GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE: Trading One Demon for Another

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) – Directed by Neveldine/Taylor – Starring Nicolas Cage, Ciarán Hinds, Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth, Christopher Lambert, Idris Elba, and Anthony Head.

Odin help me, I kind of dig GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE.

Oh, yeah, large swaths of it are a mess, Nic Cage has hit a point where he’s often doing a self-parody of a self-parody and the film feels like nothing more than a fill-in issue of a regular Ghost Rider run with really pretty art and passable writing, and what it does more than anything is illustrate how much an Idris Elba-starring Black Panther film would rock, but there’s some real energy here that was completely lacking in the first GHOST RIDER film.

Much like Wrath of the Titans, it’s nice to see that a sequel has learned from the mistakes of the first film. I bring Wrath up because the first Sam Worthington-starring Clash of the Titans was a mixed bag of serious actors like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes playing their roles like they were making a fun B-movie and younger actors like Worthington who were treating the material like it was the most somber story ever told. Wrath was able to bring both sides of that divide together and the result was a much more cohesive vision.

SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE has learned the same lesson, and instead of a disjointed, confused origin story, we get a streamlined, straightforward action film. It’s fitting that the directing duo of Neveldine/Taylor has been brought in because VENGEANCE has more in common with their Crank series than it does with the original GHOST RIDER.

It’s important that superhero movies show diversity and as silly as it may be to say it, I really believe that the continued existence of superhero films needs movies like SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE every bit as much as it needs The Dark Knight. Nolan can stake his claim at the literary end by delving into deep philosophical discussions, but a film like VENGEANCE just wants to entertain the heck out of you for 95 minutes and for the most part, I think it succeeds.

A very non-traditional French priest named Moreau (Idris Elba) is trying to protect Nadya (Violante Placido) and her son Danny (Fergus Riordan) from some thugs with guns who’ve been hired by Roarke (Ciaran Hinds), who’s actually the devil, to bring her in because it’s his kid and he wants to put his soul in the kid’s body because it’s more powerful than his. This opening sequence takes place in a monastery and there’s monks (including Anthony Head) and guns and Idris Elba and it sets the tone for what follows – this is going to be a good looking, (relatively) low budget action movie.

When Nadya and Danny escape the thugs and Moreau escapes death, the priest goes to find Johnny Blaze (Cage) to offer him a deal – if Blaze brings Danny in, Moreau’s fellow priests will pull the demon out of Blaze and he can go back to having a normal life.

And, yeah, I hate stories like this. I’m sure being the Ghost Rider isn’t the coolest superhero identity to have (it prevents a relationship with Eva Mendes at the end of the first film, after all), but isn’t being the Ghost Rider a cooler gig than jumping cars at a carnival? Wouldn’t you rather be out seeing the world on the back of a flaming chopper than sharing your front lawn with a a Snow Cone machine?) At least we’re dealing with a real demon here, so I can understand Blaze wanting him out, and at least the story spends more time with Blaze trying to rescue the kid than it does with him whining about not wanting to be who he is.

Once Moreau and Blaze make this deal, the rest of the film is primarily a chase film followed by a raid film. It’s not great but I didn’t hit the pause button, and I didn’t spend time checking Twitter or answering text messages. I just laid on the couch and watched a decent action film starring a guy who turns into a flaming skeleton.

And that’s really where VENGEANCE succeeds for me – it has a vision and it’s consistently deployed from start to finish. Neveldine/Taylor don’t screw around and let Cage get all wacky, either. In the first film, it’s like Cage changed his approach to the character every day, but Neveldine/Taylor only let him have a few scenes where he’s all Crazy Nic Cage. For the most part, they get a consistent performance from their leading man, and when he gets to indulge his acting chops, it comes in a admittedly bizarre scene between him and Danny in a diner while they’re on the run.

The content of the scene isn’t bizarre. The content is solid – Danny is looking for a father figure and Johnny feels a need to fill that role – but they’re on the run from the agents of the devil and here they are munching on fries and having a surrogate family moment. They try to cover it by saying that Nadya is off getting gas, but there’s no urgency to what they’re doing. Johnny even says they have to keep moving, but he says it like you might say, “We need to get to the beach sometime this summer. Maybe. If we can find a day that’s not too hot. And I’m not feeling bloated that day.”

