Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Show of hands, right now, who hated the first Ghost Rider? Not merely disliked. Hated.
Yep, me too. That atrocity followed the somehow-worse Wicker Man remake as the second volley in a series of “Nic Cage don’t care ‘bout his career no more” flicks that hurtled the respected thesp and part-time action hero down a path to ruin. He eventually bounced back with a handful of decent performances, and some genuinely fun genre flicks (including Drive Angry and Season of the Witch). For the record, this reviewer likes Cage quite a bit, even if I find some of his choices mind-boggling.
But oooh, was Ghost Rider a bad film. Cage wasn’t entirely at fault for its shortcomings, not at all. Equal blame should be shared by his fellow actors and the director/screenwriter for crafting such a joyless, empty experience. But…it did make money. Lots of it. So, it was inevitable that we would eventually get a follow-up.
And you know what? The damned thing is actually a lot of fun. Sony and Marvel wisely replaced the previous helmer with Neveldine/Taylor, the crazy bastards behind the Crank films, and worked from an initial script by David Goyer (Blade, Batman Begins). As a result, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a far better (and far more enjoyable) romp that more closely captures the edgy comic book that serves as its inspiration. It’s very well shot, the action is insane, the story zips along, the cast is quite good, and even Cage seems to be having fun here.
Acting as more of a reboo…uh, a re-buuhuhh…ahem. Excuse me. I hate the damned word and how casually it’s tossed about these days, so much that I can rarely bring myself to speak or write it. Alright, here goes: reboot. There we are, then. Reboot.
Oddly enough, the r-word actually is somewhat fitting for this film. Spirit of Vengeance opens with a brand new origin for our lead character, Johnny Blaze (Cage), which explains his backstory and current predicament (neither of which quite gels with the previous film). There is no Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda, or jelly beans in sight with this movie, and I’m okay with at least two of those deletions.
Our flamin’ hero is soon enlisted by an alcoholic, pistol-packing French monk named Moreau (Idris Elba, awesome as always) to save the life of a young boy set to act as a human vessel for the soul of Satan. Blaze flames up, bad guys die, fun times are had by most.
I hesitate to say any more, as there is very little plot to spoil in the first place. What there is acts as essentially a clothesline on which directors Neveldine and Taylor hang a series of impressively-executed setpieces. Along the way, Cage chews the scenery with glee while the rest of the cast does an admirable job of keeping themselves reigned in. Of special note are Ciarán Hinds (always wonderful) and Violante Placido, who does wonders with her thinly-written character. And, of course, there is the aforementioned Elba, who needs his own movie franchise now, dammit! Seriously, Marvel, give the man Blade, or Black Panther, or something! An actor this good shouldn’t be relegated to second fiddle for much longer.
Sony has given this film a damned decent showing on Blu-ray, with a ridiculously-sharp image and thunderous sound design that’ll have your home entertainment system hopping during the frequent action sequences. The bonus features are quite decent, as well. We get a selection of deleted scenes, most of which are fairly forgettable (except, maybe, the one featuring Noel Clarke – Mickey Smith from Doctor Who. TARDIS fans represent!). There is also a nifty picture-in-picture video commentary featuring Neveldine and Taylor. This is a hoot, as the directors keep the talk not only informative, but fun as hell. Rounding out the package is The Path to Vengeance, a six-part, feature-length making-of doc that covers every aspect of the production in an amusing, energetic way. I don’t know if Spirit of Vengeance needed a 90-minute documentary, but it’s a surprisingly decent behind-the-curtains look at this enjoyable flick.
Lookit, if you’re not a fan of Cage’s special brand of madness (“ScrAAApin’ at the doooOOOR!”), go ahead and give this flick a pass. However, if you’re a fan of comic-booky horror flicks with loads of inventive action, do yourself a favor: forget that wretched initial installment and give this one a shot.
o Blazing a New Path, a behind-the-scenes look at how the film was made;
o Patience Is Not a Virtue: Pre-Production, an in-depth look at the challenges the production crew had during pre-productions;
o We Will Burn This City To Bitter Ashes, allowing for the discovery of the shooting locations in Romania and Eastern Europe;
o To Hell and Back: Production, a look at the shooting style that directors brought to the film and some of the key stunt sequences;
o Walking in Both Worlds: Moving into Post-Production, exploring the challenges of completing a film; and
o The Fires of Hell Will Purify You: Release.
3 out of 5
3 out of 5