Conventional logic tells us that, generally speaking, super-hero sequels are better than their predecessors. Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2, The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, even Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer were all the peaks of their relative franchises. Therefore, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance should, on paper, improve on the original, an easy task, one would think, considering how much of a mess the first film was.
Roping in the minds behind the gleefully demented Crank seemed like an obvious step in the right direction. Nic Cage, for better or worse, is at his most entertaining when he loses his shit (see Bad Lieutenant and, ahem, The Wicker Man respectively) and if any filmmakers would be prone to allowing Cage the room to be as mental as the role should be, then it is the directing team of Nevaldine / Taylor. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work.
And that’s being kind.
Cage’s Johnny Blaze is now hiding in Europe where the demonic Ghost Rider still torments him. With the promise of finally being ridden of his unwanted demon, Blaze, with the help of Idris Elba, must track down a young boy who has, for reasons that are not entirely explained, caught the attention of the Devil himself.
What follows should have been a no-holds-barred dement-a-thon that allowed Nevaldine / Taylor the free reign to take the franchise into some dark places. The material practically begs to go the way of The Punisher to be dark, nasty and aimed squarely at adults (although, ultimately, The Punisher was crap). But in working within the remits of a 12A certificate, the film, at times, often feels neutered, pandering to the niche market without offending the kiddies in the audience. There are only glimpses of the film it could have been (one bad guy has the ability to decay anything he touches, leading to some grisly but un-explicit results).
But this isn’t the main reason the film doesn’t work. It is clear, during the, admittedly, entertaining moments when Cage becomes the Ghost Rider that the budget was spent here. The set-pieces are almost from a different film, such is the polished slickness of these scenes and they demonstrate that, when they try, Nevaldine / Taylor can handle action competently. Yet so bad is the downtime, it all but scuppers any flourish the action beats have. When Cage is merely Johnny Blaze, there is still an attempt on his part to play the brooding victim with cringe-worthy results, whilst Cirian Hinds is so above the lackluster material that it’s an embarrassment to see him try, especially on the back of his excellent work in The Woman in Black. Only Idris Elba seems to get it. Much like Dwayne Johnson in Fast and Furious 5, Elba has his tongue firmly in his cheek for the duration. He’s easily the most entertaining aspect of the film.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a cluster fuck. It’s unsurprising to find it’s messy but it’s difficult to emphasize just how messy it is. For most of the run-time, it feels akin to a cheap shitty fan-film that happens to star Nic Cage. In fact, without Cage’s presence this would be relegated to straight-to-DVD territory.
Watch out for cameos from Anthony Head and Christopher Lambert.