Ghost Rider goes up in smoke

Doug Laman, Guest Contributor

In the comic book world, Johnny Blaze (alter-ego to the Ghost Rider) was stunning, tackling both religion and unimaginable action with great gusto that created a comic book icon. However, the Rider, thanks to this putrid flick, looks to join Daredevil and Howard The Duck as comic book legends reduced to nothing thanks to pitiful adaptations. If you thought the first Ghost Rider movie was bad, prepare yourself for an entirely new level of awful.

Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is a world renowned daredevil whose life is changed forever when his father is stricken with cancer. He ends up making a deal with the Devil, granting his father a cure, but only if Johnny becomes the Devil’s personal bounty hunter.  Johnny accepts, only to realize that by becoming the bounty hunter, he must become (cue rock n’ roll music) THE GHOST RIDER!! Now, he tries to hide away in Europe to protect himself and those he loves. But when a mysterious priest (Idris Elba) offers him a way to destroy the beast within him, Johnny jumps at the chance.  The catch?  He must save Danny, a boy that is the spawn of the Devil and who will soon become the Devil’s new human host. Time begins to run out as Johnny realizes he and Danny have a similar path: one that will either lead to retribution or destruction for both.

That’s a genuinely decent premise for a flick, but it all gets screwed up. Try to think of every little thing that could go wrong in a movie. Done yet? Well, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance does all that and amplifies it by a thousand. There’s no end to the bad decisions the filmmakers make.  Getting rid of the titular character for over an hour?  Check.  Creating hammy dialogue that sounds like all the actors are having strokes? Checkeroo.  Sucking all potential fun and awesomeness that the comics brought to this character? You bet.  Granted, the first film was bad too, but at least it respected the source material and its audience a smidge.  Here?  The film just toddles along until it reaches its abrupt and pointless conclusion.

The directors, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, give the film no help, directing each scene like the camera itself is prone to ADD. They either do annoying close ups that wouldn’t be out of place on a home video camera, or shake the camera around uncontrollably.  To boot, they do extremely quick cuts, going from the back of the head of one character to a close-up of the Ghost Rider’s face in mere milliseconds.  It honestly seems like they couldn’t keep the camera still for even a minute. I haven’t seen their Crank movies, but if they’re like the abominable work on display here, you can count me out.

That being said, the worst part of the film is Nicolas Cage.  Oh Nicolas.  This, my friend, is the nail in the coffin in what was once your glorious career.   A particular scene in the middle of the film radiates that idea; Johnny is in the midst of interrogating this guy for answers when his face begins to transform into the Ghost Rider. He starts spouting out gibberish, including the “internet-meme-in-the-making” line “IT’S SCRATCHING AT THE DOOR!!! AUGHUGH!!!” Remember, he’s not doing this for comedy, oh goodness no. This is all played straight as an arrow.  Next in this abysmal scene, Nic yells and spits at this guy for answers in such a way that makes me question his entire acting career up to this point. Is this the Academy Award winning Nicolas Cage I see before me? Or some guy that is out of his mind? I’ll let you be the judge, though frankly, I’d say he should be institutionalized.

Other actors in the film fare so-so; Johnny Witworth plays a villainous fellow who can decay things and hams up the role. He does a decent job, though I found him neither menacing nor funny, despite the various attempts when they try to portray him as such.  Idris Elba does fine work in his thankless role, managing an awesome-despite-appearances performance that he also accomplished well in Thor.  Finally, Ciaran Hinds playing the role of Satan (he’s called Rourke, but it’s never a secret who he really is) is what I presume to be the result of a lost bar bet. He has some acting moments, but always looks lost in this cesspool of horrendousness.

Sure, there are some good 3D moments and the visuals look neat (I like how the Ghost Riders leather jacket is always bubbling), but this a superhero movie makes Green Lantern look like the Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2 by comparison.  At least Howard the Duck offered some fun, campy moments. Here, though, it’s just stupid and depressing set piece after stupid and depressing set piece.  Heaven only knows how this stupid trash got made, but I hope it never happens again. There’s a good movie waiting to be made based on the Rider, but no one has even come close yet. This attempt, in fact, may remain the epitome of not just bad Ghost Rider films, but bad cinema period. This is by far the worst movie I’ve seen in a movie theater in a long time.