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Blu-Ray Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

'As a B-grade horror/action hybrid, and the lowered expectations that come with that description, it’s a very fun experience.'

 

If I had to pick my favorite scene in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, I’d have to say it’s the one where a small boy barfs fire into Nicolas Cage’s mouth. I can’t imagine I’m alone on this, although god knows there’s a lot more to choose from: flaming urine, demonically possessed construction equipment, Christopher Lambert’s face doubling as a Post-It note and a truly odd celebration of Twinkies all coagulate into a motion picture experience that I had to see twice to fully believe. It’s not that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is the craziest film I’ve ever seen, not by a long shot, but the sheer fact that it “works” took a second viewing to sink in. It’s out on DVD and Blu-ray this week, and I highly recommend you check it out. Bring the psychotropic substance of your choice.

Ghost Rider still doesn’t entirely work as a character, mind you. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance goes to great lengths in order to explain why a demon from hell would fight bad guys in the first place, but fundamentally he’s still played like a satanic Incredible Hulk. Nicolas Cage plays Johnny Cage, cursed to turn into a demon and kick ass at the most inopportune times. He’s been trying to hold it in for so long that he’s starting to act like, well, cagey. He’s at the end of his rope, so when Idris Elba shows up with an offer to lift his curse in exchange for saving the antichrist, he jumps at the chance.

The antichrist, played by Fergus Riordan, is on the run from the devil, played by Ciaran Hinds, taking over from Ghost Rider’s Peter Fonda. Spirit of Vengeance justifies the casting change by making it a plot point: the devil is so powerful that he burns through human host bodies pretty quickly, which explains why he needs to shunt his essence into Fergus Riordan. It fails to explain why Hinds also plays the devil in a flashback, or why Cage was suddenly an adult when he made his deal in the first place. But these are petty concerns, apparently.

The devil has sent his best… er, most geographically convenient henchmen after our heroes. He’s played by Limitless’s Johnny Whitworth, and eventually he turns into Blackout, a villain who with the power to decompose anything he touches. This includes human flesh, swords and food. How exactly he can drive a car – and why he’s not pissed about this awful curse – is never discussed. There is a joke about how he can only eat Twinkies, which is at least mildly amusing.

The plot of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is extremely familiar, and has little to contribute to the world at large. It’s all a delivery system for the kind of wanton madness that directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are known for after films like Crank and Gamer. While their run-and-gun shooting style does the film few favors – it looks like it was shot by the EPK team – their desire to fill their film with over the top performances, odd jokes and genuinely eerie special effects compensate for Spirit of Vengeance’s many other deficiencies. Ghost Rider himself now feels like a stop-motion creation, herking and jerking his way through every scene like he’s in a malevolent stupor, and the effect is almost disturbing. His powers now allow him to transform giant construction equipment into behemoths of unholy destruction, and that’s pretty damned neat. His powers are a little poorly defined, though. Early in the film he’s defeated by a few grenades, but a few scenes later he’s soaking up bunker busters like a sponge. Consistency is all I ask.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance doesn’t hold up to the better superhero films now available, the ones that balance their character’s inherent oddness with an interesting storyline, relevant themes and performances that don’t belong in a loony bin. But as a B-grade horror/action hybrid, and the lowered expectations that come with that description, it’s a very fun experience with an impressive Blu-ray to back it up. There’s an impressively comprehensive video commentary from the directors, a six part documentary on the making of the film and, of course, deleted scenes. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance dwarfs the previous film in entertainment value, and it’s good enough to see for yourself.