As much as it pains me to say it, 2011 was without doubt the worst year of Nicolas Cage’s career so far, with Season Of The Witch, Drive Angry, Justice and Trespass all falling short of average. Naturally, after last year’s drought, I was apprehensive about throwing all my hopes of into Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, this being the second chapter of a film most people didn’t care for, that has been retro-fitted with 3D, while carrying a 12A certificate, despite being directed by mega-violence merchants, Neveldine and Taylor.
And the result of all these negatives? A bombastic, insane and fantastically manic piece of action cinema that finally uses the power of Nic Cage in all his glory.
Distilled action movies that deliver purely on a need to entertain, with over the top action and superbly shot action scenes, are surprisingly rare these days, especially those that clock in at just under 90 minutes and don’t star Jason Statham. Yet along comes Ghost Rider: SOV, charging forth with all the subtlety of a spanner to the back of the skull, tongue firmly in its cheek, imbibing from the spirit of the 80s with more authenticity than Drive.
Much like the other films that bear the mark of Neveldine and Taylor, Ghost Rider 2 absolutely won’t be for everyone, with their rollerblade camera shots, frenetic style and, at times, juvenile humour shining through, I think it’s safe to say that anyone who doesn’t have time for Crank, Gamer or flaming urination should probably steer clear. But then the introduction of the duo to Ghost Rider was never about making new friends, but rather breathing new life a franchise that many thought was dead in the water.
A recent re-watch of the first Ghost Rider film proved it to be better than I remembered, serving as a perfectly fine example of an enjoyable film that, much like Green Lantern, suffered from a slurry of unfair abuse that decried it as the worse thing ever – such is the beauty of the internet. Whenever such opinions become so widespread, I can only wonder how many people have watched the likes of Ice Spiders or Species 3 – now those films are genuinely terrible.
Regardless, any opinion on the first Rider shouldn’t influence your feelings towards Spirit Of Vengeance, as the two films are barely comparable. SOV starts as it means to end, with a flurry of over the top action, the appearance of some Geek favourites, including Idris Elba, before quickly moving on to a familiar plot – the devil wants a youthful body to transfer his soul into, and only one man can stop him.
For those worried that SOV was going to be another tired reboot of the origin story, the only fresh take on that material is quickly dealt with via an animated opening sequence, showing that the Devil Rourke is now played by the great Ciarán Hinds and that Johnny Blaze signed the contract via crushed broken glass – that’s about it. Neveldine and Taylor manage to inject a few of their trademark narrative devices to great effect, using a style that seems fresh and seamless rather than gimmicky and jarring, as can so often be the case.
Gone are the other safe conventions of the first film, as Spirit rattles through proceedings at breakneck speed, working in some genuinely exciting set pieces, mostly involving things being set on fire in a way that I didn’t expect to be quite so exhilarating, with a finale that reminded me of Mad Max 2 in the best way.
Slight concerns about the budget-friendly backdrops of Eastern Europe are waylaid by all the money being poured into some fantastic visual effects. The Rider himself now looks incredible, with a much more realistic (as realistic as a flaming skull can look) and threatening appearance, obliterating everyone in his path with total abandon.
This time around, Cage himself plays both Johnny Blaze and the Ghost Rider, an asset that adds an entirely new dimension to the physicality of the Rider. You can tell within seconds that it’s Cage beneath the flames as the Rider stops mid combat and starts to rhythmically sway in the wind, or intimidate a bad guy by repeatedly screaming in his face, adding some much-needed depth to a faceless creation. And speaking of Cage…
As if the work of Neveldine and Taylor wasn’t divisive enough, I can think of few actors capable of dividing opinion quite as strongly as Nicolas Cage. Even die-hard fans like myself have had their loyalty tested by his recent output, which threatened to bury the stellar work on show recently in Kick Ass and Bad Lieutenant, leaving everyone wondering when we’d see a return to form (especially after his financial woes were made quite public). Well, Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance is it.
Cage is at absolute full tilt throughout the film, combining the best of his laconic/demented personas to their full potential, delivering his most animated and joyous performance in years. About a third of the way through the film he interrogates some minion or other, in what has to be one of the greatest Cage moments to date, as Blaze gleefully explains how he’s having to fight the Rider from surfacing, while smoking and grimacing. Then witness a scene later involving a screaming Cage going bananas on a motorbike, or plucking at an imaginary bee, and know that the man is well and truly back to form.
Ciarán Hinds makes more a much more reprehensible Devil than Peter Fonda (who should only really be seen surfing alongside Snake Plissken), ably backed by Johnny Whitworth as his right hand man. As the woman in peril, Violante Placido does just fine, though her role is fairly unnecessary providing more of a narrative tool than an actual character. Idris Elba is great, as you would expect, though there was a discussion afterwards as to why he was attempting a French accent and whether it was the performance, or the echoey acoustics of the screening venue that affected the intelligibility of his dialogue.
This film also features gratuitous Christopher Lambert. I actually shrieked with joy.
It was screened in 3D, but seemed short on gimmicky effects, settling more for the deeper background picture effect, but leaving the image crystal clear and un-dimmed by the glasses thankfully.
As a point of interest, there were actually three writers from Den of Geek in attendance at the screening and we all had an absolute blast. I would normally justify my reasons for loving such an insane film in more detail, but across the board it was loved, and all of us, I confess, were a little shocked. We didn’t expect it to work.
Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance really won’t be for everyone, but for anyone looking for an alternative comic book movie, instilled with a manic energy and non-stop adrenaline fuelled action in which lots of things are set on fire, then you’re in for a treat.