Quipping, Posturing And The End Of The World – Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance

The Ghost Rider cinematic franchise flickered in to life in February 2007, with not so much as with a bang, as much as a blink. In spite of a fairly solid cast, led by Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze, a stunt-bike-riding daredevil for whom the  “Ghost Rider” is a nom de plume for a secondary life as a demonic hit man, the first film in the series wasn’t a particularly memorable affair, yet Sony have seen fit to give the series another shot, no doubt in an attempt to latch on to the growing cult of “crazy” Nicolas Cage memes that litter the internet.

One string in the bow of this second attempt to tackle the source material is in the studio’s employment of a pair of genuinely interesting filmmakers to tackle the project. Presumably learning from their past mistakes in hiring a workmanlike, unremarkable filmmaker to steer their first Ghost Rider project, the powers that be went for something a little bit left field this time around, with the pairing Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor for the follow-up. While the two have had arguably more misses than hits in the past, one has to admit that their chaotic and unique brand of overt visuals, as harsh as they are heavily infused with references to popular culture, (theoretically at least) seem like the perfect people to tackle the subject at hand. Indeed, the attachment of this pair of intriguing directors, makes for a project that otherwise would quite easily have been written off noteworthy. And while Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance might not be the greatest of successes, it is nothing if not a fun 90 minutes of over-the-top mid-level mainstream entertainment.

While the 3D medium appears to be slowly fading away, one has to admit that the use of the format by Neveldine/Taylor is genuinely engaging. While successful uses of 3D are few and far between, here it brings an otherwise aesthetically lacking project to life, softening some of the low-budget tropes on displaying and masking them, ironically, thanks to the limitations of current 3D technology. Neveldine and Taylor’s style in itself is by its very nature something of an antithesis to the traditional cinematic image. Shooting on commercially available hardware, and edited using consumer technology, the pair’s debut feature, Crank, had a very deliberate style, that by it’s very definition is lacking some of the polish of the regular Hollywood project. While digital camera tech has progressed heavily in the half a decade since Crank, one can’t help but see traits of their earlier work continue through to their latest. Shooting in Eastern Europe doesn’t help either, and the film, perhaps appropriately, feels firmly grounded in the realms of the B-movie. The 3D also helps with the awful CGI too, which at times recalls claymation techniques (although this may be intentional).

Neveldine and Taylor bring their trademark melding of genres and styles to their latest work too. Animated segments litter the film, with the films credits acting as a The Incredible Hulk-esque reinvention of the original films origin tale. While not completely erasing the events that have fallen before, the filmmakers layout their intentions to go their own way. Also in the vein of their previous works, the pair bring a questionable wit to the film: dated illegal downloading jokes break in the first ten minutes, while elsewhere somebody still thinks that Jerry Springer jokes are still funny in 2012. Poorly judged readings of Cage delivering such “crazy” lines “you’re the devil’s baby momma”, as well as a genuinely bizarre sequence in which Blaze combines his trademark soul-sucking with what appears to be meditation and dance make for cringeworthy viewing, with such scenes coming across as futile and embarrassing attempts to recapture the sort of intense, overt performances that Cage is renown for in some quarters. Rather than capturing the appeal of characters such as Wild At Heart’s ‘Sailor’ of his Bad Lieutenant, and attaching their personalities to a mid-range blockbuster, the opposite result is achieved. As such Cage is portrayed almost as a pastiche of his viral comedy self, a Saturday Night Live sketch gone too far.

While the film wanes in to its third act, following a mid-section set piece in which the titular anti-hero takes control of an industrial crane that the remainder of the film fails to top, Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance ultimately a positive cinematic experience. In amongst the plot holes, the quipping and the posturing, Neveldine and Taylor have produced a comic-book movie that feels genuinely unique when placed alongside it’s contemporaries, and while the grandiose stupidity of it is plain to see, sheer amusement ultimately offset any major faults.

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