'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' finds a reviewer in a forgiving mood
I don't think it's entirely unfair to hold modern superhero movies to a different standard than other, typically loftier cineplex fare. If we didn't, where exactly would we be regarding directing duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's new Marvel Comics film "Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance?"
Outside thumbing our noses, probably, fraternizing around the popcorn machine to catch a late showing of "The Descendants," because Clooney was really that good in it.
But in doing so we might be missing out on one of the baser reasons to go to the movies: having a silly, good time.
To be fair, not many people agree that "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" gives even that.
It's weak in many of what you might consider the moviemaking fundamentals: clear narrative causality, consistency of tone, compelling and productive dialogue, believable special effects, multifaceted "real" characters and so on.
Created by the team behind 2006's "Crank," "Spirit of Vengeance" is the sequel to the loathsome 2007 "Ghost Rider." Both movies star Nicolas Cage as stunt motorcycle driver, Johnny Blaze, who sells his soul to the devil to save his father from terminal cancer.
As these things often go, the devil's deal isn't exactly what it seems and Blaze winds up possessed by a demon, the titular spirit of vengeance, a corrupted and insane fallen angel who possesses his body at night to roam the countryside reaping the sinning souls of mankind. In the process, naturally, it turns Blaze's head into a screaming, blackened skull and whatever vehicle he's riding in into a smoldering version of itself replete with black smoke and flames.
It's not exactly acting. It's playing out a long joke, and many scenes can be construed as merely vehicles for Cage to riff off his various crazed facial expressions and frantic vocal pitches. The man's manic on-screen persona has long been a viral Internet meme. If anyone knows that audiences and producers expect him to wig out on camera, it's Cage. And as hackneyed as it might now seem, Cage is not one to disappoint.
As weighted down by missteps and flaws as it is, "Spirit of Vengeance" has a genuine aura of energy and giddy fun around it, which I couldn't help but respond to. The creators seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves making it, and you can almost hear their stifled giggling in the background during some of the scenes of over-the-top silliness.
The Ghost Rider's ability to change anything he steps in into a burning version of itself is milked to extremes. More so than in the previous iteration, the tortured evil of the demonic spirit possessing the Rider was kneaded into the character's mien. In a surprisingly effective turn, backstory is handled with animated sequences. It's nothing spectacular but enough to break up the pace and provide mandatory exposition without resorting to replaying scenes from the first film.
In a particularly barren February moviescape, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is a bit of lowbrow, trashy cinema. If you go in with your expectations down and criticism set to low, you can forgive the movie's glaring weaknesses and flaws and enjoy the little bits of goodness it does give you. Why bother taking a movie about a flaming motorcycle riding superhero so seriously anyway?
"Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance" is now playing at Rave Motion Pictures on Carpenter Road and the Goodrich Quality 16 on Jackson Road.
Ryan Levin is a film and television blogger and a graduate of the University of Michigan's Screen Arts and Cultures program. Find his previous review of "The Woman in Black" here on AnnArbor.com.