February 19, 2012

Movie Review: Ghost Rider - Spirit of Vengeance

The Ghost Rider movies are starting to feel a lot like the Punisher movies, they make them, get a few things right, a bunch of stuff wrong and make just enough money to keep people interested in another potential movie down the road. There have been three Punisher movies, none of them have been connected, but all have certain entertaining aspects to them. Now we have two Ghost Rider movies and aside from Nicolas Cage in the lead, they do not seem to have all that much in common. It is a sequel, sure, but a very loose one at that. Spirit of Vengeance strips away a lot of unnecessary chatter, takes it down to the basics. It gets a lot of things wrong and is sure to rub a lot of people the wrong way. Not me.

Let me tell you, if you don't like this movie, I don't care. If you hate this movie, I don't care. As I sat in that theater, I felt downright giddy at the explosion of nonsense that was unfolding before me. It is a pure stream of consciousness craziness that could only have been told by Neveldine/Taylor, the duo behind the creative, absurdist insanity of the Crank movies. This takes their hyperkinetic sensibilities and filters it through a familiar B-level comic book, the end result is something to behold. More of an experience than a movie.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a movie that speaks to the B-movie lover in me. The old school variety that you really don't get anymore. You know, the old B-movies and grindhouse movies where they have cool concepts paired with low budget executions with wildly mixed results. The old Corman films are a good example, or the exploitation actioners and rip offs of A-list movies made in the 1970s and 1980s. The B-movie landscape has changed, gone are the days of filmmakers making these low-budget gems and taking them out on the road to go on the big screen. Gone are the days of marketing to a new and exciting home video market with the dawn of the VHS age. What we have now are the few remaining B-movie makers like Full Moon entertainment, new rip off makers like Asylum, TV networks like SyFy, and the studios who make A-list budgeted movies to feel a bit like an old B-movie.

This is a movie whose internal logic and plot flow are all over the map. The story has some secret religious sect protecting a boy whose existence means something important over the next few days as a prophecy is about to be fulfilled. Well, bad guys with guns storm the Eastern European compound and the boy escapes with his mother, followed by an agent of the sect named Moreau (Idris Elba).

This leads us to the reintroduction of Johnny Blaze. He has been on the run, isolating himself, fighting the Rider from coming out and the troubles he brings with him. Moreau tracks him down and says that the Ghost Rider is needed to track down the boy before the Devil, now called Roarke (Ciaran Hinds), and his cronies find him and cause bad things to happen. Blaze agrees to help, bad guys and pseudo-good guys collide, Ghost Rider takes out those who are evil and tries to save the boy.

That is about as deep and involved as it gets. Seriously, this is not an overly complicated movie. Hell, it isn't complicated at all. What it does have is a combination of a goofy, comical tone, and one that has a much darker edge. It is all wrapped up in that crazy visual explosion that can only be created by Neveldine/Taylor.

Spirit of Vengeance is all flash, what you see is what you get. There are nicely done interludes of animated mythology to fill in a few of the blanks, just try not to get too hooked on the details. There are plenty of leaps of logic to navigate here, it is better to just let it be and go along with it, it makes the movie a lot more fun.

This movie is just crazy. It is constantly moving, when the characters aren't moving, the camera is. This directing duo bring an unstoppable energy to this piece of entertainment. On top of that, the design of this movie is a big step up from the prior film. Ghost Rider, himself, gets a nice makeover that makes him look more like a charred skeleton and the leather he wears like suitably worn and burned. The bike is no longer a big shiny chopper, it is a massive and old looking bike that feels and looks a lot better to me. The flames now give off smoke and the effect looks great on the screen.

The performances are good enough for the material. Idris Elba with the weird accent he takes on is very good and Violante Placido is fine as the boys mother. Ciaran Hinds has a suitably evil presence, and Johnny Whitworth is fine as his lacky, Carrigan  (I believe he is meant to be Blackout, but I am not sure). There are also appearances from Anthony Stewart Head and Christopher Lambert, a couple of pleasant surprises.

Now, the one actor that holds it all together is Nicolas Cage, the guy so many love to hate. I used to not be that crazy about him, but he is winning me over. I mean that. He takes over the top acting and mugging to a whole new level (just check out the Nicolas Cage Losing his Shit compilation). His work here is hilarious, intense, hypnotic, and bizarre. This is not something that just anybody can do and no one does it quite like him.

No, this is not a perfect movie, it is not necessarily a good Ghost Rider story. However, it did touch on a lot of things that I enjoy, the crazy tone, nonstop action, a reckless forward surge, a tale that seems to have some internal logic but also defies it at every turn, and a nice visual intensity. This really is a movie to have fun with. I found any desire to pick it apart to be buried before it even started.

I like this movie, a lot. It is crazy and irrational and I am all right with that. You do know it is all right to just enjoy a crazy piece of cinema on its own terms, right? This goofiness broke down my defenses. There is some downright hilarious stuff here, including classic Cage freakouts. There is some good action and I like the effects. I think this would make a nice double feature with Drive Angry.

I cannot say this will appear on any "best of" lists, but I do know that I enjoyed the hell out of it. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Highly Recommended.

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