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February 27, 2012
 

Movie Mondays: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Title: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Directors: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Writers: David S. Goyer, Scott Gimple, and Seth Hoffman (created by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, and Mike Ploog)
Distributed By: Columbia Pictures
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Johnny Witworth, Violante Placido, Idris Elba, and Ciarán Hinds
Release Date: February 17th, 2012
MPAA: PG-13

Nicolas Cage’s fayshe ish on fire again in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. This time Johnny Blaze, the fire blazin’, cycle riding anti-hero, is racing against time to save Danny (Fergus Riordan), who may appear to be just a kid, but is in fact a potential for becoming Satan during the winter’s solstice. And The Devil (Ciarán Hinds) is dead set on getting Danny to usher a new dark era of destruction.

I didn’t go into Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance unprepared. This doesn’t mean I was biased. As with any movie, I tried to enter the theater with a completely open mind about it. However, that’s not to say I hadn’t heard about GH:SoV‘s criticisms. The 15% rating on RottenTomatoes.com, the critics’ laments, my friends tearing it apart. Not to mention Nicolas Cage hasn’t had the best track record for the past few years (with the exception of Kick-Ass). So for me, it wasn’t a question of “will it be good?” Rather, the question was “how bad will it be?” Is GR:SoV the worst comic book film of all time? Or is it simply mediocre?

For the first twenty or so minutes, it shows some promise. OK, maybe not promising to be an amazing film, but at least something decent. It starts off with action, a car chase, and an interesting graphic novel style presentation (think inFAMOUS) that gives us a quick intro as to how Johnny Blaze became the Ghost Rider.

 

Come at me bro!

From then on, though, things get worse. Not as if the plot suddenly dives off the cliff. Rather, it goes down a steady slope in quality. I think the moment where Moreau (Idris Elba) says he was saved from a motorcycle cliff crash and there’s a strange scene with boingy sound effects, is when I knew it was all down from there. These oddball and unfunny moments, stiff dialog, and other flaws could be forgiven if there was something that really gripped me. Some scene that made it all worth it. But while there were a few good moments, there weren’t any great moments that saved it.

But you know what could’ve saved it? Better editing. What makes this feel like a snooze fest much of the time are unnecessary scenes. Not that there’s one big scene in particular that I wanted to be cut out. Nor are there any The Room scenes where it’s stock footage. Rather, it’s the little stuff that sludges it all down. The constant scenes of Ghost Rider peeing (the same exact scene each time, by the way), a whole scene talking in length about the FGM-148 Javelin, and Moreau showing off thousand year old wines, are all examples of things that should’ve been trimmed down. All of these little trivial things made me feel like closing my eyes and taking a nap in the theater. And this is a film that contains explosions, bike chases, and action.

 

Johnny Blaze and friends in The Matrix construct-I mean temple safe house.

However, there’s something I’m sure everyone wants me to talk about. The acting. And specifically Nicolas Cage’s acting.

On the whole, the performances certainly weren’t the best I’ve seen, but with that being said, they weren’t the worst. At the end of the day, no performances stood out, but I’m putting a good deal of blame on the stiff dialog. And it wasn’t just stiff dialog, but badly written characters. Especially Nadya (Violante Placido) and Danny, who were annoying as hell many times during the film. Although the cake for worst acting/character here might go to Johnny Withworth as Blackout.

And then there’s Nicolas Cage. This isn’t his best performance by a long shot. The problem isn’t his acting. Rather, the problem mainly has to do with his overacting. Things are fine until he starts getting emotional or starts to turn into the Ghost Rider. Then his acting gets so outlandish that I actually laughed a few times in the theater because of it.

With all that being said, though, I don’t put most of the blame on the actors, special effects (which were actually pretty damn good), or the action. Rather, I blame it on the story. A good deal on the screenwriters and script, but a good deal more on the director. Or I should say, directors.

 

And you thought it was just little boys….

The problem with their directing has nothing to do with a lack of ambition. Rather, they have way too much ambition. Neveldine and Taylor try to put every trick they can into the film, which ends up being a mess rather than an artistic touch. You never know what you’re going to get with that camera. Sometimes it’s a sudden zoom. Other times it’s a graphic novel style scene. And even sometimes it’s just the character in a blank screen (literally; just a plain white or black background). All of this becomes very disorienting as there is no rhyme or reason to the cinematic technique. It just feels like they were trying to show off, and in the end forgot the most important thing to direct. The story.

Is this the worst comic book film? No. However, the execution might be the worst out of all the comic book films out there. Which is a shame, because I believe GR:SoV might have had potential for greatness if there was a better script and a better director. Which is indicative not just for GR:SoV, but most modern big budget films in general. They’re slick films with big, sweeping camera shots, beautiful CGI, and napalm explosions. But you know what? I’d rather trade these complex hundred million films for just a simple, well told, action flick.

Andrew Hudson
ahudson@comicattack.net
@Hudsonian

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