Blaze In Saddles
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
2012 USA/United Arab Emirates
Directed by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Screening at UK cinemas.
Okay, so I’m not a big fan of Nicholas Cage, it has to be said... which is why you can colour me surprised by the fact that, when I checked out his bio on the IMDB this morning, I found that I actually quite like nine of the movies that this guy’s been in. This is not a bad number, to be honest, so maybe I don’t dislike the actor as much as I thought... maybe he’s just one of those people who doesn’t always pick the best roles and occasionally gets it right. Maybe that’s it?
Anyway, Ghost Rider was never one of those comic book characters that I had a lot of passion for as a kid. Sure, the fact that he was a motorbiking fiery skeleton was cool but, I confess, the only Johnny Blaze (Ghost Rider’s human alter ego) stories I read as a kid were the ones that turned up in annuals or elaborate crossovers... so, to be honest, the only one I distinctly remember was a Marvel Treasury Edition which teamed Ghost Rider with Spider Man (a tome I’d like to get back if I could... managed to hunt down most of the treasury editions I had as a kid but there’s still a couple missing... not a lot of them survived the 1970s worldwide it seems because of their general size and unwieldiness).
When I saw the first Ghost Rider movie the combination of Nicholas Cage with a character I just didn’t have a lot of emotional investment in made going to the cinema a tough prospect but I was curious to see how well Marvel acquitted themselves with the character’s on-screen incarnation and, truth be told, I had a real blast with that first film. It wasn’t in any way complex or over-blown in intent... it was just consistently good fun which didn’t have a whole lot of substance but which was a more than pleasant way to spend and hour or two “at the pictures”. I was impressed enough with it, but not impressed enough to remember that I’d liked it quite that much so, when the sequel I never thought would get made blazed into town at my local fleapit this week, I wasn’t overly looking forward to seeing this one either, if truth be told.
And I was pleasantly surprised again. This one’s got some weaknesses, for sure, but it’s also got a whole load of plus points which, again, made for a very entertaining time at the movie house.
Opening with absolutely no sign of Cage’s Johnny Blaze character at all, the pre-title sequence is a rip roaring action fest featuring a woman (played by Violante Placido), a son she is protecting, a whole load of baddies slaughtering a monastary full of arrogant monks and an impressive action hero kind of geezah played irreverently by some cat named Idris Elba who, frankly, almost steals the show from Cage on screen and you really want to see a lot more of this likeable character as the movie roars along. This first bit is a totally high adrenalin "rush hour" of a sequence (if a little over the top) and reaches out to the audience nicely to shake them by the collar and say... forget the set ups and soul searching embedded in the characters as depicted in the first movie... the next hour and a half is gonna kick ass so saddle up for some action packed fun!
Then it’s straight into the title of the movie with Cage narrating a comic book/cartoony rendition of the back story to his character before proceeding to ignore any kind of a complex plot and hurtle along at breakneck pace. This isn’t so much about the moral concerns of the characters and Cage’s unwillingness to transform into a demon from hell at the drop of a “biker chick’s glove” as it is about adhering strictly to the school of “your-mission-if-you-choose-to-accept-it” style of “action sensation” and because of this the film works, on those terms at least, a little better than the first movie.
It’s directed by the guys who gave the world the Crank movies and both the editing and, not unsurprisingly, Nicholas Cage’s acting style reflects this. There’s a lot of ramping in this movie... you know, that effect where they speed the film and slow it down again to land in the middle of a scene. It works with the general pacing as dictated by the editing pretty well here and even manages to retain credibility when it starts off ramping backwards from a moment in a shot and then replays forwards at normal speed to allow itself to catch itself up, so to speak. That’s a gutsy editing decision right there and it almost certainly shouldn’t have worked... but by some miracle it did, so I’m not complaining.
Other elements of the film don’t work so well, however. Cage is acting like he’s overdosed on benzedrine half the time and is often behaving like he’s so wired that you wonder why the other characters are trusting him to fulfil his role in their ongoing mission. But when the transformations come and the Ghost Rider appears, there’s a few sequences where the film seems to slow down rather than speed up. There’s one scene, for instance, where the Rider is up close and personal with a bad guy for a while and he doesn’t do anything (when our acquired knowledge tells us he should be feeding on the bad guy’s soul) and it keeps cutting back and forth between reaction shots which seem, when pitched in the context of everything that’s just happened, like an interminably long time... it’s like Harold Pinter had written in a particularly long pause and then just got up and walked away from the page for a while... and it almost feels like there’s been a mistake made in the edit, or at the very least a poor judgement call. I wondered at the time I was watching this scene (which is probably not a good thing to be thinking about this kind of thing... as it happens) whether this was supposed to accompany a series of special effects shots of the man’s soul being torn from his body and that the producers either ran out of time or budget to get the effects done but left it in there anyway.
Another thing is that the latter half of the movie doesn’t quite seem to hang together so well as the opening half. There are little jumps where you feel there should have been more cohesive material between sequences and, yeah okay, it’s by the guys who made Crank but one wonders if they are transplanting that kind of editing and pacing onto a story that can’t really handle it... or whether they just didn’t get all the shots they needed but, again, didn’t have the time or money to go back and do reshoots.
All this, I’m glad to say, is secondary to my overall impression of the movie... which was that as a broad, sweeping action movie, Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance 3D works pretty well and the 3D was even quite good on this one. If you’re into what I could only describe as a modern action B-movie, like Wolverine: X-Men Origins turned out ot be, then you could do a lot worse than saddling up, getting your motor running and heading out on the highway to see this movie at your local cinema. It’s a lot of fun and it could have turned out a lot worse. A nice frivolous little movie while we wait around for the more highly anticipated comic book based releases coming out in just a few months. Enjoy!