Haaaboy. Ghost Rider 2. OK, let’s just get into this, with a series of thoughts on it, since I don’t feel it’s worth a whole review-type post.
To say Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is better than its predecessor (which the movie only barely concedes actually happened – it even rejiggers the scene where Johnny Blaze sells his soul so that it looks…well, so it looks more like if Neveldine/Taylor had done the first film featuring a guy who is not Peter Fonda Satan) isn’t just damning with faint praise. It’s implying that the film doesn’t have a whole host of its own problems, so I guess if GR1 got a 1 out of 5, then GR2 gets a 1.5 out of 5.
That’s because the couple things it does right ARE massive improvements over the first film, but even that’s debatable (in that Braak and I debated over whether or not they were actually better).
Non-arguable point 1: Setting the film on the desolate, barren roads of Somewhere In Eastern Europe is much closer to the spirit of the character than having him drive through Dallas or Houston or wherever the first one was set, and having Ghost Rider deal with city cops, which is just kinda stupid.
Non-arguable point 2: This is a much better design for Ghost Rider – the charred skull, the bubbling tar jacket, the constant plumes of smoke – than the first one.
The arguable point: Having Nic Cage actually perform the Ghost Rider part, rather than the stunt man who performed the body work in GR1, was preferable to me. Braak, on the other hand, who does not share my love for gonzo Nic Cage performances, asked perfectly reasonable questions, like, “Why is Ghost Rider standing around, shifting his weight and acting like he’s listening to a song in his head, rather than killing all those bad guys surrounding him?”
For me, the answer – because Nic Cage thought it’d be fun – is enough. But yeah, even then, there’s nothing about Cage’s Ghost Rider performance that actually makes intrinsic sense to the character. It always feels like “Nic wanted to do it this way,” and if that’s not a good enough reason for you, then, well, I get that too.
There is not nearly enough Ghost Rider for this movie. To make this clear: the two minutes of Ghost Rider screaming and spitting bullets and peeing fire that you see in the trailer? Yeah…that’s actually MOST of the Ghost Rider parts. The rest of the movie is fairly Nic-Cage-as-Johnny-centric, and as established, Cage spent all his performance-interest on the body language of Ghost Rider.
Hell, he doesn’t even bother trotting out the southern accent he used in the first movie. That’s how little Johnny Blaze actually registers as a character, and he’s the one who gets the vast majority of the screen time.
That’s beyond disappointing. That’s practically a bait-and-switch.
(And it’s not as though there’s not an established character for Johnny Blaze in the comics that the movie could’ve used. Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider run utilized a Johnny who was, for better or worse, kind of a stupid, stubborn redneck, and that actually worked great as someone who’d actually be dumb enough to sign a deal with the devil in the first place.)
There is also not nearly enough Idris Elba. Despite the Proven Scientific Fact that Idris Elba makes everything he’s in 10% better, his drunken Frenchman biker-monk character disappears for large swaths of the movie. Braak and I can only conclude that he was off making some other movie in his off-time. Perhaps The Losers 2: The Legend of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Gold.
Which is really another way of saying The Pacing Is Terrible. This thing, at a scant 90 minutes, feels ridiculously padded out. It is so padded out that that cutaway where the kid imagines what it’s like for Ghost Rider to pee and it comes out like a flame-thrower? That gets used TWICE.
Kids in movies are fucking awful, all the time. Seriously, try to come up with a movie that features a child aged 10-18, that is not about kids (so, no Harry Potters). Now try to think of one where you didn’t think, “Arrr, this fucking kid….” Now, please tell me what that movie was.
Kinda tough, right? Well, it’ll surprise you not at all to learn that the stupid punk kid who’s the son of Satan in this movie is yet another “arr, this fucking kid.”
The bad guys are not invested in anything that’s happening. I mean, Satan’s got an issue – he needs his half-demon offspring so he can possess him, and bla bla bla – but if it’s so important to him, why the hell does he hire a bunch of mercenaries to do the job? Shouldn’t he have, like, special guys for a task like this? Loyal guys?
He ends up turning one of the guys into a version of the Marvel comics C-lister Blackout to do the job after he’s mortally wounded, but…why wouldn’t he already HAVE a guy like that?
In the second (of three – THREE!) big Ghost Rider action setpieces, GR goes apeshit on a bunch of arms dealers on loan from the Iron Man franchise, AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN REALIZE THEY WERE POTENTIALLY INCURRING THE WRATH OF A SUPERNATURAL BIKER. They were just selling a rocket launcher to one of the mercenaries who wanted to shoot Ghost Rider with a rocket.
Braak and I solved all the script problems with about 20 seconds of brainstorming. Simple things, like “Make the devil already possessing the child so Johnny has to decide whether Zarathos really is an angel of justice or a spirit of vengeaance,” and “Use some old-school devil-worshippers, the kind you’d find in old grindhouse movies, as the cannon fodder,” THINGS THAT WOULD HAVE MADE THE MOVIE – AT THE VERY LEAST – BETTER THAN “PRETTY BAD.”
3D remains TERRIBLE. I generally avoid 3D – especially if the movie was just converted and doesn’t have any of those over-the-top “The wrench is being thrown AT THE AUDIENCE WHOAAA” moments – but this was the first time I’ve run into a situation where the only 2D showing was in the afternoon.
I get why studios do this, obviously – the ticket nets them $3 profit – but having to wear stupid uncomfortable glasses, screw up my perception, and honestly make me a little nauseous until my eyes adjusted (Braak, having even more inferior eyes than me, had it even worse), just ensures I won’t spend money on another movie later.
And while I understand just how bad Hollywood is at the whole short-term profit vs. long-term loss thing…I mean, this is a pretty easy one, isn’t it?
So! Short version. Watch the trailer again, and if you think, “That looks fucking stupid,” well…good instincts. But if you think, “That looks goofy as hell, and man, I did dig those Crank movies,” well – imagine that trailer as the best two-minute movie you’re likely to see. Save your money.