It should have been a match made in heaven. Neveldine/Taylor, the directors of Crank and Gamer, in charge of a comic book movie featuring a guy who rides around on a motorcycle dispensing justice while his skull is on fire. Sounds perfect, right? But even these kinetic directors, known for their outlandish, hands-on style, couldn’t overcompensate for a godawful script that features surprisingly little action. This is not the Ghost Rider movie people wanted to see.
The problems begin in the opening minutes, at which point a young boy is introduced who has the power to CHANGE EVERYTHING, YOU GUYS. I hate this plot device, and that’s what the entire movie rides on (pun most definitely intended). It saddles our anti-hero with the task of protecting this kid right from the beginning, with Idris Elba’s drunken monk dangles the X-Men 3 carrot in front of Nic Cage’s Johnny Blaze: promise to save this kid, and he’ll break Blaze’s pact with the devil, removing his powers forever.
Look, I won’t sit here and tell you the entire movie was worthless. Some of the visual stuff worked very well. Ghost Rider himself was pretty rad, with his leather jacket popping from the fire and his flaming skull looking a lot scarier and more intimidating than it did in Mark Steven Johnson’s 2007 film. There was a cool little animated introduction detailing the character’s past, and a split-screen editing choice made one phone conversation way more visually interesting than the normal back and forth cutting we expect. The few sequences in which Ghost Rider goes on a rampage and wrecks people were OK, and anytime he operated a vehicle that turned into a burning hellblazer, I was into it. But there are far too few of those scenes, and far too many of him saving the kid, and protecting the kid, and setting up the kid’s connection with Blaze. Ugh, just kill him already and be done with it. People aren’t there to watch an emotional story about freaking Ghost Rider because IT’S FREAKING GHOST RIDER. They’re there to watch Nic Cage go crazy and see some stuff get burned.
Which brings me to my next point: Nic Cage’s performance. The dude is obviously self-aware – just look at his recent appearance on “Saturday Night Live” if you don’t believe me – but I think his perception of what audiences want to see suffers from a disconnect with the truth. The Nic Cage “freakout” moments in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance almost seem staged, as if the filmmakers looked at Cage before the take, winked at him to indicate “now’s the time,” and let him go off. But the best part about Cage’s freakout moments in other films is the “out of nowhere” insanity of the performance; oftentimes his mood doesn’t fit with what’s happening on screen, causing all of these water cooler conversations (or, almost assuredly in more cases, internet conversations) about how his career has evolved to such a crazy point after his Oscar nomination.
The villains, played by Ciaran Hinds and Johnny Whitworth, were boring and inadequate, never providing any real danger for our flammable anti-hero. Even Idris Elba, who did a lot with the small role he was given in Thor, fizzles out here, never quite able to perfect his French accent or translate why his character is so invested in the proceedings. One-liners intended to score laughs were met with silence, a warranted reaction to a pitiful script by Scott Gimple, Seth Hoffman, and David S. Goyer.
I’d say stay far away from this movie, but based on the almost universally negative buzz, chances are pretty good you weren’t planning to see it anyway. Until next time…