In 2007, Nicolas Cage starred in Ghost Rider, a film adaptation of the esoteric Marvel Comics hero who sold his soul to the devil and became a sort of unhinged embodiment of revenge. The idea of making a Ghost Rider film was a little problematic to begin with, seeing as how the mythology has always been a little muddled and he never really had a convincing villain to square off against (as is the case with most of your supernatural heroes). Still, there was a lot of fire involved and the dude rode a motorcycle, so what’s not to love?
Quite a bit, actually. Ghost Rider was mostly terrible, though that didn’t stop it from bringing in $115 million in box office receipts. But here’s the twist: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which opens today, is excellent. It wasn’t screened for critics (never a good sign), but whether you didn’t care for the first one or aren’t sure you would ever bother committing to a movie with such a silly title, here are five reasons why it’s well worth it to spend time with Cage’s flaming skull this weekend.
Neveldine/Taylor: The first Ghost Rider was directed by Mark Steven Johnson, a sort of low-rent Brett Ratner who has brought such epics as Daredevil and When In Rome to the screen. He treated the material with a heaping helping of self-seriousness — something it didn’t particularly earn. Spirit of Vengeance is directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the same directing tag-team that brought the world Crank, Crank: High Voltage, and Gamer. None of those are Citizen Kane (though let’s be honest, High Voltage certainly comes close), but they do take place in a cartoon world where extreme violence, slapstick humor, and killer special effects can co-exist. Their approach to the Ghost Rider character is refreshingly irreverent, which makes the whole thing a lot more fun.
Cage’s performance: Nicolas Cage had a pretty rough 2011, starring in the dreadful Season of the Witch, the invisible Trespass, and the should-have-been-more-fun-than-it-was Drive Angry. For anybody who thinks Cage’s finest performance is in that famous compilation of scenes from The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance represents a great return to form for Hollywood’s favorite voodoo samurai. He gets ample opportunity to deliver bug-eyed monologues and spew one-liners that will certainly be passed around the Internet for years to come.
The supporting cast: Violante Placido and Fergus Riordan get the most screen time after Cage, and they’re both perfectly serviceable. But one of the great thrills of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is the deep-dive supporting cast, all of whom make you go, “Hey! It’s that guy!” The drop-ins include Idris Elba (of Luther and The Wire fame), Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, A.J. from Empire Records as a supernatural baddie, and Christopher Lambert doing his Raiden voice. It represents the DVD collection of a very particular kind of nerd, and if you’re into any of the above references, you’ll find a lot to love.
The 3-D is quite good: There aren’t a whole lot of distracting 3-D gimmicks, and the effects actually enhance a lot of the prologue scenes, which are presented like pages from noir comics. Plus, it’s only 95 minutes long, which means you’ll get to take those terrible glasses off just as it’s starting to get to you.
Flaming pee: It’s a shame they gave away that flaming pee scene in the trailer, but it’s a testament to the power of Cage that the bit still lands even after it has already been spoiled. Cage does a great job of selling it, even somehow managing to wink through his flaming head effect.
So are you convinced? Will you be seeing Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance? Blaze a trail in the comments.
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