Neveldine/Taylor crank up the heat on this fiery Marvel character, proving that those who burn twice as bright burn half as long.
Created by writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich and artist Mike Ploog, Ghost Rider was unequivocally a construct of the freewheeling days of the early 1970s. Around the same time that New Hollywood was experiencing a proliferation of auteur filmmakers that changed the industry for decades, the comic book world was also sending its heroes off on voyages of self-discovery and embracing the post-hippie attitude of bringing down The Man. A leather-clad, vengeance-seeking bikie with a flaming skull was right on the zeitgeist in 1972.
As a young man, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) made a pact with The Devil, Rourke (Ciarán Hinds), to save his father’s life, but was forever cursed as the Ghost Rider, an unrelenting spirit of vengeance who wields the fires of inferno as his weapons. He now wanders the Earth, seeking to control the demon. Arriving in Eastern Europe, priest Moreau (Idris Elba) asks him to save a boy (Fergus Riordan) and his mother (Violante Placido) on the run from a group of mercenaries and the devil himself. The reluctant hero saddles up once again, seeing a chance to rid himself of his curse.
The 2007 film Ghost Rider was fuelled largely by the comic book high that studios and audiences alike have been tripping on for the last decade, coupled with star Nicolas Cage’s über-fandom of all things comics. Received poorly, thanks to a misguided execution from Mark Steven Johnson, Neveldine/Taylor’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance retcons elements of the first film, replacing Peter Fonda’s Mephistopheles with Ciarán Hinds’ Rourke. Ignoring most of the characters from the first Ghost Rider, this second entry is all about showcasing Neveldine/Taylor’s action chops, throwing caution and all other good sense to the wind in the process.
Ghost Rider has always got by on his looks to a large extent, being one of the most distinctive and cool characters in the Marvel universe. The dude’s got a flaming skull and a motorbike, and this carries with a certain amount of cool caché. Of course, this only gets you past the first act, and beyond that you need something more than just being into leather to carry an audience with you. The presence of David S. Goyer, who has already scripted Batman Begins, the Blade trilogy and the forthcoming Man of Steel, gave us hope, especially given that his original vision failed to make it to the screen the first time around. Yet with TV writers Scott M. Gimple and Seth Hoffman getting first writing credits, it seems very little of of Goyer is left in this confused mess.
At times, the action is quite impressive, with the typically bat-shit crazy moments that only the Crank team of Neveldine/Taylor can get away with. Every moment pushes the needle past 11, but this sense of urgency doesn’t come with a corresponding sense of cohesion. People simply turn up in places from moment to moment, and this usually results in things getting all blow-uppy. Cage’s innate sense for the bizarre hones in on this, and pulls out line readings for his meagre dialogue that would be considered cruel and unusual in most Western nations. Not even Hinds, with a melted face somewhere between Raiders of the Lost Ark and a stroke victim, or the bizarrely tattooed Christopher Lambert as a priest, can match the sheer majesty of Cage trying to keep his Oscar-winning acting from ever emerging again.
Technically, the Ghost Rider himself looks brilliant, with the flames licking the camera just as menacingly in the day as they do at night. If only the film could settle on what it wants to be for five minutes, there would be a stylish action film in here. Yet it suffers from extreme ADHD, rapidly flipping to a new set-piece as soon as it grows bored with the last one. With so many films taking superior cracks at iconic characters, including the first Ghost Rider film, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance needs to look deep within its own soul to see if there is a spirit worth saving.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is released in Australia on 15 March 2012 from Roadshow Films.