A ride that goes nowhere ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A ride that goes nowhere

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
My rating:

So right after watching this, I went out and got the original 2007 Ghost Rider movie on DVD and popped it into my player. Yes, I hadn't watched it before, mainly because I'd read the reviews and didn't think I'd be missing much. I was right; it was cheesy in all the wrong ways, and whatever Mark Steven Johnson did to get another chance to write and direct a Marvel comicbook adaptation after he botched Daredevil, I highly doubt it'll work again after this one. Anyway, you might be forgiven for thinking that the sequel might be really good, if it made me go watch the first one immediately after.

But you'd be wrong. It's because Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is so dull, I needed something else to talk about just to fill out this review.

Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), the current earthly host of the Ghost Rider, is hiding out in Eastern Europe in an attempt to escape the curse that transforms him into a motorcycle-riding, flaming-skull-headed demon that collects the souls of the wicked for the Devil. Then a monk named Moreau (Idris Elba), member of an ancient order, charges him to find and help a 12-year-old boy named Danny (Fergus Riordan). He and his mother Nadya (Violante Placido) are fleeing a group of mercenaries led by Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) who are working for Roarke (Ciarán Hinds) - the Devil himself in human form. Danny is in fact the Devil's son, born out of a deal Nadya made with Roarke - the same kind of deal that turned Johnny into the Ghost Rider. In return, Moreau promises Johnny the means with which to lift his demonic curse.

A distinction needs to be made between the movies released under the Marvel Cinematic Universe - which comprises the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America characters, who will all be united under this year's The Avengers - and those based on properties not including the aforementioned. See, before Marvel Studios became a bona fide movie studio that made its own movies, it optioned out several of their most famous comicbook characters to other studios. So 20th Century Fox still owns X-Men and Fantastic Four, Lionsgate still owns Punisher, New Line Cinema still owns Blade, and Columbia Pictures still owns Spider-Man and Ghost Rider, and they aren't about to let those lucrative movie rights revert back to Marvel anytime soon. Thing is, while Marvel Studios have consistently proven to be really really good at making comicbook superhero movies, so much so that The Avengers is looking like it'll be pretty damn awesome - the same can't be said of those other guys.

This is a sequel to 2007's Ghost Rider in name only, since pretty much everyone both in front and behind the scenes has been replaced bar Nicolas Cage. No Eva Mendes, no returning characters other than the titular. Continuity-wise it's a little iffy; its flashbacks to the Ghost Rider's origin feature Johnny making a deal with Ciarán Hinds instead of Peter Fonda, and instead of "owning" the curse like he declared he would at the end of the last one, here he wants nothing more than to get rid of it. So, sequel cum reboot then; probably to be expected when Johnson has been replaced by the directorial team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who are known primarily for the two Crank movies starring Jason Statham. Haven't seen them, but the one movie of theirs I did see is one of the worst Hollywood films I have ever reviewed here. My impression of them has not improved with this one.

About the only welcome thing they bring to the franchise is a somewhat morbidly over-the-top humour, as exemplified by that bit in the trailer in which the Ghost Rider literally pisses flame. But the few other instances of such humour are few and far between; more time is spent on giving Cage plenty of chances to do his patented insane freakout brand of acting, which is only fun when viewed on YouTube, not so much in a movie I paid to watch. Nothing else in this movie works - not the action scenes, as exemplified by an early bit in which the Rider does an interminably long Penance Stare on some goon while the rest of his buddies just stand around gawking. Not the characters or their relationships, as exemplified by a lame attempt at some surrogate-father-son bonding between Johnny and Danny. Not the plot, as exemplified by the means with which Moreau lifts Johnny's curse: he walks into a cave, the camera goes all jittery for a minute or two, and voila no more Ghost Rider.

And certainly not the character of the Ghost Rider himself, which is the primary failing of both this movie and the previous one. He just doesn't have any personality; nothing that marks him as a character with 40 years worth of published comicbook stories. Cage's manic-depressive acting certainly doesn't provide any. (There's a hint of something interesting here, in that the Ghost Rider may be as much a danger to innocents as to bad guys - because he seeks out and punishes sinners, which basically means everyone to a certain extent. But this is left frustratingly unexplored.) In fact, Johnny Whitworth's Carrigan is more fun and gets most of the funny lines, but that's about it in terms of acting and characters. Idris Elba is wasted, and Hinds' brand of scenery-chewing is laughable. I'm just thankful that Violante Placido is here to provide eye candy.

So spare some sympathy for Ghost Rider fans; even after two movies, they still couldn't get him right. Perhaps they'll be mollified a bit by the fact that in this movie, he looks better - his skull is blackened and burnt and his jacket has a charred and greasy texture, a definite improvement on the previous film's cartoony CGI look. But in the most important ways, this is yet another failed big screen adaptation of the comicbook. The first one was cheesy in the thinks-it's-awesome-but-isn't kind of way; it went through the motions of a superhero movie in a boringly perfunctory manner. This one is... well, it's also cheesy, but... frankly, there just isn't much to say about it. It's just boring.

Expectations: trying to keep them low