I mean you have a guy that has made a fantastical deal with devil, is betrayed and drives around pissed off on a burning motor bike with his head on fire. Whilst the Faustian theme has proliferated fiction for as long as story telling has existed and many of the elements that make up the Ghost Rider mythos are stock from the comic character Encyclopaedia Heroica - Ghost Rider has seemingly yet to cross over to the mainstream. And in all honesty it’s unlikely that it ever will as Ghost Rider falls into that grey area of comicdom the land where the supernatural is explored. Along with many other characters in the Marvel universe like; Doctor Strange, Son of Satan, Morbius, Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing, etc. he stalked the dark fringes on the edge of the world of The Amazing Spider-Man, The X-Men and The Avenger’s ruled. Just to emphasise this point - up until 1971 the Comics Code Authority would not give comics that showed the supernatural world it’s much needed “Approved By The Comics Code Seal”. Pretty much the first thing a store would check for before stocking a publication back then. Enter Ghost Rider who came into being two years after the ban was dropped.
As cinema ticket sales have shown us unless a supernatural film completely re-innovates itself – with a damn good story regardless of its source material, tackles adult themes that make it embrace an 18 Rating, teen heart throbs are take their shirts off, magic wands cast spells, has eerie shock tactics, forbidden love or services the teen market in some other way its unlikely to break the box office. In all honesty to stay true to the spirit of the Ghost Rider character for a film to do him justice, it would have to go the same route as Blade and exist in a dark adult world. And sure a case could be made for deconstructing the legend into its constitute parts and then putting it back together keeping the bits that would be most engaging for our post modern culture in an intelligent way like they did with Batman or James Bond and to be fair Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor or the chaos brothers do go some of the way there in their reboot of Ghost Rider - but how can you deconstruct a flaming headed bounty hunter possessed by a bad ass demon and put him into our world in any way that makes sense without losing the essence of the mythos? Therein lies the challenge of The Ghost Rider.
Well the first film went the traditional Marvel film route and brought a watered down Ghost Rider into the same PG universe that Spider-Man, Thor and Hulk live in. A heinous and malevolent force epitomising evil deeper than that that already exists on earth cannot exist in a PG world with any dignity are credibility. Thankfully Neveldine and Taylor go another way.
Too be honest I have forgotten much of the original Ghost Rider film but do remember thinking that it wasn’t too bad film as far as throw away films go but certainly not the Ghost Rider I saw in my mind as they attempted to shoe horn The Ghost Rider into a standard Hollywood super hero story arc and really disliked the whole each generation Ghost Rider & Phantom Rider (Sam Elliot’s Cowboy Ghost Rider) elements. Although you can see a lot of money was spent making the film look good - the polished CGI world created just didn’t suit the dark Ghost Rider. But my biggest issue with Ghost Rider was that The Ghost Rider is a hell fire demon ripping souls from corrupted individuals and he really should inspire ominous fear without having to try. A lot like the shark in Jaws pure terror should be left in his wake instead we got a slightly darker variation of a regular Marvel character like say, Spider-Man.
Which brings me to Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. First off Nicolas Cage’s Ghost Rider is perfect this time. He is scary, sly, wicked and a constant unpredictable threat. You get a much better sense of his malevolence or Spirit of Vengeance this time.
Between Neveldine, Taylor and Cage they get Ghost Rider’s physical movements spot on with Cage becoming the demon and The Chaos Brothers merging game elements as with Crank and Gamer making the Ghost Rider much more like a force of nature. The scene where the Ghost Rider is unleashed for the first time is absolutely outstanding. Even though there are some incongruent cheesy bits in the film - one of them in the teaser trailer. Ghost Rider looks, feels and moves exactly like The Ghost Rider, I imagined and I loved every bit of his presence on screen. Between Cage, Neveldine & Taylor they have given Ghost Rider back his bite.
Nicolas Cage talks to The Establishing Shot and tells us more about his inspiration behind the Ghost Rider's awesome movement as well bits about the Ghost Rider’s origin and his favourite comic characters all of which we will be up soon.The regular themes from the Chaos Brothers Neveldine & Taylor don’t end there as broader game like elements bleed into the story particularly the characterisation. As well their knack for getting us closer to the wild action scenes and their particular brand of over the top in your face cinematography leans well to the surprisingly restrained use of 3D and there is a real gravity to the physical dynamics of the CG especially in the high action scenes and it never feels disruptive.
Something else I enjoyed was the interspersing iconic totems throughout a visual sequence grounding the films atmosphere to our own as well as blurring the lines between evil and the greed which has become a topical focus of late.
The showboating product placement bikes are gone – like pre sell-out Yoda a demon cares not for such things and they are replaced with brute muscle and burning black steel the way Ghost Rider should be. He is now less omnipotent making it more credible for him to exist in our world, also filming in Europe allows Ghost Rider to be placed in our world more credibly as the Romanian locations are unfamiliar, strange and ancient rather than the sharp juxtaposition, directing our attention to the incredulousness of the character by placing him in a modern American City.
Also gone is the shiny and polished CGI look to be replaced by a lo-fi feel and this being Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor handling the production its borderline Grindhouse, more in line with a bad ass motor cycling demon.
Which brings me to weakest bits of the film - Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor have pared the storyline back getting rid of much of the over the top fat that comes with comic adaptations and replaced this with exciting visual and a cleverly paced rollout keeping the story fairly interesting even when it is not punctuated by high octane action scenes and twists but not only does the film feel very Grindhouse but much of the storyline relies on a Grindhouse style elements anchored in a Certificate 12 world. So it doesn’t quite commit to either whole heartedly which whilst is streets ahead of the previous film as well as the Ghost Rider comics it does brings the film down. This is something that the comics suffered from as well as they never really explore the character or his world in an adult way.
Some of the characters do feel a little stock but most are genuinely engaging particularly Ciarán Hinds who brings life to his role of a powerful antagonist. As I say Ghost Rider is superbly bad ass so much so that his alter ego Johnny Blaze is lost and brings no gravitas to his condition and merely serves as a place holder for the Ghost Rider’s return – again in all honesty this is very inline with the spirit of the comics and something I hope they address in the next one. So although Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is one of the better adaptations of the comic source material, it also suffers from the similar weaknesses as the source matrial.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is in cinemas today Fri 17 February 2012.
Now in an attempt to keep his soul sucking alter ego at bay, Blaze has isolated himself in the remotest of locations, but, when Moreau, a spirited monk (Idris Elba) implores him to save a young boy from the devil himself (Ciarán Hinds), Blaze must put aside his reluctance to bring out the Ghost Rider in order to face his own demons and possibly rid himself of the curse forever.
From the writers/directors of Crank, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, comes the adrenaline filled GHOST RIDER SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, loaded with action and incredible 3D special effects.
Based on the Marvel comic book and a story by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel), GHOST RIDER SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE IN 3D sees Nicolas Cage return as Johnny Blaze alongside British talent Idris Elba (Thor), Ciarán Hinds (The Debt), Christopher Lambert (Highlander), Johnny Whitworth (Limitless), Violante Placido (The American) and introducing Fergus Riordan.
The Establishing Shot: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Review