By Shane M. Dallmann
I never did see the original GHOST RIDER when it first came out, and nobody’s given me the impression that I had missed anything worthwhile. But now we’ve got a sequel on our hands, and my son really, REALLY wanted to see it. So I gave in. And to prepare myself, I finally got around to watching the original film.
Oh, what a mistake that turned out to be. The original GHOST RIDER was the sort of film that occasionally has me railing to the heavens for justice. The very idea that someone was actually PAID to write the horrendous dialogue; the fact that the director considered the performances filmable and releasable (did Werner Herzog somehow see this and take it upon himself to “rescue” Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendez?); the weary string of cliches (including the hip/MATRIX attire of the baddies); oh, the list goes on and on. And by the way, how the hell do you whistle without lips? Long story short: I didn’t like it.
Nor did I like the fact that the team known as Neveldine/Taylor was giving us a GHOST RIDER sequel instead of CRANK 3-D (I can dream, can’t I?). All right–they promised that this would be more of a reboot than a sequel and that it would be significantly “darker.” And unlike the first one, this one was coming out under the “Marvel Knights” banner previously applied to such films as PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (in other words, the comic book heroes actually KILL the bad guys over the course of the story). I didn’t have to worry about paying extra for a lousy 3-D conversion job, either. Perhaps we’ve got something here. In fact, I declared that the only thing the sequel had to do to qualify as “better” than the original was to be ANY GOOD AT ALL.
I failed, however, to notice that David S. Goyer was also involved in this thing, and I still haven’t forgiven him for what he did to BLADE: TRINITY… but it was too late–there I was. Nor did it help that I was teased by a Jason Statham trailer (good grief, in SAFE he’s protecting a child genius who’s cracked a major formula–I haven’t seen that story since it was called MERCURY RISING!).
During the first half of the film, I realized that I was again in terrible trouble… Nicolas Cage was still hamming it up, miscast as Johnny Blaze, blowing through nearly the exact same “rescue the kid from the devil cult” story he’d just done as DRIVE ANGRY! (And while I can’t take credit for this observation, I’ve been told by people who know more about these things than I do that DRIVE ANGRY was actually a more authentic GHOST RIDER film than either of the official entries!) It does play more or less like a reboot than a sequel–the origin story is quickly recapped without the benefit of Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles: now the Devil’s rep on Earth is known as Rourke and the film takes great pains to spell out the limitations of his power. I guess that’s fair–I never did understand how Blaze could defy Mephistopheles and keep his “curse” at the end of the first film–I mean, he was the DEVIL, so why couldn’t he just take the curse away whether or not Blaze liked it?
The restless Neveldine/Taylor editing style is still in full force, but while the new GHOST RIDER is admittedly still more coherent than GAMER, the approach still doesn’t work like it did in the CRANK films, which catapulted the viewer from one outrageous moment to the next. Still, this may not be the fault of the filmmakers: I noticed more than one instance in which something was obviously toned down for the sake of a PG-13 rating (such as a moment in which Blaze spits the entire contents of a machine gun clip right back into the guy who emptied it into him in the first place).
There’s an amusing “fantasy” moment depicting Blaze pissing like a flamethrower. You guessed it–they liked it so much that they showed it AGAIN shortly thereafter.
And okay, I was mildly entertained by a character who was given the power of decay over anything he touched. See, he has the King Midas problem when he tries to eat an apple… anything he touches rots, right? So he manages to squeeze a Twinkie out of its wrapper without touching it while he’s driving. Okay, that’s cute, but wait a minute… how can he drive the car itself without rotting it away? For that matter, how does he keep his own CLOTHES on? Wait–perhaps the power is contained to his hands. Nope, somebody ELSE touches him and rots away. So how the hell does he manage to abduct the KID without rotting HIM away? Wait… perhaps he can control the “rot” power. But then why can’t he manage to eat the damn APPLE in the first place? How can he even WALK ON THE EARTH? I know, I know… I’m just having fun. SOMEBODY has to bring the fun to these movies.
Finally, I failed to recognize Christopher Lambert as a priest whose face is covered with tattoos.
Okay, I have to live up to my declaration. As GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE managed a smattering of entertaining moments, I officially declare it “better” than the original. But that isn’t even CLOSE to a recommendation. You’ve been warned.