Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ghost Rider: Sprit of Vengeance - Movie Review

For those of you that actually watched the first Ghost Rider and remember how bad it was, I'm sure you were just as surprised as I was that they were even making a second one.  Then, the trailer came out and while there were some silly elements, the effects looked much, much better and the action looked ramped up.  Finally, I see that the Crank directors are directing this one and I actually became optimistic.  It couldn't be any worse than the first one, right?  Well...

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance attempts to sort of pick up where the last one left off.  This felt similar to 2008's The Incredible Hulk where you're watching it and wondering if it's a sequel, a reboot or a combination of the two.  There's an animated opening sequence that kind of recaps why Johnny Blaze (Nic Cage) is the Ghost Rider and I actually thought this part was done in an interesting style.

At the beginning of the movie, you find that Johnny Blaze is hiding in Romania.  It's not clear why and I don't think it's ever really explained other than he's avoiding people because he knows he can't control Ghost Rider.  Even if that's the case, why hide in Romania?  There's plenty of out of the way places in the States you could hide.  How about Wyoming?  You can hang out by Devils Tower.  Ha!  Anyway, Blaze is tasked by a mysterious man (Idris Elba) to help track down and rescue a boy that is wanted by The Devil/Roarke (Ciarán Hinds).  If Blaze helps bring the boy to safety, then his people will help Blaze lift the Ghost Rider curse.

Why is Roarke (which was pronounced differently by just about every character in the movie) after this boy?  He wants to possess his body, of course.  Totally new concept in a movie featuring the Devil.  The boy (Fergus Riordan) is apparently half demon/devil or something, so he can handle the possession, where a full human host cannot.  That's about all I really need to say about the story.  It's not very original and pretty predictable.  But lets face it though, you aren't watching this movie for a great story, you want to see some good action and Nic Cage freak out right?

Nic Cage does get to be the over-the-top Nic Cage here.  Most of the time Nic Cage freaking out in a movie is a good thing, but outside of a scene or two, it all felt really odd.  Some of his zaniness comes out of nowhere and his performance seemed really uneven overall (although that's due in large part to a bad script).  There was one sequence where he's just freaking out on his bike and it didn't do anything for the story except be absurd.  It ended up being silly instead of cool.

How's the action then?  It's actually pretty good in spots.  I thought the CG for Ghost Rider was definitely an improvement over the first film.  However, there were lots of times where Ghost Rider would just stand there, stare and do nothing.  When he would move, it would have this jerky, reptilian quality, but mixed with that weird strobe-light girl from The Grudge.  Then, Ghost Rider would get a hold of a guy to do his penance stare, but nothing would happen.  There was no visual effect for this and he'd just stare and hiss at the guy for what felt like minutes.  Was he doing something?  Was he just trying to scare them?  Even the characters in the movie seemed to lose patience with it.  It was weird to watch.

Plus, another annoying thing was that Ghost Rider's powers fluctuated wildly during the movie.  Early in the movie, Ghost Rider takes a hit from a rocket launcher and he's pretty much out of commission.  The next scene is Johnny Blaze waking up in a hospital in obvious pain.  However, later in the movie, he's hit multiple times by a more powerful rocket and doesn't even appear to be phased by it.

After the action would wind down it felt like there were long sequences of them just driving and talking.  For a movie that's only 95 minutes long, these sequences made the movie feel even longer.  After the first 20-30 minutes, it becomes very dull. Plus, the entire movie seemed to be set in abandoned buildings, desolate freeways, and rock quarries.  It felt like they were always in the middle of nowhere due to there never being anyone else around other than the main characters.

The script and dialog are pretty awful.  There are many, many bad attempts at humor just thrown into the film.  They actually stop the movie at one point for additional narration and they throw in a joke so bad, it felt like it was something out of a bad student film.

Despite the good supporting cast, their performances weren't anything special.  Idris Elba, who's normally great, feels totally wasted here and he spoke with an accent that I couldn't tell where the hell it was supposed to be from.  Ciarán Hinds as Roarke isn't given much to do except stand there and be creepy.

The Devil's dirty work was primarily carried out by Johnny Whitworth's character.  I felt like he was the only person that was trying.  At a certain point in the movie he's turned into a character from the Matrix (seriously though, it's Blackout from the comics).  He's actually given a cool power, but once again, they use it to crowbar in a very obvious and old joke.  Plus, they don't really have him face off against Ghost Rider, so giving him powers felt like a setup to something that they didn't bother finishing.  It's anticlimactic.

I was surprised to see that David S. Goyer wrote this, as he's done stories for other superhero films that have been much better (Blade, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight).  However, much like Like This Means War, it's a bad sign when a movie has three writers for the screenplay (Seth Hoffman and Scott M. Gimple share writing credits with Goyer).  It's another example of having too many cooks in the kitchen.  I have to imagine there was likely some heavy handed studio interference here, as well.

Oh, I guess I should talk about the Crank guys now.  I'm not a huge fan of the Crank series, but I do appreciate how crazy those movies are and how they didn't take themselves too seriously.  I thought Neveldine and Taylor's over-the-top-style would work for Ghost Rider.  Unfortunately, it was just too much.  Throughout the movie, it would either pause or switch into different visual styles. While this works for a movie like Crank, too many times I felt like I was in the middle of a bad drug trip, as if the directors were doing lines of coke or dropping acid before shooting scenes.  Not that I'd know what being on coke or acid feels like, but it was just off-putting and it all felt forced.  How about some regular action scenes?  Everything doesn't have to be all shaky or hyper-stylized.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a bad film released during a time of the year when mostly bad movies come out.  Even then, it still stands out as very bad.  It features uneven performances, bad dialog and humor and a very generic story.  While there are some good action sequences, I found the whole film kind of boring.  It's all a big misfire as far as I'm concerned.  I can't really recommend that anyone go see it.  It's a rental at best and even then I can only recommend it to the die hard Ghost Rider or comic book fans.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

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