Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Review

There’s some irony in this Ghost Rider sequel/reboot/do over in that the church sees a purpose in Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage). They’re courting a demon, and Blaze has went all wolf man, going into seclusion to protect others from himself. The church needs Blaze’s alter-ego to protect a child, and Blaze wants the curse of the Rider removed which will happen if the kid is saved, so win-win.

The non-winner? The audience. Neveldine/Taylor direct with their own charismatic lens work, but never keep it steady for more than 30 seconds. So schizophrenic is Spirit of Vengeance, it feels almost impossible to grasp at times, flooded with style and no substance. Their style takes a $75 million piece and turns it into something more akin to direct-to-video throwaways. Given the chilly critical reception to the first Rider, maybe that’s where Sony should have aimed this series.

There has to be some life in a movie franchise about a guy who conjures up flames unexpectedly and can charbroil his enemies. He’s hotter than Satan, or at least that’s what becomes suggested before Vengeance closes. This is a darker, drearier film than the original, so a tonal shift is in play in an attempt to win over the audience lost amongst the first feature. That feels desperate.

Dim Romania locations sap some of the punch from the piece, and probably slashed the budget substantially too. There’s a reason most SyFy Channel originals spawn their goofy monsters there. Hilly roads piece together the more statically located action, including Vengeance’s best moment. A grandly stupid yet utterly enjoyable attack with a rundown piece of construction equipment is set a-Blaze (if you get where this is going) plus reactivated to mash-up stock bad guys.

The script tries to humanize Blaze, part of the 90-minutes spent building a relationship with the child he’s supposed to be saving. It’s sort of like Terminator 2, assuming Terminator 2 was slashed to the bare essentials. It’s an admirable attempt that takes away an underlying character selfishness, but so little time is spent building on it, there’s no legitimate emotional pull. Instead, Neveldine/Taylor had this idea to make male bonding over an image of the Rider spewing fire from his crotch like a flamethrower. It’s stupid for the sake of it.

Nicholas Cage trots out his usual madcap insanity if only in bursts. Audiences could be waning on the idea of a bug-eyed Cage screaming nonsense, or maybe it doesn’t fit this interpretation of the character and the inner turmoil. The latter makes a lot of sense, if only that element was capitalized on.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

Dumping physical film stock for the wonders of digital and the Red One MX, Spirit of Vengeance’s direct visual appeal lies in whatever the digital intermediate is doing. Much of the piece can be considered garishly colored, falling back on tried and true, putrid orange/teal routines or yellowing out the whites for a sickly glow. If stable, and it doesn’t happen often, flesh tones and the Romanian countryside can look fine. Trying to spruce it up only creates a visually off-putting veneer.

Contrast too likes to play around, an angelic glow brought forth as the cast meets up with some monks, blowing out everything except the actors. Day exteriors always feels a little overexposed to create a brightly shifted movie as it runs through day and night cycles. Opposing the contrast is a dense, precise layer of black levels that can suck up some shadow detail, although they never give up their end of the bargain. Consistency reigns supreme somewhere in this tweaked presentation.

The digital source doesn’t get away cleanly, special effects bringing in some noise, and even a handful of non-visual effect shots too. There’s a vertical banding nearly hidden in the densest parts of the image, but it’s not enough to create a clean cover. It’s just within areas that make is noticeable. If nothing else, the encode doesn’t make it any worse, never introducing any added problems, noise, or compression.

When clear, the disc can punch out some sterling definition, peaking in close with exceptional facial detail. Vengeance bucks the trend of sour medium shots too, holding to a natural looking appearance even as the camera pans out. Long shots of the locations are beautiful as well, delineating rocks or fine grassland. Despite the detracting elements, Vengeance houses some strong visuals.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Ghost Rider will pound, push, and punch with the best of them in terms of the audio strength. The initial landing of the Rider is greeted with a monumental jolt of LFE activity, both from the flaming engines and the impact on the ground. Action is always bold, open, and spacious, even if the subwoofer feels like it’s handling most of the dirty work.

Using his chain to wreak havoc on evil types, the surrounds will split up to handle the literal swirl of activity, spinning up to rattle in each speaker as the metal reaches the location. A missile launch tracks flawlessly, the wild camerawork posing a challenge the mixing can reach. Vehicles are split in the fronts as well as the rears as the visuals dictate, create an active environment to play in.

Balancing all of the aggression probably wasn’t that simple either, but elements play nice. The score, which tends to be whatever it wants to be (from metal or orchestration) works into the brawling cleanly. None of the elements feel over worked or have any distinctive priority. Well done.

Movie ★★★★★ 

A great, funny, and insightful video commentary makes the movie a hard one to hate with Neveldine & Taylor hosting it. The honesty is refreshing, and it’s hard to keep up with their antics. You have to watch both at all times. The Path to Vengeance is split into six sections, which have a total running time of 90-minutes, not far from the main feature itself. There’s a lot of respect for the first movie, admittance of the mistakes, and a path meant to steer this franchise back on track that comes through.

Oh, and six deleted scenes are offered up, but after all of that, those seem sort of blasé.

Extras ★★★★☆