I’m not sure if I’m entirely clear on Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s intent for Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance. I also left the movie not knowing if there’s such a thing as a “good” Neveldine/Taylor film or a “bad” Neveldine/Taylor film. If such a divide exists, they’ve branded themselves so thoroughly that there’s little differential between either side of it. Perhaps Neveldine/Taylor films just exist and some are for you while others aren’t. I just know that I wanted Spirit Of Vengeance to end a lot sooner than it did. While I’ve liked a lot of their work, I have to wonder if their allegiance to this brand of no-holds barred extreme mayhem is keeping them from growing as filmmakers.
Make no mistake, Spirit Of Vengeance is quite a different animal from the 2007 original outing of Johnny Blaze, so much so that it’s almost an entirely different genre. With the directors taking almost no cues from the original film (which they purposely avoided watching), you’d think you were getting a full-on Neveldine/Taylor blast of adrenaline. Which is certainly what they try to give you – but somewhere along the way you realize that the energy that made Crank such nonstop fun either doesn’t translate to a superhero movie or was simply something they weren’t able to fully tap into this time out.
The film starts out with what’s intended to be a kick of adrenaline, with Idris Elba’s broadly drunk French Priest “Moreau” chasing after (and trying to rescue) Violante Placido’s “Nadya” and Fergus Riordan’s “Danny”. It’s certainly raucous, but this brand of mayhem is no longer a surprise. And since this style of shooting doesn’t necessarily lend itself to geographically compelling action set-pieces, I was left having to single out a lot of fun, ballsy shots from a sea of flat, uninspiring ones. The whole thing felt like a grind. As does the rest of the film.
Nothing in Spirit Of Vengeance really makes all that much sense, and while I’m guessing that’s not the primary concern of the filmmakers, I have a feeling that a little coherence would enhance the gnarly experience they’re going for – not diminish it. Something that pretends to be a key component of the film, the paternal relationship between Johnny Blaze and Danny, is quickly and lazily established in a diner scene (and embellished with a little fire p*ssing) and is expected to be some kind of connective tissue that bonds the alliances of these two individuals through thick and thin – but it’s not nearly enough. I’m not sure if there was more of this stuff in David S. Goyer’s original draft – but there’s very little of it on the screen.
To be fair, there are small slivers of the film that are a total blast. A colleague of mine and I watched this thing in the front row of the screening room – 3D glasses on* – and there were certainly some inspiring moments, shots and exchanges that enervated me. Which kind of made trying to stay awake for the good bits even more tiring.
Idris Elba and Ciaran Hinds (as “Roarke”) are allowed to chew scenery with an abandon they are rarely, if ever, afforded elsewhere. Elba in particular is like some long lost Luc Besson character – he would have been right at home in The Fifth Element. “Ray Carrigan” as played by Johnny Whitworth is certainly a watchable villain, if not a compelling one. Of course, Cage brings his patented brand of crazy to the role of Johnny Blaze, making him a pleasure to watch as well.
It’s just a shame that the sum of these positive parts doesn’t make a compelling whole. When I first heard that Neveldine and Taylor would be doing this movie, I was excited to see what they could do with a bigger budget and how they could subvert the genre. It turns out they did exactly what I expected and still somehow let me down. Perhaps I didn’t factor in that they might think it was enough to execute this film in the exact way they’ve executed everything else. Only, this time, so much more is put in front of them but they never extend their reach.
Early reviews out of BNAT had this film pegged as almost criminally bad. I don’t really feel that this is the case. Spirit Of Vengeance is just regular bad. It’s not a blight on humanity, it’s just a movie with a lot of potential and a lot of cool parts that doesn’t hit the mark. It’s not awful, it’s just boring.
*Technical note – while the 3D in this film is a post-conversion, it’s surprisingly good. Probably the best post-conversion I’ve seen. For what it’s worth.