Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Some years back we got our first cinematic taste of Ghost Rider, and without too much bashing, we’ll just say the flick's flames weren't too hot. Now the guys who made the Crank movies so chaotic have put their stamp on this latest installment, thereby creating the ultimate high octane horror hero!
We pick things up eight years after the events of the first Ghost Rider film. Johnny Blaze is skulking around Eastern Europe doing his best to stay clear of every human being that he can as a means to keep his inner-demon Zarathos at bay. Should Blaze come across evil, the demon will begin manifesting as a blazing skeleton. This spirit of vengeance is an unstoppable force, turning flesh to ash with a whip of his chain or even just an accidental glance into his cold, empty eyes. Unfortunately for Johnny things are about to heat up as Moreau (Elba), the happy drunk battle monk, has come calling with news of a boy perused by minions of the devil himself. From there Blaze is reluctantly drawn into the battle and ... wait for it ... ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!! (You see what I did there?) With the despicable Carrigan (Whitworth) following their every move with his right-hand man, The Wolfman (Wilding), Blaze’s more demonic half has plenty of evil men to chew on. This is the entire plot, minus the spoilery bits that would take up a single sentence.
What we have here is a far more intense, otherworldly Ghost Rider with eerie horror film-esque sound cues to announce the demon’s arrival. In the first movie when Blaze would flame up, it was as if he just put on a costume and went to work. Here the demon surfaces with a maniacal cackle that’s vintage Cage and erupts from under his skin. The Rider twitches like a being infused with too much power to contain and cocks its head like a bird of prey sizing up a meal. This performance is coupled with the sheer beauty of Ghost Rider’s carbonized skull, bubbling leathers and living flame. The whole effect is amazing. I’d watch “Ghost Rider Does His Weekly Shopping at Walmart” if it looked this good. Luckily, we get “Ghost Rider Goes Sickhouse on a Small Army of Evildoers” while answering the question, “If his bike erupts in flames when he drives it, what happens when he drives other things?!” INSANITY. The most excellent kind of insanity.
Acting performances, however, are a sort of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” type situation. Being a fan of over-the-top B-movies, I can tell when a director has told the cast something to the effect of “Pretend you are in a gonzo 80’s comic and have fun with it!” Wide-eyed exclamations and upturned lip grimaces are commonplace on the face of this film’s devil Roarke (Hinds) in counterpoint to Elba’s happy-go-lucky French party monk portrayal, with the baseline being Cage’s stony face when not in an action sequence of any kind. When evil is afoot, this all changes. Cage shudders like a recovering heroin addict off his meds ... smiling ... growling ... laughing ... wincing ... looking as if he is trying to hold back the monster inside himself but bursting at the seams to let it out. You’ll sit there, jaw agape, wondering how soon you’ll be able to watch this spectacle again. I want to loop these scenes, set them to "Thieves and Liars" by Ministry and watch them until my eyes bleed. I loved every second!
Stylistically, Team Neveldine and Taylor have outdone themselves. They shatter the myth that post 3D conversion will always look horrible. This is some of the best 3D I’ve ever seen in a horror movie, if not some of the best I’ve ever seen. There are gimmicks surely shot with the effect in mind, but we are not left feeling like we are watching Jason Voorhees poking at us with a spear for two minutes for no good reason. Now think about Team Crank’s signature punk rock do-or-die shooting style, coupled with excellent 3D AND the beauty of the previously mentioned Rider himself, and you’ve got Saturday night movie gold.
Make no mistake; this film will play best on a giant screen, allowing you to drink it all in like some stunning, psychotic, post-apocalyptic landscape. Neveldine and Taylor also brought some new tricks to the table with pseudo Sin City-esque silhouettes against stark backgrounds and the ultra dramatic Carrigan demon power display which you’ll be treated to every time he kills. If I say any more, I’ll wreck it for you so just trust me when I say you are going to see some things you’ve never seen before in a 3D film. That alone is an amazing feat. It's also worthy of mention that Neveldine and Taylor manage to create some seriously creepy moments without spilling more than a drop of blood. Modern filmmakers ... take notes! This is the most excellent horror superhero movie since Darkman, and yes, that is high praise from me!
Let me be clear - this is not a thinking man’s film. You wouldn’t drop in on a film called Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance looking for steely glances, pursed lips and heartfelt tirades concerning love and loss now would you? This is CAGE ... the man ... the myth ... the legend ... directed by madmen who "get him" and let him loose in a world he is perfectly at home in. What we have here is a “Shut your brain off, shut the hell up and have a killer time” movie, best viewed with a beer shoved in your face ten minutes prior. Strap in and take the ride.
4 out of 5