It seems almost baffling to me that Ghost Rider 2 exists. Firstly, who decided to bank roll a relatively large budget film from the two lunatics responsible for the Crank movies? Secondly, how do you get said lunatics to make a movie about a motorcyclist with a flaming skull and only walk away with a 12a certificate?
That sense of restraint, of making concessions for others, is what is keeping Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance from being a truly off the wall superhero movie. That said, what we get is pretty out there for this homogenised genre.
This Ghost Rider sequel could function very easily as a part one, a fresh start, the only carry-over from the last movie being Nic Cage’s Johnny Blaze. This film establishes his origins in cool animated sequence and flashbacks, with a complete retcon of the Devil (formerly Peter Fonda’s Mephisto, now Ciarán Hinds’ Roarke).
What makes Ghost Rider 2 really stand out are the moments of Crank-lite crazy from Neveldine/Taylor and Cage, unfortunately these blissfully nutty sequences are punctuated by a lot of boring action scenes and some hangdog under-acting from Cage. The times Ghost Rider 2 really tries to go for it, they make the film worth it.
The visual flourishes that recall the invention of the Crank movies, are always the most entertaining parts but render the 3D worthless. It just never quite matches the tone or momentum of Neveldine/Taylor’s cult classics. While the exploits of Chev Chelios had the freedom to push the boundaries, hammering away at conventional pacing standards with a real punk rock energy, this is a studio picture and it feels reigned in at times. Every time the movie feels like it is picking up a head of steam, it has to slow down for some character beats or forced attempts at emotion. They would be a complete waste of time if it weren’t for the fact this is a Nic Cage movie.
The inconsistency in the movies tone and pace is also true of Cage’s performance; sometimes he is going full on Bad Lieutenant, sometimes he went National Treasure, sometimes he looked like he had forgotten how to behave like a human being. I wish he was able to maintain that demented/oddball tone for the entire film because it would have really helped out in the slower, duller moments, but it’s clear that he just showed up on set those days and said, “I’d like to try something different.”
I picture him saying that every other day of filming, actually.
His performance as The Rider itself is hilarious to watch, full of over-rehearsed gesticulations and prolonged moments of screaming, this compensates for the fact every fight scene consists entirely of Ghost Rider swinging a chain in a circle. If this were a Street Fighter 2 tournament, he would be disqualified for abusing the throw button.
Support is small and mixed in results, with Violante Placido and Fergus Riordan having very little to do despite extended screen time, whereas Idris Elba makes every frame count in his role as a gun-toting, wine-guzzling French priest. He doesn’t phone it in, he looks like he’s having an absolute blast affecting the broadest accent this side of a ‘Ello ‘Ello repeat, and that enthusiasm plays in his scenes. Johnny Whitworth does his best in the role of henchman and Ciarán Hinds hams it up as Satan, playing the part as if he were gradually succumbing to the symptoms of a stroke.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not a good movie, it’s not even as accomplished as Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank series (which I will defend to the death), make no mistake it is a bad movie but it’s a bad movie that I really enjoyed watching. If you are familiar with Paul Scheer’s excellent podcast “How Did This Get Made?”, where films that defy belief are examined in a comic light, you will understand when I say that this is the perfect film for that series.
When you talk about it with friends, odds are you will recall the weirder moments, the parts that never quite made sense in the context of the scene, you will recall Cage’s bipolar performance, and you will genuinely wonder how this movie got made.
I’m not saying it’s good. I’m not saying this is for everyone. What I am saying is I am glad it did get made.