Makes the first Ghost Rider seem like stone-baked gold.
Despite the robust box-office kerching! generated by the first Ghost Rider back in 2007, it’s fair to say that audiences weren’t exactly champing at the bit for another installment of revved-up comic book overload from Nic Cage as Faustian hothead Johnny Blaze.
Sony, the studio behind Spirit of Vengeance, didn’t appear to be especially enthusiastic about the idea either, slashing the film’s budget and shunting production off to the bleak flatlands and aggregate mines of Eastern Europe (aka The Celluloid Gulag).
A flicker of hope for this disavowed Frankenstein’s monster arrived with the engagement of writer-director duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor who were responsible for the turbocharged batshittery of the Crank films. If anyone could weld the outrageous, old school badassness of the Rider to Cage’s Special Acting Style, it would surely be the guys who had Jason Statham munching down on live electric cables.
All this of, however, was tempered by the fact that the pair were also the script wizards behind that other undead and unloved second-string comic character adaptation Jonah Hex.
It’s sad to report that Spirit of Vengeance has little of the boisterous Xbox vitality of their Crank-ed up finest, but plenty in common with the slack narrative, confounding characters, bromidic dialogue, shaky SFX and palpable ambition-to-budget shortfall of the Jimmy Hayward-directed atrocity, Hex.
With a plot that flits between derivative and derisive, it sees Cage’s Johnny Blaze jam-hot stunt rider turned reluctant Satanic envoy called upon by boozy French tough-nut priest, Moreau (Idris Elba), to save a child sired by the devil (Ciarán Hinds).
For reasons left unclear, Blaze now resides, alone, in a tumbledown workers garage in the wilderness, presumably sat there in maddening isolation since the end of the last film.
The lack of conviction brought to the story echoes throughout the entire production, with dumb character reveals, disjointed scenes, drab locations and stranded pauses in the middle of action sequences. The occasional flash of directorial bravado, such as Cage burning headlong toward camera whilst being rocked by a dose of the Jacob’s Ladder face-shakes, or a minimalist Saul Bass-y dream sequence, exists in empty space that one would be tempted to describe as airless if it weren’t so very, very loud.
Elba manages to bring some genuine charisma to his scenes, clearly enjoying the opportunity to revel in a bit of amiable sidekick humour between his grittier roles. Hinds, on the other hand, puts in what might be the very first poor performance of his illustrious career, ditching his usual unaffected reserve but never truly allowing himself to embrace the cartoon evil of it all.
But, many who brave Spirit of Vengeance, will be there solely on ‘Cage Watch’. And he doesn’t disappoint. An actor who has come not only to regard anger as an energy, but to view shouting as a bona fide emotion, the Rider seems like a natural extension of his own bewitchingly frazzled screen persona.
Pitching it somewhere between incendiary Vampire’s Kiss upswings and ‘lucky crack pipe’ Bad Lieutenant schitz-outs with just an occasional shading of cow-eyed It Could Happen To You placidity to soften the edges – he is quite the most memorable thing in the film. He always is.
Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not. In this instance, we should just be happy to take away what little we can get.
The Crank boys versus Johnny Blaze versus poor advance word versus Stringer Bell? We're in.
Hey, the early-'90s called – they want their plasticky CGI scuffles in abandoned quarries, low speed chases along abandoned B-roads and climactic battles in abandoned amphitheatres back!
You’ll no doubt hear it said elsewhere, but, by comparison, this really does make the first Ghost Rider seem like stone-baked gold.