Saturday, March 3, 2012

Review - Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

While trying to remain secluded in Eastern Europe, Johnny Blaze finds himself forced to protect a child from the devil in human form.

There is some ferocious potential in the character of Ghost Rider but for one reason or another each live-action attempt has been hindered. "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is a prime example Columbia has yet to embrace and allow the character to flourish as he should. This ridiculous installment hurts a little more considering directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor were hired and have the background to bring the right kind of edge to Johnny Blaze. In actuality, Neveldine/Taylor (as the directing team have credited themselves) do a notable job with their direction of a horrendously bland script by David S. Goyer and a studio that restrained the potential with a PG-13 rating.

Neveldine/Taylor bring their visual style and a campy edge to the iconic character as best they can. For some, their unconventional camerawork can be jarring but in the confines of where they take the story, it worked. By every means, the tone of the character is completely changed from the last installment. Johnny Blaze aka Ghost Rider is downright zany this time around. Neveldine/Taylor's spin on the Rider is a rousing displaying of Blaze wrestling with the demon Zarathos who is bonded within him. I'd liken the conflict to that of someone who copes with ADHD, Blaze and Zarathos are in constant battles of dominance in Blaze's human body. Each time Blaze gives in to the power of Zarathos and becomes the Ghost Rider the dial is turned all the way up.

Pairing Nicolas Cage with Neveldine/Taylor is the right kind of bad. The directors gave Cage the freedom to have fun with the Rider and his performance is all kinds of outrageous. Cage is over the top and then some. It is apparent watching that Cage is actually having fun with the performance, something I found completely lacking in the 2007 installment. Cage is absolutely batty and he elevates a remedial script from being nearly unbearable to being an entertaining effort. A good case and point is the dialogue. It is sure to keep your eyes rolling into the back of your head but Cage pulls it off in unique fashion. He takes otherwise horrendous dialogue and makes it the kind hysterical bad you can find enjoyment in.

Plain and simple, it is astonishing that Columbia moved forward with 'Spirit of Vengeance' script written by David S. Goyer. In every capacity, the script is a heaping pile. Worse yet it is a trivial plot that has been used countless times. Ghost Rider must protect a child from the clutches of evil. The moment it starts, you know where it will end up. It never deviates from its basic structure and if it were not for Cage's madcap performance and Neveldine/Taylor's eye for action, this is a movie would be real hard to sit through.

Two aspects of this film I loved were the action and animation. First, let's talk the latter. 'Spirit of Vengeance' is stitched together with a number of animated sequences filled with rich color and vibrant imagery that really brought a spirited energy to a tired story. The animated sequences all serve as bridges filling the audience in with little bits of backstory on Johnny Blaze and his demons. As for the action, I certainly could have handled plenty more, but what is on display is full throttle and drenched in Neveldine/Taylor's stink. Some credit should be given to the screenplay for allowing Ghost Rider to take control of multiple vehicles outside of his motorcycle. One sequence in particular the audience is treated to the Rider taking control of a giant crane and wielding its devastating power on some would-be henchmen. The best action sequence comes in the final act with the Rider chasing an entourage of vehicles. Johnny Blaze jumps from vehicle to vehicle allowing the Rider to take control of them leaving a flamed path of destruction in his wake. I especially dug the truck he commands, I cannot wipe the sight of the Rider rolling a convoy truck all aflame and full of pride.

I appreciated the toned down look to Ghost Rider and his motorcycle. The design team went with a simpler approach to the transformation of machinery the Rider comes in contact with. Instead of his bike turning into a chromed-out demon vehicle straight out of an Iron Maiden video it now simply crusted and charred over into something that resembled being overcooked on a barbecue. His cycle may have not looked straight off the comic page but it did match the nature of his powers. The look and actions of the Rider were superior as well to the 2007 installment. The CGI animators nailed the dynamic of the flaming skull this time around. Previously, the Ghost Rider looked very flamboyant, this time however he is dingy and unrefined. Most of all he comes across menacing and vicious in all the right moments. There is also a playful side to him that wouldn't have been possible without Nicolas Cage's ridiculous performance.

"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is not a good movie by any means, but it has a lot of good intentions within it. It is a action that really struggles because of a milk toast script restraining a potentially outrageous character. Directors Neveldine/Taylor do their best to provide a spark but it is not enough to overcome the dreadful plot. Luckily Nicolas Cage is on fire, pardon the pun but he makes the comic book adventure worth sitting through. He brings the right kind of wacky to the role. 'Spirit of Vengeance' is sure to have plenty of people that absolutely hate it and while I have a ton of wishes for how it could have turned out, I still had a good time watching all the bad unfold.