Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance | On Demand
The directors of Crank turn a Ghost Rider sequel into a passion project.
Comic-book movies are fun, but they’re not exactly repositories of deep, personal expression. With few exceptions—Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, maybe Ang Lee’s Hulk—the demands of brand fidelity tend to outweigh auteurist impulses. That’s why it’s easy to like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance despite its flaws. The movie may be a weak continuation of Ghost Rider from 2007, but it’s a fascinating continuation of themes and ideas in the three previous films by its writer-directors, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (known in fan circles simply as “Neveldine/Taylor”).
This sequel makes a serendipitous combination of subject and filmmaker(s): Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), motorcycle daredevil turned fiery skeletal demon, as seen by the motorcycle daredevils of the action-movie world—directors who regularly hang from the backs of speeding choppers on Rollerblades in order to get the wide-angle, street-level tracking shots that have become their visual signature. Neveldine and Taylor’s previous movie concluded with an image of a man on fire; the one before that featured flying, flaming motorcycles. It may be that they’ve been warming up for Ghost Rider their entire careers.
Across four films—the anarchic noir of Crank, the juvenile exploitation of Crank: High Voltage, the dystopian science-fiction of Gamer and now the supernatural heroism of Ghost Rider—they’ve created a singular portrait of modern masculinity. Their hero is always a man who’s figuratively (or, in the case of Spirit of Vengeance, literally) possessed by forces beyond his control, from substance abuse to sexual compulsion to cranial implants that let video-game players control his movements. Long before they got their hands on the hellbound Blaze, Neveldine and Taylor were telling stories about men doomed to purgatorial existences by unfixable mistakes, who aren’t so much trying to atone for their sins as survive their punishment. In Crank, after being poisoned with the “Beijing cocktail,” Jason Statham needs to keep his heart beating at a constant rate or die. “Not only are we torturing our characters—we’re torturing our audience,” Taylor says of the duo’s aesthetic on the DVD of Gamer.
The bleakness of Neveldine/Taylor’s worldview would be torturous if not for their frantic visual style, which is as unhinged as their protagonists. The directors alternate appealingly coherent long takes with sensory-overload montages that combine the intimacy of skater videos and the freneticism of video games. (Though not based on a preexisting property, Crank—with its indestructible hero on a quest for more “energy” as he tackles increasingly challenging “bosses”—might be the best video-game movie ever made.)
At times in Spirit of Vengeance, Ghost Rider feels like a supporting character in his own film, and his final battle with archnemesis Blackout (Johnny Whitworth), a mercenary given the power to decay anything he touches, lacks both scale and emotional resonance. Neveldine and Taylor seem far more comfortable with—and interested in—Ghost Rider’s alter ego Blaze, the guilt-ridden loner in a life-or-death race with his own destiny, and Cage, the duo’s most perfect vessel yet for their style of twitchy, tweaky antiheroism. In other words, Spirit of Vengeance isn’t much of a comic-book movie. But that’s why it’s one hell of a Neveldine/Taylor film.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance comes to VOD, DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday 12.