Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have built their career on wildly over the top, avant-garde action films like the hyper adrenalized Crank series and searing social satire Gamer and with Marvel Studios Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, the duo have finally slowed down. The pulse pounding, take no prisoners verve that made the Crank filmstwo of the best films of the 2000's is barely detectable in in this film. Spirits of Vengeance has all the visual sophistication of a YouTube prank and all the edge of a Budweiser commercial. It can't overstated what a crushing disappointment it is to see artists of Neveldine/Taylor's caliber have made product of such low quality.
Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance is the sequel to 2007's Ghost Rider and the film wisely ignores the groan all but the very basics of the earlier film. The necessary elements of its plot are recapped in a handsome motion graphics sequence: Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) made a deal with The Devil (Ciarán Hinds) to trade his soul for the life of dying father, a deal that left Blaze fatherless, possessed by a vengeance demon called Zarathos and generally a train wreck of man. The schematic plot of the film that was crafted primarily by David S. Goyer follows Blaze's quest to save a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from becoming the new host of The Devil. As with most all superhero films, the plot is the least interesting part of the film. It's predictable, graceless and paced like a punk song where the band keeps losing rhythm. This isn't really a major issue since most superhero films pivot their success or failure on the dynamism of their lead actors.
This is another area in which Ghost Rider skids into oblivion. Nicholas Cage, who is rarely less than engaging in even the most transparent of cash grabs, is flat here. He has two modes in the film: a barely contained mania or a morose disaffection. The smirking whimsy that made his performance in the first Ghost Rider so diverting is gone and it's not been replaced by anything worthwhile. He's not particularly dark or anger, just tired and mildly desperate which is like spending 95 minutes listening to someone in their mid-twenties complain about the mild difficulties they've elevated to the status of real problems because of their complete lack introspection. That is to say, no fun at all.
The supporting is only slightly better. Idris Elba as alcoholic warrior monk Moreau does a rare credible French accent and handles his assigned reams of exposition well but his character is so thin as to not even be a sketch. He's the unmemorable mentor NPC in every action video game ever. Violante Placido as the to-be-possessed boy's mother is stunningly beautiful as you would imagine someone with that name being. Fergus Riordan is the type of little boy that Hollywood casting directors always pick for the role of "evil little boy." Johnny Whitworth is good as the personality free henchman he was born to play and Ciarán Hinds is epitome of Eastern European malice. Collectively they make up one of two reasons why Spirit of Vengeance is a better film than its predecessor.
The other reason is the level of crafted brought by Neveldine/Taylor. Even at their neutered worse, which this film absolute is, they are true cinematic visionaries. They don't make movies that are meant to be watched on a smartphone. They think big and fill every inch of the screen with the scope and breadth of their imaginations. Their Ghost Rider is an oddly still monster, never is a hurry to turn his opponents into fiery ash. His charred skull always swaying to the hypnotic drone of an unheard soundtrack and when Neveldine/Taylor really let loose with Rider, when he spits bullets back at goon or when he spins his chains and turns an auditorium full of devil worshipers into wisps of black smoke or when he uses his hellfire to turn a piece of construction equipment into the embodiment of being sixteen and listening to a heavy metal album for the first time the film sings. But those bass drops are few and far between in a movie that often feels like it's going to suddenly morph into a happy meal commercial.
Neveldine/Taylor can't be anything other than the sum of their interests, perversity and boundless need for visual innovation but they never should have taken on work that so strenuously limited their ability to color outside the lines. Because Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance is a licensed property, it was never going to match the dizzying highs and lows of their original work. There are just too many layers of approval and too ridged a formula for a big budget superhero movie for it ever reach the realm of art but its needless frustrating to have two incredibly talented filmmakers work this hard to be that forgettable.