Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance In 3D

Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance In 3D

***

Reviewed by: David Graham

Despite failing to set the box-office ablaze with the original Ghost Rider five years ago, Marvel have once again dusted off their Nicolas Cage vehicle to give 'the world's darkest hero' another cinematic spin. The flame-skulled biker's exploits were criticised last time out for being a little too dumb and nowhere near dark enough, issues this latest offering was supposed to address; seasoned comic-book adap whiz David S Goyer had promised fans Spirit Of Vengeance would be closer to its source material.

Well, either Crank upstarts Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor weren't listening or the studio weren't having any of it, as this unnecessary sequel is - if anything - even sillier and more cartoonish than its predecessor. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's likely to put off even those who enjoyed the relatively strait-laced original.

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Still suffering for making a deal with the Devil to save his father's life, Johnny Blaze has taken sanctuary in Eastern Europe in order to keep the vengeful spirit he's been burdened with out of the way of the rest of humanity and therefore under control. When old ally Moreau enlists his services to protect a young boy from Old Nick, the dubious vigilante struggles to keep the demonic, soul-sucking Ghost Rider from taking over and running riot. With the dastardly Carrigan and an army of grunts on their trail, Blaze must harness his curse for the good of mankind, as it appears the boy may be more than he seems.

You'd be forgiven for thinking directing duo Neveldine/Taylor's haywire sensibility should be a perfect fit for this bad-ass/ridiculous combination of one of Marvel's most fantastical characters and one of Hollywood's wildest leading men. They certainly make this a more visceral experience than Daredevil's Mark Steven Johnson managed when he was in the driver's seat in 2007; the opening scenes are a breathless rush of amphetamine-fueled handheld camerawork, audacious slow-motion and surprisingly immersive 3D. Echoing their mind-scrambling Crank aesthetic, the pair attack the material like the Wachowski brothers turned up to 10; the result may be more Speed Racer than The Matrix, but at least it's not as po-faced pretentious as the latter's sequels.

His detractors, of course, will see the whole shebang as an exercise in indulgence, but Cage here continues the recent return to his legendary loony best, seemingly having much more fun this time round and making Johnny Blaze a more memorable foil for the Rider. He even outdoes his drug-addled Bad Lieutenant tour-de-force in early scenes of spine-tingling mugging madness that make this mandatory viewing for his many admirers, the directors' in-your-face style amplifying his insane performance to the point where you'll either have to laugh or want to leave.

As balls-to-the-wall mental as the first half hour is, Spirit Of Vengeance is crippled by a saggy midsection which spends far too long addressing Blaze's crisis of faith, wherein he seeks to free himself of the Rider with the help of the randomly placed Christopher Lambert's sect of scroll-faced monks. It's akin to how Joe Carnahan neutered Mr T for the majority of his A-Team update; what's the point in having such a kick-ass, all-powerful character when they're going to spend half the film beating themselves up over their raison d'etre?

Of course, it could also be argued that the Rider is too much of a faceless and invincible presence to be of any interest to anyone other than destruction-loving, catharsis-seeking nerds; the plot here certainly lacks any of the gravitas generated by Bruce Banner's wrangling of his comparable Hulk persona. In this regard, Goyer's attempts to make Blaze a more human protagonist fall a little flat, the scenes between him and his companions feeling forced when they're not just downright goofy.

Ciaran Hinds makes for a suitably slimy villain, trying his best to inject both high camp and devilish menace, but he's lumbered with the most curiously under-powered Satan seen onscreen for a long time. As his decay-wielding henchman, Johnny Whitworth at least has a nice gimmicky modus operandi, but he also seems ill-equipped to face off against our hero, leaving the plot lacking any sense of conflict; even the one supposedly taking place within Blaze ends up looking like a giant plot-hole that half the film has been sucked into. Meanwhile, Idris Elba looks cool and has fun with a corny French accent, while Fergus Riordan is woefully wooden and Violante Placido tragically wasted as Blaze's child bounty and his gun-toting mother respectively.

It's easy to see how this script could have been turned into something meaner and scarier, but despite the 12A certificate being pushed to the limit with some choice language and surprisingly intense killing sprees, the darker beast hinted at in early interviews by all involved hasn't materialised. There are religious cults, Faustian back-stories, and a body count that's off the scale compared to the usual comic-book movie, while the manic style of the directors brings a fizzy intensity to proceedings, with brilliant animated snippets, cheeky cutaways and 3D flourishes spicing up the action. Somewhere along the line, however, the film-makers' best intentions have been compromised, and what's left is a maddening mess that's not quite Crank, not quite Marvel, but still somehow enjoyable in its own idiosyncratic way.

Comic book fans will likely be irked by the liberties they've taken with the characters ('Johnny Blaze a father figure? The Rider an angel? C'mon!'), while those who enjoyed the original film might not be able to handle this sequel's OT-OTT approach. The first-half action inevitably sets up the final 45 minutes to be a disappointment, with the climax proving enjoyably overwrought despite failing to match what's gone before. It's an incoherent waste of potential in many ways, abandoning the cogent Western mythology of its predecessor and foregoing any of the source material's sense of romance or even revenge. For all that though, what's left is reckless good fun if you can disengage your brain, work your cringe reflex and simply go along for the ride.

Reviewed on: 19 Feb 2012
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Johnny Blaze returns as the Ghost Rider, who must stop the devil taking human form on earth.
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