Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Originally posted on on February 17, 2012

Words cannot express how much I loathe Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance.

I hate it with every fiber of my being.

I despise it with all my heart.

Usually, it takes at least a few minutes before I form an opinion of a film, but this thing had be knowing that it would be a rough 95 minutes right from the get go. The first sequence starts in some generic Eastern European monastery with some high-tech monk spies led by Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Giles is arguing with Heimdal from Thor about what to do with some boy the audience doesn’t know from Adam.

Now let’s stop and analyze this for a second.

One, Eastern Europe? What the fuck? Why are we in Eastern Europe? What in the hell is a stunt rider from middle America doing in Eastern fucking Europe? What the hell does this have to do with anything from the first film?

Two, Idris Elba? Anthony Head? Where the hell is Nicolas Cage (who plays Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider)? Who the fuck are these people? We’re about 10 minutes in, have had a headache inducing car chase, and been introduced to several brand new characters that had nothing to do with the first film.

Three, why should we give a fuck about anything that’s going on here?

Hold on. I’m having an asthma attack.



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It bugs me that Marvel Films keeps letting two bit hacks at its properties. They should have shit canned Mark Steven Johnson after he made the Daredevil movie, but nooo. They let him get his cooties all over the first Ghost Rider film. Listening to the commentary, you hear how people might fall for his shtick: everything he says sounds perfect reasonable. In his commentary for the “Extended Edition” DVD, he actually says that after watching Batman Begins he and his filmmaker buddies went back and told people that that’s not the type of movie they were making. They were making something that was more “accessible” to people. Something that was “fun”.


Now I’ll tell you, I do enjoy the first Ghost Rider movie, but it in no way compares to anything Christopher Nolan has done for the Batman franchise. It does not compare to anything Singer has done for the X-Men or Favreau for Iron Man. Those are guys with a healthy helping of talent, who know and respect the characters they took on. They weren’t making comic book movies. They made films about people in extraordinary situations.

It’s a distinction that might go over some folks’ heads, but for the geek in me, it’s everything. Branagh conceptualized his adaptation of Thor as a Norse version of a Shakespearean play. Raimi fought to pare down a bloated Spider-Man script and focus on Parker’s surrogate father figure relationship with Norman Osborne. Ostensibly, the Ghost Rider comics were about guilt and redemption. It would have been an easy thing to write an arc that played on that.

What did we get? A silly love story and some boring fight scenes with various useless lackeys of a petulant demon.

None of the “support” characters were really necessary, the threat of Blackheart was never really felt, and the best things about it (Sam Elliot and Peter Fonda) were wasted on bit parts. Sure, they weren’t making this for the Academy, but the least they could have done was sharpen the story a bit.

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This brings us to Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance.

Mark Steve Johnson is still here, but in the Executive Producer role instead of as the Director. Nicolas Cage is reprising his role as Johnny Blaze, the host of the Ghost Rider. Other than that, though, everything else has changed, right down to tone and theme of the film.

The first movie was allegedly a “Western,” (even though it felt as much like a Western as Star Trek did). You knew it because Sam Elliot rode a horse and wore a cowboy hat. This one is something else. If I had to say, I’d say it was an episode of Highlander (which is funny because Christopher Lambert shows up later on). And not during the good middle seasons, either, but one of the ones toward the end where they started getting all silly with religion.

The Highlander comparison isn’t too far off. The last time I felt this bad about a film was when I watched Highlander: The Source. Both films have largely Eastern European locations, star a lot off non-American actors, feature a whole gaggle of techno savvy monks/priests who serve as cannon fodder, and showcase an “avant-garde” style with lots of hand-held shots, Dutch angles, and quick cuts.

They also both suck beyond belief.

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The directors, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, are “known” for their two Crank movies. If you’re not familiar with Crank, the premise is that the main character needs to keep his heart rate above a certain level or the poison in his body will kill him. It’s 88 minutes of badly filmed gratuitous violence. Crank: High Voltage is more of the same, only with an even more preposterous story that sees both protagonist and antagonist survive a fall from a helicopter.

While Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance’s story isn’t that ridiculous the treatment of the material is just as tasteless. Crash zooms, slow motion, hand-held, wide-angles, and the aforementioned canted franes all combine with Cage’s manic spasticity to make a movie that is literally painful to watch. I imagine it’s even worse in 3D.

Let me give you an image to illustrate how utterly insipid this entire exercise is. Danny, the boy that was kidnapped in the beginning (played by Fergus Riordan), asks Johnny Blaze what he happens if the Ghost Rider has to pee. Johnny tells him that it’s like a flamethrower: the Ghost Rider shoots gouts of flame from his ghostly penis. Neveldine/Taylor then proceeds to show us that exact image. The Ghost Rider with his hands on his crotch, shooting a torrent of flame from his ghostly gonads. He even turns to the camera and fucking winks.

Then they use it AGAIN later in the film. And marketing uses it on the official website.


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Despite my ranting, I really thought that there was great talent behind some aspects of this film. The Production Design Department on this picture deserved a better director and a better script than they got. This Ghost Rider is everything I’ve ever wanted. Sure, the white skull floating unaffected in a pool of flame is cool and all, but the Spirits of Vengeance we get here is all about the crazy!

His skull is stained black with soot, the pits of his eye sockets hidden in the black. His face is often backlit by the flames. Pillars of thick, dark smoke fall of those flames in waves. His leather clothes are charred and flaking, the surface of his jacket blistering. His build is tall and lean, and his skull is less anatomically correct and more aesthetically sinister.

In short, he looks like the demon he’s supposed to be. The hound of hell.

His bike is just as awesome. Not that the first movie bike wasn’t. That one was great for the Stunt Rider Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, all slick and shiny. This one is great for the Demon Zarathos Ghost Rider, all grimy and textured. They went for a more modern look, which I guess coincides with the way the comic’s been going these past few years (my GR days were when Mackie and Texeria were doing the Dan Ketch arcs). There aren't any skulls or bones on it, but it does goes well with the way the Cage looks in the costume.

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It really is unacceptable that Marvel keeps letting their licences get trashed like this. I mean when the Punisher: War Zone turning out so well, I thought the Marvel Knights line of films was going to be doing better. You hear Lexi Alexander talking about the character in the commentary and you know she gets what the book was all about. That's the kind of person you need at the helm of one of these things. Not these retards.

Really, Marvel guys. Get Brad Bird in a room. Maybe Alex Proyas. Go nuts and ask Scorsese to do one! No more of these crap fests, please!

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