Johnny does deliver Danny to some weird monks with writing on their face led by Christopher Lambert and Moreau does keep his promise to get the demon out of him. I love that Danny is p*ssed at Johnny for going through with the exorcism (that they both have a piece of Hell inside them gave them something to bond over), and there’s a great payoff later when Danny spits hellfire into Johnny to return the Spirit of Vengeance back into him.

This isn’t the greatest CGI work ever laid into a film, but it’s hard to make Ghost Rider look lame. They try – there’s a new transformation process that allows Cage to make weird faces – but for the most part, the Rider looks bad ass and if you’re actively choosing to watch a Ghost Rider film, you want that. The film also uses some comic book-inspired vignettes to explain things and they mostly work. They’re a bit of different and again, I’m big on superhero films not all looking and acting alike, so I applaud the effort.

SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE had a very modest budget of $57 million and you can see where they’ve cut some financial corners but it doesn’t prevent this movie from being a satisfying ride. (Get it? Gene Shalit would be so proud.) It’s world’s better than the first GHOST RIDER film, and even if it does feel a bit like a fill-in issue, it delivers. At the end of the film, the demon inside Johnny has reverted back to its original angelic form, and we get a blue-flamed Ghost Rider replacing the red-flamed version, which allows the movie to end on an up note – Blaze hasn’t disconnected himself from the demon, but he has made peace with it.

Sooner rather than later, SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is going to find it’s way to the bargain bin, and when it does, I’ll be picking up a copy. It’s a slick, stylistic action movie starring a dude with a flaming skull.

Works for me.

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5 thoughts on “GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE: Trading One Demon for Another

  1. After reading your review of Ghost Rider, I was real interested to read your thoughts on this one. And just like with Ghost Rider, I think we’re in full agreement here. This movie is just a breakneck, fun ride and it delivers exactly what it should.

    And while I still feel like Cage is really miscast as Blaze, I still enjoyed him in this flick. I like that it’s not a direct sequel — you could have recast Blaze and not changed one other thing and still call this a reboot.

    I’m not quite sure why Mephisto became Roarke, though. That seemed like a weird change.

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    • I’m guessing he became Roarke because they were de-emphasizing the superhero aspects and because they were using a different actor – note that they reshot the scene where Blaze sells his soul.

      I agree on Cage, too. But … I do appreciate that he loves this character and I do recognize that having him involved likely means a greater possibility of it getting made.

      I still think the best Ghost Rider film would be an Old West Ghost Rider.

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  2. Mark, I share your opinions on this second Ghost Rider film for the most part, outside of one point I disagree with. Everyone knows that Ghost Rider is my favorite comic character, and I loved the first film way more than anyone should (while still recognizing that a whole lot of it was really, truly awful, lol). This one was a far superior film, and outside of a few weird moments of cheese, it had a lot of what I wanted from the first film and didn’t receive.

    The point where you and I disagree is your dislike of Blaze wanting to rid himself of the Ghost Rider and how being the Spirit of Vengeance wouldn’t be that bad. In that respect, the writers/directors got it spot on: Johnny Blaze HATES being the Rider, he has a genuine demon taking over his body against his will, destroying any chance at happiness he could ever have. The majority of the original 1970s GR comics centered around the struggle for dominance between Blaze and the demon; it’s the Banner/Hulk curse taken to an even worse extreme, instead of being controlled by a dark part of yourself like the Hulk, Johnny is enslaved at the whim of a merciless monster. Being the Ghost Rider is emphatically NOT a good time, lol.

    But yeah, I liked this one a whole helluva lot, and I’m glad you did too.

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    • I think what Mark was getting at with the dislike of Blaze wanting to rid himself of the Ghost Rider was more of a general malaise of the “woe is me, I have superpowers” story that dominates far too many stories.

      But you are right, Chris (as you know) — Blaze hates being the Rider.

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    • Yeah, Perry nails my thoughts – I just can’t stand these “woe is me” stories. There are characters where it makes sense (the Hulk, Ghost Rider) but there’s so many of them that I’ve just had it with them, at this point.

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