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Cage goes up in flames

By Michelle Mullins
On February 28, 2012

  • Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) travels to Eastern Europe attempting to escape his past in “Ghost Rider. Spirit of Vengeance.”

Since the previous "Ghost Rider" was a complete flop with critics, producers scrambled to concoct a new take on the dark rider's story, but ultimately failed. Fans were promised a darker side of  the hero in "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," and a writer from the newest Batman films (David S. Goyer) was even pulled into the team. The directing team that brought the "Crank" movies was put in the hot seat and given the chains to control this beast, but alas, the beast went out of control and got lost in a blaze of 3-D fire and smoke for 95 minutes.

Nicholas Cage ("National Treasure") reprises his role as Johnny Blaze, who is still dealing with the curse of turning into Ghost Rider when the wicked are near, but now he has traveled to Eastern Europe in an attempt to escape his past. There, Blaze meets Moreau, played by Idris Elba ("Thor," "The Wire"), who tells him that if he helps save a young boy, his curse can be lifted. Blaze obviously takes the deal, but soon realizes that he is simply adding more fuel to the flame.

Acting is the biggest issue with this movie, particularly with Cage's sub-par performance. Cage is surrounded by decent to above average actors, such as the main antagonist Roarke, played by Ciaran Hinds ("There Will Be Blood"), who is the human form of the devil. He has some of the least cringe-worthy lines of the movie, and he delivers despite how two-dimensional his character is. Cage, however, still manages to have no idea what he is doing. One scene he is screaming and singing at a man about how the Ghost Rider is "scratching at the door," and the next he is talking about his father and trying to create a serious and touching moment. Both attempts fail to hit home and instead leave the audience confused and disappointed. He is known for his over-the-top and crazed behavior, but in this case it just comes off as unwarranted and irritating.

The story is all over the place, and major pacing issues cause the movie to feel twice as long. No actual storyline is developed until about 30 minutes in, after Ghost Rider has already made his first appearance. Background story is provided in an animated storybook way, but besides that, no plot is presented. After the plot begins to emerge, the movie spirals into a formulaic mess of big action scenes followed by long poorly-acted scenes of exposition.

The action scenes are dull, even with Ghost Rider's new "spit fire" move. It seems as though no one knows how to put fire out in this film. Consequently, no one knows what sand or water is, so Ghost Rider is practically invincible. It is hard to rally for the hero when his opponents provide no sense of danger to him.

One of the stronger points of the movie is the improved computer effects, despite a budget of $65 million (compared to the first film's $110). The fire engulfing the Rider's head no longer resembles graphics from a cheap video game. The fire that spewed from his skull and bike actually look real this time. His design appears grittier than in the previous incarnation, with a black skull instead of a white one and ash coming off of his clothes instead of magically never catching fire like in the original movie.

However, no level of character design can save this burning ship. The tiny hint of talent sprinkled around Cage does him no good. It is as if he took the script and read it over before each shot, and that shot made it into the movie. "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" is simply messy and uninteresting. Hopefully Ghost Rider's chains do not actually reach beyond the screen, so others are not dragged into this woeful nightmare.

"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" receives 1 star out of 5.

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