Ghost Rider has always been a niche character for Marvel Comics. The character was born out of an earlier Marvel character named Night Rider. After Marvel writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich and artist Mike Ploog had rein-visioned the character into Ghost Rider during the early 70’s it has always remained on the extreme fringes of the Marvel Comics universe. This wouldn’t stop Sony (which owned the film rights to the character) to go ahead and adapt it for the big-screen. 2007’s Ghost Rider by Mark Johnson was the first and failed attempt to turn the character into a film franchise. It still made enough money despite a near-universal panning of the film by critics and audiences alike. This turn of profit is why Sony once again dipped into the Ghost Rider well and come up with 2012’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
This “sort of” sequel ditches Mark Johnson and brings in the dynamic (and I’d say somewhat insane) directing duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor to helm the film. It brings back Nicolas Cage for the role of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. Working from a script by Scott Gimple, Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer one would think the film had nowhere else to go but up especially with the wacky and frenetic filming style by Neveldine/Taylor. To say that this sequel failed to do anything but finally give this film franchise a final nail in it coffin would be an understatement.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance ditches pretty much most of what transpired with the first film and tries to retcon things for the sequel. I’d say this would’ve been a good idea seeing the first film was truly awful, but what the sequel ended up doing was confuse things even more. The film tries to turn the Ghost Rider persona from just a spirit of vengeance but an angelic being called the spirit of justice which had become corrupted. We get the Devil in the form of Roarke (played by Irish actor Ciaran Hinds) searching for the young boy Danny who is to be his perfect vessel. Johnny Blaze comes into the picture after being recruited by a drunk French warrior-monk by the name of Moreau (Idris Elba whose performance was one of the lone highlights of the film) who promises to exorcise the demon from Blaze in exchange for finding and saving Danny.
This would’ve been a good premise if it had several more drafts of it worked on. Though there’s still a chance the film would’ve still sucked in the end. Even the direction from Neveldine/Taylor (Crank, Crank: High Voltage, Gamer) failed to add any heat to the proceedings. They come up with some unique camera angles and action sequences, but gone was the hyper-realistic and frenetic style they’ve become known for. Their previous films were not stuff to write to one’s film critic circles about but they at least had a sense of fun built into them even if their stories defied any sort of logic.
Even the performances by the cast seemed to be something that barely reached the level of one-dimensional. Nicolas Cage tries to channel his inner crazy by way of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, but it’s too little too late to save the film which never found any sort of footing on the side of competent. Really, the only good thing worth of note was my previous mention of Idris Elba as Moreau who chews the scenery every time he shows up on the screen like it was his last meal. This performance alone wasn’t enough to save the film or even make it somewhat entertaining.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was not worth seeing in the theater (especially in 3D though that part of the film was actually quite well done despite being a post conversion) and I’d be willing to admit that it’s still not worth seeing on video unless it was for free. What could’ve been a restart to the series with the inclusion of Neveldine/Taylor instead gives this franchise it’s death-knell and most likely help Marvel get the rights back from Sony. Here’s to hoping that the flaming skull rider stays on the fringes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for decades to come.