June 15, 2012

Blu-ray Review: Ghost Rider - Spirit of Vengeance

We now have two Ghost Rider movies and aside from Nicolas Cage, they do not seem to have all that much in common. It is a sequel, albeit a very loose one. Spirit of Vengeance strips away a lot of unnecessary chatter, takes it down to the basics. It is a movie that gets a lot of things wrong, is far from the perfect Ghost Rider movie, and is sure to rub a lot of people the wrong way. Not me. It doesn't hurt that Ghost Rider is not exactly a traditional hero, his supernatural basis opens a lot of different doors to explore for what is still a comic book superhero movie.

Let me be straight with you, if you don't like this movie, I don't care. If you hate this movie, I don't care. I feel downright giddy as I watch this explosion of nonsense unfolding before my eyes. 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. They take their hyperkinetic sensibility and filter it through the supernatural themed comic book and B-movie schlock and throw it up on the screen for all to see. 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. 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, with their exploitation actioners and rip offs of A-list movies (think Galaxy of Terror, originally conceived as an Alien knock off). 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. These days we have major studios who make A-list budgeted movies to feel a bit like an old B-movie. This is an interesting example of a movie with big intentions but a definite B-movie feel.

This is a movie whose internal logic and plot flow are all over the map. The story tells of a 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 (shot on location in Transylvania) and the boy escapes with his mother, followed by an agent of the sect named Moreau (Idris Elba).

An animated sequence then reintroduces us to Johnny Blaze, telling of the bad deal he made with the devil and what happened to him because of it. We catch up with him on the run, isolating himself, fighting the Rider from coming out, knowing what his coming out means. 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 reluctantly agrees to help, in exchange for a little help with his unique bi-polar situation.

Bad guys and 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 a complicated movie. What it does have is a combination of tones, simultaneously goofy, comical , and also very dark. On top of that, it is all wrapped up in a 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 constantly moving, when the characters aren't moving, the camera is. There is an unstoppable energy to this piece of entertainment. It doesn't hurt 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. It really is an awesome look, it is much creepier and makes him seem more imposing, threatening, and downright evil (in a heroic sort of way).

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.

The one guy who brings it all together is Nicolas Cage, the guy so many love to hate. I used to among the anti-Cage-ites, but I must admit that he is winning me over. I mean that. He takes over the top acting and mugging to a whole new level. His work here is hilarious, intense, hypnotic, and bizarre. This is not something that just anybody can do and no one does crazy quite like him.

No, this is not a perfect movie, it is not even a good Ghost Rider story. However, it did touch on a lot of things that I love, the crazy tone, nonstop action, the reckless forward motion. It is a tale that seems to have some internal logic but also defies it at every turn, and does it with 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.

Audio/Video. The video is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and looks really good. This transfer shows off what high definition can look like. This movie has a nice mix of dark and light sequences with some very sharp colors and the transfer is more than up to the task of showing them as they should be seen. The flames and resulting smoke look great, there is also a great level of detail seen in closeups, just look at the skull and the burned leather. In the night sequences there is a strong black level and no loss of detail. Very nice to watch.

The audio is up to the task, matching the excellent video. It is  DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that does a nice job of enveloping the listener, displaying its power across all channels while not downright pummeling your ears. The dialogue is always clear and nicely centered, the score fills out the soundfield with a nice hard rock feel, and the various effects, gunshots, fire, screeching tires, all well directioned. I really liked the first appearance of Ghost Rider, the crazy sounds from the distance mixed with the surprised character reactions and finished with the score paired with the slow reveal of our hero. There is also some great sound mixing done at the quarry scene with the big rocket and the hellfire strip mining machine.

Extras. It should be noted that the 3D Blu-ray release actually has 2 disks, one 3D and one 2D. The extras are actually split between the disks, with the commentary, deleted scenes, and behind the scenes documentary on the 2D disk and one brief featurette about the 3D on the 3D disk. (plus, the 3D disk will play 2D as well, although it doesn't quite look as good).
  • Director's Expanded Video Commentary. I must admit, this is one of the more fun commentaries I have experienced in awhile. There are your usual talky commentaries and ones that include video embeds that take you behind he scenes, but this one is different. It is a full on multimedia show. We get behind the scenes clips, interview clips, picture in picture bits, and traditional commentary bits that take you right into the production, letting you in on some of the secrets and tricks of the trade. Neveldine and Taylor seem like a couple of fun guys who had a blast making this movie. Definitely check this out.
  • Deleted Scenes. A selection of cut bits that wouldn't necessarily hurt the movie, but would definitely alter the pace.
  • The Path of Vengeance. This is broken into six segments and runs for nearly 90-minutes. It features interviews and behind the scenes footage and covers many aspects of the production, from the genesis of the story, to putting together the script and cast, to shooting and the difficulties  it brought, as well as post production and the finishing of the film.
  • Riding into Another Dimension. This featurette is exclusive to the 3D version. It takes a look at how they went about making the desire to shoot 3D a reality and still allow these mad men to shoot the way in which they are accustomed.
Bottomline. 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.

Highly Recommended.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Ghost Rider - Spirit of Vengeance on Blogcritics.

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