Vengeance Is Coming
As an avid comic reader and a bit of a Marvel fanboy, I like the Ghost Rider comics (mostly the Ennis, Way and Aaron stuff) but despite the very simple premise, 2007 saw an extremely disappointing release which was universally panned. Five years later we’re getting a reboot.. sequel.. thing with a complete overhaul of story, visuals, cast and crew – bar Nicolas Cage reprising the lead role. Once again, I’m torn (much like my review for Silent Hill); personally, I really enjoyed this film but I will acknowledge on a comparative scale, it’s far from perfect.
Set some time after the events in Ghost Rider (all of which is briefly explained in the title sequence), Johnny Blaze [Cage] has found himself in Eastern Europe, trying to suppress the demon possessing him – the backlash of his Faustian bargain. At the same time, an alcoholic French monk, Moreau [Elba], is looking to secure a special child and take him to a secure location deep in the mountains. Just as he arrives, the monastery is attacked and the child, Danny [Riordan], narrowly escapes with his mother. We soon learn that the boy is being pursued by the devil, going under the alias of Roarke [Hinds], who intends to sacrifice Danny’s life and transfer his consciousness. Fearing this will grant the devil immense power over man, Moreau seeks out Blaze and tells him that he must release the rider in order to track and protect the child. In exchange, Moreau agrees to restore Johnny’s soul, lifting the curse. Plagued by the rider, Blaze agrees. Unfortunately, his initial encounter doesn’t go perfectly and it becomes apparent that Zarathos (the angel of justice/spirit of vengeance) deeply enjoys executing the guilty and sees no grey area between good and evil. The story then jumps around as we witness the fully destructive power of the rider, we’re introduced to Carrigan [Whitworth] the individual tasked with finding the boy and Moreau holding up his end of the deal, only for both he and Blaze to be betrayed.
Being a Neveldine/Taylor release, this movie thrives on its visual aspects. I think everyone will agree that the story is somewhat lacking and very two dimensional but if I’m being honest, it gets the job done. Furthermore, I wouldn’t say the plot is as expansive as it could be (even some character development would have been nice) but it’s very tightly woven, showing what it needs to without overly convoluting itself in order to tell a decent action-based story. Another point of contention will be the choice of directors. To date I don’t think there’s a single film that the Neveldine/Taylor combo have produced that I have enjoyed (bar this one), although I will admit that Crank had some pretty interesting ideas. Having said that, they are still keen visual directors and the lengths they go to obtain the shots they feel work best are incredibly commendable, guaranteeing an exceptionally unique looking finished product. What that ultimately means is, there’s a great deal of interesting camera work but mostly just for the hell of it and often far too much shaky-cam has been employed making certain scenes a tad nauseating. There is also the noteworthy use of animation but I’ve gone into greater detail about that below.
Then there’s the rider himself. Ghost Rider is no longer just portrayed by a stunt-man but by Cage and the performance is much more entertaining. Equally, the glorious CGI is an immense improvement over the white skulled, clean flamed affair in the last film. This rider violently erupts out with thick black smoke pluming off of crackling living flame, all of which crowns a charred skeleton adorned in burnt, blistering leather. It’s a fucking phenomenal look and chillingly brought to life for the first time. On top of that, the film’s main villain is Carrigan, imbued with the power to mould and decay anything he lays his hands on. It’s a beautiful (albeit grotesque) effect and his attacks are filmed in a rather novel manner… having said that, one does wonder how the steering wheel didn’t decay (I’m not explaining that).
Despite being a much more satisfying release, there’s little joy outside the visuals. The sound effects are fairly base and the score is predictably guitar-heavy but it felt wholly appropriate. As previously stated, there’s no real character development and I found it difficult to care about any of them. On top of that, any character outside of the lead was introduced and disposed of very quickly, if only to give way to a new and exciting visual sequence. But there’s no winning with a film like this! The first instalment was branded too light, cheesy and story-heavy whereas this sequel is supposedly too boldly manic and plotless. Furthermore, reaction to Cage’s acting has already ranged from too contained to over-the-top but if you ask me, this role is based on possession and needs a fair amount of madness. I still don’t know if Nicolas Cage is fit for Johnny Blaze but he makes the role his own and that’s all you can really ask an actor to do.
Personally, I couldn’t care less if other critics, comic book fans or the general public don’t get this film, I really don’t. It’s quite immature in places and will largely appeal to teenage boys but, honestly, who’s surprised by that? It’s a story about a motorcycle riding angel of vengeance with a flaming skull! Ghost Rider is supposed to be over-the-top and indulgent, if anything, this film should have been MORE over-the-top and indulgent. We’re not aiming for cutting edge dark drama with a hint of comedy, this isn’t an adaptation of Preacher or Hellblazer, it’s Ghost Rider and for a Ghost Rider film it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
17th February 2012
The Scene To Look Out For:
On four or five occasions, the film took a brief pause and discussed important expositive moments through animated sequences. A lot of people are going to marmite this and if you get common ground on Cage and the directors, it’ll be these points that finally divide you. Personally, I think sequences such as these are incredibly useful devices for narrating key elements without resorting to expensive effects shots or lengthy flashbacks. When done well, they can often prove to be a highlight of a film. I wouldn’t say the examples here are as memorably brilliant as others (the opening sequence of Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, for example) but they’re useful, sparingly used and vibrantly animated.
First things first, I like Nick Cage. But I like Nick Cage for all the reasons most people hate Nick Cage. The excess of personality, the unnecessary (and often poorly timed) exuberance, the wide-eyed screaming, it works for me. He’s just a silent movie actor who had the horrible misfortune of being born into the wrong decade. But, Cage as the rider is an entirely different matter. Suddenly, all the ridiculous movements and head-cocked flailing brings the CGI marionette to life. Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze may be a little ridiculous at times but Nicolas Cage as the rider was brilliant.
“There was a bee”
In A Few Words:
“Far from perfect but a visual delight and a completely colossal improvement over the last instalment”