guy upon contact and only tangles up another or how his touch turns a group of people to ashes while he’s able to grab others. Weirdest of all is his tolerance to injury. A couple of shotgun blasts knock him off his feet to be knocked unconscious by a grenade, but another grenade only sends him levitating in midair and horizontally spinning (Of the load of dumbfounding moments, this is probably at the top of the list). Then, he walks away from a direct hit from a missile—twice. The one consistent thing is how he engulfs whatever vehicle he rides in fire, which becomes a bit of overkill when he starts operating an industrial machine with a saw.
Anyway, Blaze has been in hiding in Eastern Europe until Moreau (Idris Elba) comes knocking on his door, looking for help to stop Blaze’s archnemesis Roarke (Ciarán Hinds)— aka the Devil—from obtaining his spawn Danny (Fergus Riordan), who’s next in line to be the corporeal vessel for Roarke’s work on Earth (Roarke gets an animated backstory, too, which includes a joke about a television personality that would have been dated a decade ago). Danny’s mother Nadya (Violante Placido)—aka “the Devil’s baby mama”—is none too happy about the idea. Also figuring into this are Roarke’s henchman Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), who later gains the power of blonde hair extensions (also the power to cause decay by touch) and two orders of monks that have arsenals, facial tattoos, and yet, not surprisingly, are not to be trusted.
Like its predecessor, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has a problem with humor. Whereas the first one had a difficult time bringing itself to wink at its more ridiculous elements, this one winks, nudges, and even makes sure we know what it looks like when the Ghost Rider urinates—twice. The whole movie is a groaner.