By JAMES MELVILLE
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012):
The plot: Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), a.k.a. Ghost Rider, is cursed to seek out evil and destroy it, which he can only do when he’s in the form of a flaming, leather-clad skeleton. Since the Ghost Rider part of him interprets “evil doers” as “pretty much everybody,” Johnny lives in isolation. That is, until he gets one last shot at redemption, when the Devil (Ciran Hinds) tries to take a new, stronger form in the body of a young boy named Danny (Fergus Riordan). Even with the help of a wine guzzling Frenchman (Idris Elba) and the boy’s gypsy mother (Violante Placido), will Johnny be able to save the day and face his demons?
The problem with the first Ghost Rider, other than the fact that it was god awful, was that it tried to be a real superhero movie. Apparently, someone decided that Ghost Rider was a movie that could be taken seriously. The film was cursed with a bad script, lame CGI, and truly bizarre casting. In the first movie, Johnny Blaze is written as some kind of young heartthrob, which is all well and good until you realize that he’s played by Nicolas Cage, who was not young when Ghost Rider was made. I don’t know if he was ever a heartthrob.
Now, I’m a proud Nic Cage fan. I watch his movies with un-ironic enjoyment, which I gather is somewhat rare for people our age. That having been said, even I recognize that these days, the movies he’s in need to make room for his craziness. Spirit of Vengeance does, to great effect.
Crank. Anybody else see that? The one where Jason Statham needs to keep his adrenaline up to stay alive. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s pretty crazy. What about Crank 2: High Voltage? To date, that is one of the most ridiculous movies that I’ve ever seen. Actually, I’ll just get it right out there: Crank 2: High Voltage is the Citizen Kane of crazy action movies. Bold choice, right? I think you’d be hard pressed to find one that could top it. AFI would probably back me up on that one. Not the band, the American Film Institute. I don’t know, the band might.
Why was all that stuff about Crank relevant? How about because shut up and let me do my job? Also, Spirit of Vengeance is directed by Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine, the men who gave the world the magnificent Crank series. It shows, in all the best ways. They know exactly what they have to work with: a ridiculous premise, and an actor who hasn’t been taken seriously in years. Neveldine/Taylor, as they’re billed in the credits, make the most of what they’re given.
Spirit of Vengeance can be summed up pretty well by one glorious scene. During a moment of down-time, Danny asks Johnny what happens if he has to pee when in Ghost Rider form. The response: “Oh, it’s awesome. It’s like a flame-thrower.” This being a Neveldine/Taylor movie, the next shot is of Ghost Rider letting forth a mighty stream of, uh, fire I guess, and nodding at the camera.
If you can’t appreciate the image of a flaming skeleton pissing fire, then this movie probably isn’t for you. Spirit of Vengeance is defined by that kind of humor, and that level of total absurdity is consistent throughout the entire movie.
Unsurprisingly, the plot of Spirit of Vengeance isn’t really important. What matters is that you can watch Nic Cage freak out, eat bullets, piss fire—I’m disturbed by how much I enjoy writing that phrase—take a guided missile to the chest, set people on fire with demonic chains, ride a flaming motorcycle, drive a flaming truck, and literally whip the Devil himself back to Hell. This isn’t a movie with a message. It doesn’t need well-rounded characters with believable motivations to be totally kick-ass.
Cage is alloweds to let loose, and, like Ghost Rider’s fiery stream of urine, it’s awesome. His…wait for it…rage is perfectly suited to Neveldine/Taylor’s frenetic directing style. There’s plenty of shaky cam, but it’s tight, maybe even controlled. Like the static poetry of a man’s body as he rides a cocaine high all the way to Valhalla. Dude. What? That was beautiful.
This is a wild ride. While not the craziest movie I’ve ever seen, Spirit of Vengeance is still ridiculous film at its finest. It’s the Touch of Evil to Crank 2’s batshit Citizen Kane. You may take a moment to process that sentence.
Is this movie worth seeing? I’m going to have to go with yes. Hell yes.
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