Director: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba
Running time: 95 minutes
Synopsis: After making a pact with the Devil, Johnny Blaze is forever cursed to become the demonic Ghost Rider. Whilst hiding away he is tracked down by the mysterious Moreua (Elba), who offers to rid Blaze of his curse if he can find and protect a young boy from a gang of criminals. Blaze soon realises that the boy may have demonic powers of his own, and that his pursuers take their orders from the man downstairs…
Of all the comic book adaptations produced since 2000’s X-MEN, GHOST RIDER was the least likely to have warranted a sequel. As the first proved to be a critical disaster, very few people (apart from Nicolas cage himself perhaps) wanted to see the continued adventures of Johnny Blaze, the motorcycle stunt rider with a demonic disposition. In fact, wouldn’t we all be better off if we just forgot about the whole sorry affair and moved on with our lives? Thankfully that seems to be directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s sentiments exactly, as with GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, they’ve wiped the fiery slate well and truly clean. And in doing so, they’ve demonstrated a fidelity to the source medium in a way other adaptations haven’t: just as comic book characters fight crime across a number of narrative arcs, within various interpretations of their own story, SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is refreshingly unconcerned with what has come before and may occur after. It even sweeps quickly over the origin story – often the peril of the superhero film – with a slick and brief animation. Yes, it is entirely its own beast, a one-off, self-contained story, recognisable as part of the franchise through leading man alone. And his flame-engulfed skull-like head, obviously.
The most notable change since the 2006 original – and the one that has most excited fanboys – is the addition of the aforementioned directors, Neveldine and Taylor. Having made their names with the popular CRANK films, the duo are known for their ludicrous and unflinching approach to action: no stunt, set piece, or concept is too far fetched, a trait that could lend itself very well to the GHOST RIDER franchise. And for the most part, it does. The first half of SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is an undeniable thrill-ride. If one is able to suspend all disbelief and leave their brains at the popcorn stand, there’s little to worry about and plenty to enjoy.
Whilst the plot hangs loosely (and pointlessly) around the first two set pieces, the film remains gripping enough until a point. The Rider himself looks impressive, and his early appearances and undeniably satisfying, as are the beatings he dishes out to a seemingly infinite number of bad guys. Seriously – who doesn’t want to see Ghost Rider get behind the controls of a big-off crane and lay some smack onto a quarry full of villains? And it’s not only the audience who have been invited to enjoy the carnage; Nicolas Cage is clearly having immense fun, and at times is only seconds away from bellowing ‘I’m Castor Troy! I’m Castor Troy!’
Unfortunately, once the film passes the halfway mark, it never fully regains momentum. Though it continues to amuse with self-aware humour, everything slows down considerably and the plot unfortunately takes over, rendering the film at best daft, and at worst, boring. As the dastardly Roarke (otherwise known as the Devil himself) has his plan come to fruition, poor Ciarán Hinds is forced to act out some of silliest occult shenanigans ever captured on film, leading to a dull climax that never lives up to the film’s earlier action. If a so-ridiculous-its-brilliant action film kicks off with a bang, it needs to keep the pace and pile on the lunacy until everyone’s heads have burst. With SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, that’s unfortunately not the case.
Whilst far from the worst comic adaptation in recent memory, it remains another forgettable effort. And rarely, the 3D genuinely compliments the action – adding to the ridiculousness of it all – which only means once it hits the domestic market most of its spectacle will be lost. Fun for the most part but predictably dull for the rest, GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE shows some flair in its approach to adapting the comic format, but fails to deliver what an action film of this type demands.
GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is released in UK cinemas 17th February.