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Sunday, February 19, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE

When the first Ghost Rider movie was first released in 2007, I was one happy fanboy! Ghost Rider had always been one of my favorite characters and I was hoping and praying (or making deals with the devil!) that maybe, just maybe, the filmmakers would treat Ghost Rider well..But sadly, like many fans and critics, Ghost Rider fell short of it's expectations and was disappointing. For the most part, it did fairly well in the theaters and I even admittedly bought the DVD (the 3-Disc Special Edition!). I have always been a big fan of Nicolas Cage, from his 80's comedies, to his 90's action movies and even his more recent roles. But there are always a few that never seem quite to fit him right. After Ghost Rider, I felt that there has to be someone who could perhaps be better for the role, someone maybe more dark and less quirky. I could even accept a change in casting for the sequel, maybe include Danny Ketch (90's era Ghost Rider). Marvel movies have done it before, like Ray Stevenson replacing Thomas Jane as The Punisher. Either way, I was looking forward to the sequel, but after seeing it, I almost didn't know what to think...
Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance is more of a quasi-sequel to 2007's movie in that it is the same character played by the same actor BUT with some very unusual changes...Johnny Blaze, being the host for the Ghost Rider; a demonic spirit of vengeance, once the Devil's bounty hunter, now wanders the earth and for some reason finds himself in Eastern Europe!? We see a more cynical, tired and haggard Johnny who is in hiding and just wants to be left alone. Then he somehow gets involved in a religious plot to find and destroy the Antichrist! Followed by an eccentric priest, Moreau (Idris Elba, who played Heimdall in Thor (2011), Johnny is recruited to protect a young boy Danny (Fergus Riordan) and his mother Nadya (Violante Placido) from the evil Roarke (CiarĂ¡n Hinds) and his henchman Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth). Johnny soon learns the truth behind the plot to kidnap Danny and must become Ghost Rider to stop Roarke and his Satanic cult!
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank (2006), Gamer (2009)), who bring their distinct and extreme style, along with Nicolas Cage's eccentric performance, makes Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance a very bizarre movie, full of abstract music video-like imagery, combined with the occasional animated (and unnecessary) exposition sequence. The whole movie seems at odds with itself in relating just how crazy it all is, with all the dark imagery and fast-paced action along with Cage's behavior, it's like the movie can't decide whether it's a comic book-action, horror or comedy! As for the 3D release, as I've said before in other movies, doesn't really add anything to the experience, all we get out of it is a few stray flames or whipping chains. There are two very surprising although brief cameos that many moviegoers may find interesting including Anthony Head (best known for Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Benedict, a monk and also Christopher Lambert (Highlander) as Methodius, a bald, tattooed, priest.
The image of the Ghost Rider himself has changed drastically from the first movie, less about leather and spikes and more fire and smoke. The more traditional appearance of Ghost Rider has been minimized but enhanced to include more edge. Gone is his stylish leather jacket adorned with studs and chains, now he seems to be in a constant state of burning as the leather literally melts and bubbles around him from the heat. Also, his once clean polished skull is now charred and blackened. His bike has also changed from the chrome-skulled Harley from the first movie to a more sport bike style, reminiscent of the original 1970's Ghost Rider. The Ghost Rider's powers have also changed, while he still uses his trademark chains, he no longer utilizes his Penance Stare. Not only does his bike change when he transforms but he is now able to channel his power into other vehicles from construction machines to trucks. Not to mention his Hellfire vomit!
Ghost Rider, 2007 & 2012
The harshest criticism comes from Nicolas Cage's acting style as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. While his over-the-top portrayal may be conducive to the bizarre nature of the character but his eccentric performance at times becomes almost laughable to the point where the apparent insanity of the character is overly-exaggerated.  In a recent Fangoria (#310, Feb. 2012) interview with Nicolas Cage, he refers to his experimental acting style as "mega-acting", describing it as "operatic". While it was revealed that Nicolas Cage played more of the Ghost Rider in this one than the first movie which was more often a stuntman. His strange, jerky motions in several scenes come across as just odd. While in the first movie the Ghost Rider was depicted as slower and more melodramatic. As for the film-making of Crank director duo Neveldine and Taylor, the fast-paced and extremely edgy style add an extra level of intensity to what already is a dark and scary ride!

"What I'm really happy about is just how psychedelic it is. The whole movie is abstract. Mark and Brian are directors who have a voice - just the fact that they're willing to risk their lives to entertain you...It's extreme-sports filmmaking, and I know some people find it overstylized or frenetic, but I find it artistic and exciting." - Nicolas Cage, Fangoria

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Official Website: http://www.thespiritofvengeance.com/