I have no choice but to open this review with a bit of a disclaimer. You see, I’m one of maybe half-a-dozen people on the planet who rather enjoyed Ghost Rider. Yes, it was silly, and, yes, an obviously wigged Nicolas Cage was a curious choice to topline the film, but I’d be lying if I said I found the film anything less than goofily entertaining. Of course, it wasn’t much more than that, but, sometimes that’s enough. Just ask my wife.
With the announcement that the kinetic directing duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor would be helming the film’s sequel (or "reboot" as Neveldine and Taylor insist), Spirit of Vengeance, I was cautiously optimistic. As a fan of the Crank series (as well as the underrated Gamer), I hoped the filmmakers would be allowed to bring their signature brand of humor and camera acrobatics to the franchise, and, for the most part, they do. It’s fast and loose; at times, perhaps, too fast, and too loose, but, dammit if it isn’t fun to look at.
The film opens with a neat animated sequence that gives the quick and dirty recap of the first film before moving on to a beautifully shot scene of a lone rider navigating a treacherous mountain pass, en route to a gloriously gothic castle in the clouds. The rider removes his helmet and is revealed to be Moreau (Idris Elba), a wine-swilling Catholic enforcer who’s come to check in on Danny (Fergus Riordan) - a very special young boy who, along with his mother, Nadya (Violante Placedo), is being hunted by the henchmen of the devil incarnate, Roarke (Ciarin Hinds). Almost as soon as he arrives, Moreau finds himself fighting off a small army of Roarke’s followers hellbent on bringing the boy back to their master. Roarke’s forces prove too much for Moreau and his people, and are ultimately defeated, leaving the remote fortress decimated and with Danny and Nadya in their possession.
Moreau knows that to defeat Rourke and his men, he needs the help of The Rider, Johnny Blaze (Cage). Moreau tracks Blaze down in an abandoned factory yard in Eastern Europe and offers him both a mission and a promise; help deliver Danny safely to his people and he will lift the curse that’s destroyed his life. Eager to shake the burden of being The Rider, Blaze accepts, and helps Moreau rescue Danny and Nadya. As promised, Moreau lifts his curse, but, when the now-powerless Blaze learns Danny’s true fate, can he save him without the help of his combustible alter ego?
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance improves on the original film, but that’s not saying a whole heckuva lot, now, is it? Still, the action is better staged, the horror elements more intense, and the direction of Neveldine and Taylor is a perfect fit for the material. While I’d still like to see a Blade-like R-rated take on the Ghost Rider mythos, this isn’t exactly kid’s stuff, here. Neveldine and Taylor push the PG-13 rating to its limits, with some fairly gruesome death scenes and nifty FX work that really ups the horror ante. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s entertaining, features one of Cage’s most hilariously over-the-top performances (watch as he “releases the pigs” during his exorcism scene), and sports an impressive supporting cast in the ever-reliable Elba and Hinds. My biggest criticism, however, lay in the film’s extremely loose narrative structure, which makes things a touch confusing and just feels rushed and incomplete, with important plot points getting the short shrift in favor of balls out action and throwaway quips. Had Neveldine and Taylor been able to find the happy medium between story and substance, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance could have not only redeemed the series, but, potentially, assured its continuation. Sadly, judging by the lackluster box-office reception, this seems unlikely. Then again, with everyone seemingly clamoring for Marvel to get back the rights to all of their properties in hopes of shoehorning them into their ever-growing cinematic universe, maybe it’s not such a bad thing.
Sony brings Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance to Blu-ray in a gorgeous 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that perfectly captures the film’s digital origins. Shot on both Red and Phantom cameras, the film has a highly stylized and scrumptiously detailed look that really pops on Blu-ray, with vibrant colors and a sharp image throughout. The accompanying 5.1 DTS HD track is nothing short of bombastic. The track features pulverizing bass, but is also crisp and clear, with myriad directional sounds and surprisingly organic sounding atomospheric effects.
The disc really shines when it comes to supplemental materials, as it features one of the most entertaining commentary tracks I’ve ever seen. Using an approach similar to WB’s Maximum Movie Mode (in which the footage jumps back and forth between the film, making-of snippets, and the directors, themselves, standing in front of a monitor discussing the movie), Neveldine and Taylor deliver an insightful, funny, and thoroughly enjoyable dissection of their film. It’s one of those commentaries that make you enjoy the movie more than you probably should as their enthusiasm about the project is nothing short of infectious. I was also taken aback by some of the making-of footage, as it turns out that many scenes I thought were shot in front of green screen or jazzed up by CGI were, in fact, shot the old fashioned way, with practical effects and especially dangerous looking filming techniques!
This commentary, alone, would be more than enough for me in terms of extras, but then Sony goes ahead and throws in a feature-length making-of documentary that somehow proves to be nearly as entertaining and informative as the marvelous commentary track! Broken down into six parts “Making Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” fills the very few voids left by Neveldine and Taylor’s commentary, and covers everything from pre-production to test footage reaction at Comic Con.
Rounding out the extras are deleted scenes, as well as trailers for other Sony releases.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a mostly-enjoyable mishmash of super hero tropes and supernatural hokum, shot and styled in an A.D.D. manner that is distinctively Neveldine and Taylor (both a good AND a bad thing). The Blu-ray looks and sounds amazing, and the extra goodies just plain kick ass. Even if you hate this movie, I can almost guarantee that you’ll be thoroughly entertained by Neveldine and Taylor’s “expanded” commentary track, as the duo not only put on quite a show, but also put forth some compelling arguments that almost redeem some of the film’s most glaring faults. If you hated the first film, you’re not going to be swayed too much by Spirit of Vengeance, but, if you’re like me and consider Ghost Rider (and Nicolas Cage action films in general) a dumb and dirty pleasure, you’ll definitely want to take Spirit of Vengeance for a spin.