CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
By L.L. Soares
LS: The Rider is coming! The Rider is coming!
(Suddenly, he transforms into DAVID HASSELHOFF, and his beat up car is transformed into the computerized super-car Kitt from THE KNIGHT RIDER (1982 – 1986). He hops inside and starts to drive)
KITT: Wrong Rider.
LS: Your voice sounds awfully familiar.
(That is because the voice of Kitt now sounds like fellow Knife Fighter MICHAEL ARRUDA)
MA: That’s because it’s me—Michael. Since I wasn’t able to review this movie with you, I had to find some other way to get into the column this week.
LS: Ahh! That makes sense.
MA: Like I said, you’re the wrong Rider. You were supposed to turn into Ghost Rider, not Knight Rider.
LS: I know. But something went wrong. I’m not far from Germany right now, and you know how the Germans love David Hasselhoff. So maybe I can use this to my advantage.
MA: Always playing the angles. Well, since I couldn’t be there, how about telling me what the movie was about.
LS: Well, this is the sequel to the 2007 movie GHOST RIDER. Which was kind of awful, in an over-the-top, silly kind of way. The new one, GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE features the return of Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze, who transforms into the demon, The Ghost Rider.
MA: Nicolas Cage. Maybe I’m glad I missed this one.
LS: You’ve liked some movies he was in! And he is kind of the King of his own subgenre of movies. You go into a Nicolas Cage movie, you know you’re in for something, er, different. It won’t always be good. But it will always be Cage.
MA: Enough of your commercial for Nicolas Cage! Tell me more about this Johnny Blaze.
LS: Well, in the first movie he became The Ghost Rider after he sold his soul to the devil to save his dying father. The devil tricked him, but not before making it so Johnny turns into the Ghost Rider at night to do his evil bidding. The Ghost Rider is like the flaming skeleton of a biker dude, riding a fiery motorcycle. Only it’s not plain old everyday fire, it’s hellfire (which I guess burns up your very soul!). And he can blast people with hellfire, and he has a neat chain he uses to fight with, too. Oh yeah, when he’s human, Johnny is a stunt motorcycle driver, kind of like Evel Knievel. Remember him?
LS: I’ve been a fan of the character since he was first introduced in Marvel Comics back in the 70s. But I can’t say I loved the first movie. It was just way too silly in parts. Reminded me of the first FANTASTIC FOUR (2004) movie in that regard. Probably the only cool thing about the first movie is that it had Sam Neill as Cage’s mentor. This time around, things are a little different. SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is a bit darker, and grittier, and the Rider is actually a little more menacing in this one.
MA: Is he still CGI?
LS: Of course he is! EVERYTHING is CGI these days. Although I still think a mix of CGI and top-shelf make-up is the way to go, like in the remake of THE WOLFMAN (2010).
MA: No cool make-up here, I’m guessing.
LS: Nope. But he doesn’t look too bad, as far as CGI creatures go. I saw some footage of Cage actually doing some of the stunts, and they had painted a white skull face on his face in anticipation of the CGI effects later, and it looked kind of funny.
MA: So what’s this sequel about?
LS: This time around, Blaze has fled America to go half-way around the world to Romania, because he can’t control his transformations into The Rider, and he wants to protect the people he cares about back home, I guess. So he’s by himself, struggling to control his inner demon (literally), when Idris Elba shows up.
MA: Hey, I like him. He was great in PROM NIGHT (2008).
LS: Yeah, I figured you’d like that. But Elba has been in a lot better stuff than that! He was Stringer Bell on the excellent HBO series THE WIRE (2002 – 2008) and is currently starring in the BBC series LUTHER. This guy can act!
Elba’s role here though isn’t much to write home about. He plays a wine-guzzling, gun-toting priest named Moreau. Not one of his finer characterizations, but he does what he can with it. The plot is basically that some kid is being held by a secret order of priests, because the devil wants him and he’s needed for some kind of prophecy to come true. When the priests turn out to be pretty useless in a fire fight, and the bad guys chase after the kid and his mother, Moreau is the one who tries to help them, and eventually goes to Johnny Blaze, because the prophecy says that The Rider is the one who will take the child to the safety of “The Sanctuary” or some such gobbly gook.
Blaze wants nothing to do with it. As he says, the Ghost Rider doesn’t save people, he is a danger to people, but Moreau convinces him that if he can make the Rider do this task, Moreau will lift the curse and rid Johnny Blaze of the Ghost Rider forever.
Blaze is also interested in the deal since it gives him a chance to get revenge on Roarke, the human embodiment of Satan, who tricked him in the original deal for his soul.
Following so far?
MA: Yep. I guess so.
LS: The rest of the movie is the bad guys trying to get the kid, Danny (Fergus Riordan) for some kind of ritual. Their boss is the devil, called Roarke here (in the first movie it was Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles), who is weak in human form and gets weaker as he gets older and uses his powers (a human body is too weak a vessel for his powers). At one point, Roarke transforms the lead bad guy, Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), into an albino demon named Blackout (although he’s never called that in the movie, he’s also from the comics). Blackout is actually kind of cool here. In the comics he was just some half-demon assassin, but in this movie his touch causes immediate decay, and when he fights people, he pulls them into a strange, lightless limbo outside of time and space, which is actually kind of cool. The only similarity between the two characters is that they look a lot alike. But their powers are completely different on the page and on the screen.
