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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/12/2012

All Ratings out of

Movie: 1/2




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/10/2012

I don't think it's out of the question to assume that most everyone has a favorite fictional character. We like to see those characters either in a familiar story (such as the one in which we discovered them) or perhaps a new one which fits their personality/style. But, what if that character was plucked up and dropped into a situation which was totally wrong for them? Would we be able to accept this radical change? If Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is any indication, the answer is no.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (ostensibly) takes place some time after the events in Ghost Rider. Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) has traveled to Eastern Europe to try and outrun his past, but he is still cursed -- when evil is afoot, he transforms into the flame-headed Ghost Rider. Blaze is recruited by Moreau (Idris Elba) to help a religious organization protect a young boy who is being threatened by a group of baddies. In exchange, Moreau can arrange to have the demon separated from Blaze. Blaze accepts and soon meets Danny (Fergus Riordan) and his mother, Nadya (Violante Placido). And he also soon meets the men pursuing then -- Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) and his employer, Roarke (Ciaran Hinds). These men and their lackies have nefarious plans for Danny and, thanks to their own supernatural powers, aren't going to let something like Ghost Rider stop them.

I've been fan of the Ghost Rider comics for decades and I was excited when the character made the leap to the big screen in 2007. While that movie wasn't perfect, it certainly had its moments and it did a great job of portraying the Ghost Rider himself. The part allowed Cage to be his nutty best and actually seemed to suit him. The movie was too much of an origin story and must of the plot was muddled, but the action scenes looked good. I wasn't crazy about the fact that they used Johnny Blaze, as I prefer the Dan Ketch Ghost Rider, but beggars can't be choosers. Either way, Ghost Rider is a very cinematic character and I looked forward to Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance as well. Which brings us to the question: How did they screw this up so badly? There are so many problems with this movie that I could literally just list them as bullet-points, but I'll actually try to break them down in-depth.

First of all, we (the viewing public) assume that this is a sequel to 2007 Ghost Rider film. But, apparently, it isn't. Sure, it has the same actor playing the same main character, but we are somehow supposed to know that it's not linked to that first film. Of course, we sort of suspect that something isn't quite right when the origin story for the Ghost Rider character is changed here. Whereas Mephistopheles, played by Peter Fonda, was the Satan-like character who made a deal with Johnny Blaze in the first film, here, it's Roarke (although the circumstances are similar). Apparently, this Johnny Blaze didn't go through the ordeals seen in the first film -- or at least if he did, he doesn't mention the demons fought or his long-lost love. This all ties in to the movie's screenplay, which was co-written by David S. Goyer. If that name sounds familiar, it's because he co-wrote the Batman films with Christopher Nolan. But, he's clearly not in his element here, as the story is very shallow and makes little sense. As in the first film, the story takes bits from both the Johnny Blaze and Dan Ketch Ghost Rider comics and creates a hybrid in which the devil created a creature which hunts evil. Does that click? Also, we left with questions such as, how come bullets slow down Ghost Rider, but a missile doesn't? We also get the mistake of having a villain from the comics awkwardly introduced into the narrative in a way which doesn't work at all.

Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have been handed the reins for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and they have no idea what they are doing. For starters, they've changed the look of the character. The skull is no a dark gray, instead of bone white. I assume that this was part of giving the movie a "darker" look, but it negates the striking visual of the white skull engulfed in flames...and shouldn't movies be about visuals? Or is that just me? And what's with the black smoke coming off of his head? Is he burning oil? What happened to Ghost Rider's motorcycle? Where's the bad-ass demon bike? Why is he riding a glorified scooter? Ghost Rider's jacket has been changed as well, and it has no personality. Neveldine and Taylor have also allowed the movie to be silly, for lack of a better term. The scene in which Blaze is trying to keep the Ghost Rider at bay, but the skull is coming through his face is presumably going for an Evil Dead II feel, but it just feels stupid. They also make the mistake of having Ghost Rider mimic some of Cage's Elvis-like mannerisms...which left me stymied. And then we have the not one, but two moments where the Ghost Rider pees fire. Seriously? A good musical score blends into the background, but the atonal and mis-timed score here can't be ignored.

The question must be asked, "Who thought any of this was a good idea?" Ghost Rider is such a visually interesting character that they could have simply showed 20 minutes of footage of him and it would have been better than this movie. I can't remember the last time I saw such a mis-guided studio film. The movie more than deserves the scathing reviews it received upon its theatrical run and many weren't scathing enough. This would be considered an awful film under any circumstances, but given the quality films under the Marvel banner, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance almost looks like something which was poorly made on purpose.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance probably ruined the chance of me seeing a Dan Ketch movie on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, although the palette leans towards dark and earth tones. The image is never overly dark or bright. The picture offers a notable amount of depth, even in the 2-D version, and the actors are nicely separated from the background. The level of detail is good as well, as we can see textures on objects. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action scenes provide great surround sound effects which are nicely detailed. We can pick out the individual sounds from gunshots and tire squeals. The low rumbling of the motorcycle comes through the subwoofer, accompanied by explosions. The stereo effects are nicely done as well, as objects move from side-to-side.

The Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. "Directors' Expanded Video Commentary" offers comments from Neveldine and Taylor, whom we occasionally see, as well as picture-in-picture behind-the-scenes footage. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 11 minutes. The bulk of this is taken up by a scene in which we see the devil rent a car. What fun. Otherwise, there's nothing new here. "The Path to Vengeance: Making Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is a six-part, feature-length making of which runs for 89 minutes. This gives us a very broad look at the film's origins, the production, the special effects, and the release (which, of course, includes Comicon footage). We get a wealth of interviews with the cast and filmmakers, as well as a ton of on-set footage. Over and over, they reinforce that this isn't a sequel, but a reboot. The 3-D Blu-ray Disc contains an extra entitled "Riding Into Another Dimension" (7 minutes) which explores the use of 3-D photography in the film, and how the shooting style played into this.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long