It might just be me, but I’m not picking up a fat lot of enthusiasm for next February’s second big screen adventure for Ghost Rider. Entitled Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, it returns Nicolas Cage to the role of Johnny Blaze, and it’s also added to the cast the likes of Idris Elba and Ciaran Hinds.
It’s a sequel that I thought was destined never to happen, but I can’t help thinking, despite the seeming apathy towards the film, that it’s one of the most important comic book movie releases in some time.
And here’s why: it’s taking a risk. A proper one.
The most common complaint aimed at blockbusters right now is that they’re playing relatively safe, although arguably getting away with it by bringing in interesting film makers. Yet they still stick within fairly conventional parameters of origin stories, villains being toppled in the final act, a bit of angst and darkness, then rinse and repeat.
More worryingly, the appointment of interesting directors hasn’t always meant that they’re left to make the film they want. Mickey Rourke has been chattering of late about how Jon Favreau wasn’t basically given the control over Iron Man 2 that he should have had, for instance. And ultimately, while the general quality of comic book movies has been increasing in most parts, there are few flat-out risks.
Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance? It’s as close to a gamble as you’re going to get in the genre in 2012.
After all, Sony is rebooting Spider-Man, and bringing the franchise pretty much into line as it does so (and bringing down the bill). Marvel is packing one film with as many heroes as it can get with The Avengers. And then there’s Christopher Nolan, who’s toiling away on The Dark Knight Rises. These are films that we’re looking forward to seeing to varying degrees, but they’re working very much within set franchises now.
Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance is more of a throw of the dice, and I really hope it works. And I say this with full disclosure that I’ve not got a lot of time for the first film. Appreciating that some warm to it, I thought it was a pretty uninteresting way to lose a couple of hours. But it was a pretty uninteresting couple of hours that made an awful lot of money.
The delay in getting around to a sequel, in commercial terms at least, has been a surprise. But then the critical and fan reaction wasn’t great, and you’d have to wager that Sony didn’t have the confidence to do a direct follow-up.
In fact, had Disney not snapped up Marvel a few years ago, I’d even wonder if a sequel would be happening at all. As I understand it, it was only the fact that Sony was running out of time, and that the rights would revert to Disney otherwise, that it decided to give a new Ghost Rider film the green light.
It might be, though, that keeping Nicolas Cage on board is about the only tangible link between the two films (and his presence stops this being a reboot, too).
Because Sony’s boldest decision is in its choice of film makers. I said earlier that interesting directors are getting to make comic book movies now. This year, we’ve had Kenneth Branagh helming Thor for starters, and we’ve got the likes of Shane Black directing Iron Man 3, the aforementioned Christopher Nolan, Patty Jenkins on Thor 2, and Joss Whedon on The Avengers.
Hiring Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor to spark Ghost Rider into life, though, may be the most lateral choice Sony could have made, this side of Gasper Noe.
Neveldine and Taylor are a divisive duo, but crikey, when they click, they click with style. The first Crank movie remains, for me, one of the most gleefully daft action movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. It should be permanently screened somewhere in a double bill with Shoot ‘Em Up. That’d be perfect.
Crank 2 didn’t quite capture what made the first one work, and Gamer was a bit of a mess. But in all of their films, Neveldine and Taylor are trying things, playing at the edge of convention, and taking risks. I think they’re talented film makers, and while the jury is out on their storytelling skills, Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance is their most ambitious opportunity to showcase their work to date.
The early signs are that a comic book franchise, even one in as much disrepair as Ghost Rider, hasn’t tempered their approach one jot. And if you’re fed up of the usual two good acts, one conventional action-packed effects fest act style of comic book blockbusters, then this might be your horse to back.
I don’t think that Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance is going to be a film up to the standards of The Dark Knight Rises, in case you think I’ve lost touch with reality. And it might all end up a bit of a soggy mess.
But it certainly deserves to be given a chance. For everyone who’s ever left a comment on a website bemoaning the staid state of comic book blockbusters, at the very least I’d suggest you should be rooting for a film that Sony is taking a bold $75m gamble on. Not since Watchmen has a comic book movie been a gamble on this scale, and while the budget may be modest by Batman standards, it’s a lot to wager on a film of this ilk.
My suggestion: don’t write this one off just yet. It may yet prove to be the kick up the creative backside the genre could use.
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