Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

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Ah, can you smell that in the air? It's the wheezy stench of 1992 breezing through theaters last week in the form of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It might be filled with balls-to-the-wall special effects involving flaming heads and CGI chains, but there isn't a whole lot beyond that that doesn't seem routinely familiar to anyone who's had a brief encounter with the likes of Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man or Terminator 2.

Let me back up a second, since I hate leading someone in a direction and then immediately reversing it without at least a half a sentence of warning: that's not to say reliving the glory days of '92 is a bad thing. However, if you've been anywhere near that era's films, this movie will taste like a bagel bought at Starbucks a half an hour before close.

Oh god, it's a Nic Cage movie. Shouldn't Andrew be reviewing this?

Continuing my series of 2012 movies I'm watching wherein I'm fresh to the franchise (see also the incomprehensible Underworld: Awakening, or, it's probably better if you don't), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance eschews what I believe happened in the first movie (or it might not) and quickly retells its origins for those of us who didn't see the original (like me).

These are the best sequences of the film as the directing stylings of Neveldine/Taylor (Crank) are matched in their fluidity by some impressive bouts of animation. The rest of the film, which can be modestly referred to as "relentlessly kinetic", never seem fast enough to keep up with the random toyings with slow motion, fast motion, camera movements, and general insanity flung at the screen practically faster than the script monkeys can squeeze it into their hands.

The plot is as follows: Ghost Rider (or The Rider) (or Nicolas Cage if we're being cheeky) wants to be rid of the Ghost Rider part of him, which is mostly a badass flaming skull in a leather outfit that eats the souls of the wicked. He runs into Moreau (Idris Elba, of Thor and The Losers), an emissary of a religious sect that's seeking a mysterious young boy (Fergus Riordan) and his mother (Violante Placido, which is a hell of a name) before they fall into the hands of Roarke, also known in other circles as THE DEVIL (played by CiarĂ¡n Hinds, who was in The Woman in Black and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, who's certainly getting around these days).

It's always kind of amusing when movies with as goofy a premise as this begin to delve into religion, and the laws of the universe that govern The Rider are about as arbitrary and silly as you can manage. The Devil is weak in the human world, so he creates spirits who do his bidding for him. However, some of these spirits may just have happened to used to have been angels, and these angels might just learn valuable lessons about the difference between justice and vengeance if events occur that just may lead to that.

Justice? Vengeance? Angry flaming skulls know not these things.

I know the Ghost Rider character never seems to get much respect in circles, and it's not because he doesn't deserve it in terms of powers and visual dynamism, but there's something to every inch of his formula that feels like either a relic or a ripoff. His uncontrollable abilities mimic the lesser part of the Hulk mythos while his cool, cocky bravado smells a bit like Johnny Storm from back in the Fantastic Four films.

The Rider's fetish for motorcycles and leather and his continued uncontrollable killing spree reek of early 90's grim-and-gritty anti-hero heroics, so much that it's hard not to recall his modus operandi as the epitome of violent retribution. No matter how many times you watch someone's skin brutally getting melted from their body (rated PG-13 for disturbing images!) or wince as villains have their souls sucked away, it's hard not to feel that this end result has somehow still suffered from being watered down.

Besides a complete lack in dedication to his core revolting nature, the film's plot line has saddled him with a bevy of light, inoffensive characters to chill out with. He's become the Arnold Schwarzenegger robot in Terminator 2: kid friendly, mother approved.

What interested me most in the movie-- besides the fact that the camera never managed to stand still for one goddamned second, though that fascinated me more in the 'please stop making me feel queasy' way-- is its locale. The image of the American motorcyclist has been inexorably linked to the desert highways of our great nation since Peter Fonda tossed on a helmet that seeing the Ghost Rider film transported to Eastern Europe (yes, that's really what the caption said, "Eastern Europe") extraordinarily dulls the entire enterprise's sense of self.

Like a lot of cheap films, 'Eastern Europe' is nothing more than a location shorthand for American audiences. It tells you that 1) there's basically no government, 2) everyone has their own private armies dressed like they wandered over from the Metal Gear Solid game engine, and 3) everyone speaks English still. None of these are true in real life, I presume, but it also serves an important function: the villains are white as a sheet of paper. If you get bored, you can take a peak back at the last year or so of action movies. When the villain isn't a space alien, they're white as hell.

Not that white people don't deserve it, it's just an odd kind of typecasting. Can't a Japanese guy want to rule the world every once in a while? Hell, I don't even care if he gets defeated in the end or not, I just want to see him fucking go for it.

"Look, please, just don't let me have Edward Furlong's career. I can't do a Uwe Boll film, man, I just can't!"

I'm rambling, which is poor form, but I may be drinking while writing this review, which is also poor form (and would explain the overabundance of asides, too). Despite all of my groaning and moaning, the movie isn't bad by many stretches, just sustainably dull. Cage gets some good one liners, and his general spirit is a good match for a premise as ridiculous as this. The other actors are serviceable, and what little you see of The Rider is visually quite stunning.

But, as a protagonist, Ghost Rider is a bowl of mashed potatoes character who's been created with water instead of milk and butter. I'm of English descent, I know what that tastes like; Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was just as good.

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Posted by Danny

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