Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not so much a sequel to the whole bunch of nothing that was the original Ghost Rider as it’s an altogether new story and reboot of the titular Marvel supernatural superhero. In fact, I’d liken the two Ghost Rider films to Ang Lee’s Hulk and subsequent series reboot The Incredible Hulk, which is part of the upcoming The Avengers lineup – both movies might have the same main character but they’re essentially separate entities.
There are retcons aplenty (don’t look for continuity here) and it seems that the only carryover from the 2007 film is star Nicolas Cage. It’s a good thing too, since Cage unhinges himself as ex-stunt daredevil Johnny Blaze – he transforms into the Ghost Rider when in the presence of evil thanks to an ill-conceived contract with the Devil. It’s a pretty loony performance at the best of times, and should satisfy if all you want to see is an epic freak out from the man known for wholesome freak outs.
A significant improvement is the design of the Ghost Rider himself. No longer the stiff robot bore from before, the Rider is now a tortured and unpredictable menace; Cage’s crazed self is clearly manifest in the being as it cocks its charred flaming skull and contorts beneath its bubbling leather jacket. Another big plus is that the Rider rarely speaks, conveying character through body language and manic laughter alone. The result is that it actually has a tangible presence this time and feels appropriately intimidating.
It helps that the Rider has some great action scenes (my word, that giant fiery crane thingamajig!), courtesy of dangerous duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (the guys behind Crank and Crank: High Voltage). These two are just as crazy as Cage; featurettes show them rollerblading with cameras and dangling from wires to get all kinds of kinetic shots and bizarre camera angles. Their footage is then combined with fast-paced editing and tripping effects to create intense and surprisingly confronting stimuli, despite the lack of blood and gore.
You might notice however, that I haven’t really mentioned the story. That’s because there isn’t much of one to talk about. In short, Blaze is struggling to bear the burden of the Ghost Rider when he’s approached by a Frenchman named Moreau (Idris Elba) who tells him that he can be freed from his curse if he helps protect a certain boy from falling into the hands of the Devil (Ciarán Hinds). It’s a plot that recalls End of Days and is essentially just there to join the more exciting action setpieces together. On the other hand, most backstory is told through short but efficient animated sequences that are peppered throughout the film, preventing the experience from getting bogged down in exposition. Yet perhaps Neveldine and Taylor could benefit from a little reining in – a little slowing down – in order to help us connect with the thin characters and teased universe.
The story is therefore rote, but enough. Enough to underpin the film’s over the top action and crazed direction, which are equal parts mad and genius. That said, I think it’s useful to ask a simple question: do you want to see Nicolas Cage go nuts? If your answer is yes then by all means check out Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance at cinemas. It’s got at least that much to set your skull on fire, and in so doing hopefully won’t turn your brain to molten mush.
A categorical improvement over the first film, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is dark, edgy and intense and features the latest and greatest in the eternal saga of Nicolas Cage freak outs. Not much of a story though.