So everyone’s after the kid. Ghost Rider tries to protect him, and it all culminates in a ritual so that Satan can reclaim his power on earth.
MA: So how was the acting?
LS: Well, Cage is who he is. Although he does play it straight for the most part, there are times when he really hams it up, especially in the transformation scenes. Whenever he changes into Ghost Rider, he starts laughing uncontrollably in that gaspy laugh of his. And well, if you go see enough Nicolas Cage movies, you know what to expect from the guy, and he delivers the goods here. I enjoyed his performance.
Idris Elba is good as Moreau, but he doesn’t do all that much except talk about how much he likes wine in a goofy French accent. Fergus Riordan, as the kid, is also pretty good. He isn’t too cutesy, and is an okay actor, although I have to admit, I’m getting sick of storylines where kids are some kind of magical key and have to be protected from bad guys. It’s been done to death.
The great Ciaran Hinds plays Roarke, the devil on earth (I guess he’s just a fragment of the devil, because a human body couldn’t contain the energy of the whole thing). While he’s not Peter Fonda, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like Hinds a lot, and he’s just fine in the role.
MA: He’s been in a lot of movies lately! He’s was in THE RITE, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 and TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (all last year) and this year’s THE WOMAN IN BLACK. He certainly is keeping busy.
LS: I’ll always remember him as Julius Caesar in the HBO series, ROME (2005 – 2007). He was great in that. And yeah, he has been working a lot lately. I guess he’s in demand as a character actor, which is good news for us.
Johnny Whitworth is pretty good as Ray Carrigan. When he’s human, he’s just another annoying bad guy, but once he is transformed later in the movie into Blackout, he’s actually a lot of fun. You can tell he loves his new powers and he’s like a kid in a candy shop every time he gets to use them.
I was also a bit taken by Italian actress Violante Placido as Danny’s mother Nadya (at one point in the movie they mention she’s supposed to be a gypsy). She was beautiful (those eyes!) and I really want to see more of her. She also looked good shooting a gun! Nic Cage has been having some really hot female co-stars lately. I remember being similarly mesmerized by Amber Heard in DRIVE ANGRY (2011).
MA: So the cast is pretty good? What about the directing and the script?
LS: Well, this one was actually directed by two people, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (they go by just their last names in the credits). These guys made the CRANK movies (CRANK, 2006, and CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE, 2009) with Jason Statham and are good at giving audiences wham-bang action. SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is much more of an action movie than the first GHOST RIDER, and it actually works pretty well. There are a lot of fun scenes where “things blow up real good,” as the guys on SCTV used to say..
The script is by three writers, Scott M. Gimple (he’s also a writer for the TV series, THE WALKING DEAD), Seth Hoffman (who has been a writer for shows like PRISON BREAK and HOUSE M.D.), and David S. Goyer, who is also credited with the story. Probably the biggest name of the three is David Goyer, who has probably written more comic book movies than anyone else, from the BLADE movies to BATMAN BEGINS (2005) to the upcoming MAN OF STEEL (2013). That said, despite the talents of the above-mentioned writers, this isn’t exactly a masterpiece of a script. It’s okay, and it gets the job done. But it’s nothing extraordinary.
MA: So you had a good time with it? How was the 3D?
I had a good enough time. At least it had more of an edge to it than the first GHOST RIDER. And it’s fun to see Nicolas Cage in action as a demonic superhero. There are even some goofy jokes in it, like a silly one about a flamethrower. And look for the laugh-out-loud moment featuring Blackout and a Twinkie.
As for the 3D, it was another complete waste of time. As the movie went on, I completely forgot I was watching a 3D movie and there wasn’t much to remind me. I thought the 3D in Cage’s last movie, DRIVE ANGRY, was a lot better. I’m really getting sick of paying extra for bad 3D.
MA: So what kind of rating do you give it?
LS: I’d give it two and a half knives. Unless you’re a big Nicolas Cage fan, then I might bump it up to three knives. Not his best work, but a good time. It’s definitely a big improvement over the first GHOST RIDER flick, which actually had some scenes that were wince-inducing.
MA: For some reason I’m not too sad I missed it.
LS: To each their own. Hey, it’s been fun having you do the voice of my GPS.
MA: I’m not a GPS. I’m supposed to be the computerized car, Kitt. That’s a lot more fancy than any GPS.
LS: But just as annoying. Hey, I gotta go. I just pulled up in Berlin, and the chicks are going crazy. I might even sing a tune.
MA: Right. I forgot you were still Hasselhoff. Well, don’t do anything I….
(LS shuts off the engine and steps out to meet his – er, Hasselhoff’s – adoring crowd)
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares
L.L. Soares gives GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE~ two and a half knives!
For fans of Nicolas Cage, there is a separate rating of three knives.